The Rev. Hal Chorpenning, Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
9 July 2023
How many of you learned this psalm by heart when you were in Sunday school? It’s probably the best-known psalm and by many the most beloved. One of my favorite sung versions is by Bobby McFerrin, and we used part of his paraphrase as our Call to Worship. It is one that we sometimes hear during a memorial service as a comfort, knowing that the Lord is our shepherd, our guide, our protector. In fact, on those occasions, I will sometimes use the King James or Revised Standard Version, since it is what many folks grew up hearing and that familiarity can bring comfort.
The opening verse talks about having everything we need. Hear these different translations: “I shall not want,” “I have all I need,” “I lack nothing.” How does that sit with you? Does it ring true? Do you have everything you need? Maybe if you are just starting out or things are really tight financially, it could be that you don’t have all you need…or at least all the things you want.
As the prophet Mick Jagger once sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.” The rub is distinguishing the one from the other.
So, what do we really need? Food, shelter, medical care, education, spiritual connection. We also have a whole host of wants. If we didn’t, it would decimate the advertising industry, which wants us the leap into Prime Days on Amazon, buy a new car with have a four-figure monthly auto loan payment, and to ask our doctor if Lunextra is right for you.
Nothing keeps the wheels of advertising spinning like fear of inadequacy. “Never let them see you sweat.” “Be all that you can be.” “The best a man can get.” “Maybe she’s born with it…maybe it’s Maybelline.” And the other thing advertisers like to do is to weave a web of scarcity that ensnares unsuspecting viewers. I literally read this on a blog this week: “Scarcity isn’t just another marketing hack—it’s a psychological phenomenon you can use to make more revenue.”
Americans are bombarded by advertising, and much of it is designed to make us want things we don’t really need or didn’t even know we wanted. Imagine the climate impact of doing away with all the things we buy as a result of advertising and how much simpler we could live. Most of us would agree that the best things in life…aren’t things.
In The Covenanted Self, biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “The reality of drought or low production or famine…produces a sense of scarcity, a deep, fearful, anxious conviction that there is not enough to go around, and that no more will be given. The proper response, given that anxiety, is to keep everything you have…. The myth of scarcity that can drive the economy is not based on economic analysis, but on anxiety.”
Anxiety is rooted in fear, and yet at our core, we know that “even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no danger because you are with us.” How many times in the biblical narratives do we hear the command, “Fear not!”? And yet, too often we do give into fear and allow it to drive our decision-making. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it requires intention and attention to see the world differently: as a world provided with plenty rather than scarcity.
God has provided abundantly, but it is how we respond and share God’s abundance that makes the difference in peoples’ lives. Brueggeman writes, “I propose that the lyric of abundance that is evoked by the generosity of the Creator, sits deeply against the myth of scarcity. The lyric of abundance asserts that because the world is held in the hand of the generative, generous God, scarcity is not true. I mean this not as a pious, religious sentiment, but as a claim about the economy.”
How do you sense that in your own life? Is your cup overflowing with God’s abundance? I have a hunch that many of us don’t slow down enough to consider that question deeply. Where is your cup so full that it spills over?
When we were visiting my son, Cameron, in Japan before the pandemic, I was surprised at the method of pouring sake for a guest. As a deep gesture of hospitality, someone else always pours the sake into your glass for you. And while there are all kinds of sake cups, the one I saw most frequently in Japan was a set that contained a glass and a small wooden box, called a masu.
Now, you may wonder what this has to do with the 23rd Psalm and abundance. When a host is pouring sake into your glass, she or he pours it to overflowing, so that it exceeds the capacity of the glass and spills into the masu. This is a gesture of abundance, and the first time I saw it, I couldn’t help but say, “My cup overflows!” Literally!
Abundance in God’s world is never a question of there being enough, but rather a question of distribution, so that all have the basic needs met. Some of us have too much and others have too little. How we balance that out is a question of good stewardship: how we live with and share God’s abundance.
Even within the life of our congregation, we work this way. Rather than charging a membership fee or dues, we ask one another to do our best to live and give faithfully in response to God’s gift of abundance. If we did have dues at Plymouth, they would be about $4,100 a year per family. That may surprise you, but it takes a lot to do mission, keep the lights and air conditioning on, plan and gather for worship, provide pastoral care, build community, be a voice in public square, and educate our children and teens and adults. Because not all of us can afford that amount, those among us who can give more must do so to support the community.
How has God filled your cup to overflowing? Stop for a moment and think about how God has shown up abundantly in your life and in the life of our congregation. Most of us have enough to eat, a place to sleep, available healthcare, a career or retirement. Most of us have enough and then some. [pause] And now I invite you to silently offer thanks to God for whatever abundance has been made available to you.
And in the spirit of continuing your meditation, I’d like to share a short film with you from Brother David Steindl-Rast, an elderly Austrian Trappist monk who has a profound relationship with gratitude. https://vimeo.com/223300973
May you continue to see your cup neither as half-full or half-empty, but as overflowing with God’s abundance. And as Brother David says, “May your gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you.” Amen.
© 2023 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact email@example.com for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 Not a real drug name
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning, Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
July 2, 2023
I love the United States. As we near Independence Day, I acknowledge that we are up to our neck in problems. Yet, I don’t think that we are beyond redemption. One of the key issues we need to address is refocusing on the collective good, which is at the heart of divisive politics, wealth disparity, and climate change, among others. And it’s slow work.
You may wonder what that has to do with the rather difficult text Jim read from Matthew’s gospel. There is quite a mix of things going on: Jesus tells us that we have individual worth, and that God knows even the number of hairs on our heads (a significantly lower number for some of us than for others).
The next section seems bizarre, because of Jesus’ nonviolence. Where does this “I have come not to bring peace, but a sword” thing come from? It draws on and echoes the prophet Micah, who encourages us not to put ultimate faith in the people, even our families, but rather to put our trust in God.
What Jesus is talking about is reshaping our family ties in order to build the new community of his followers. Think about the fishermen who were Jesus’ first disciples. Jesus tells them to leave their nets and follow him. That isn’t easy either for the disciples or for the families they left behind.
How’s that for supporting “family values?” (Whenever one of our more conservative brethren trots out that phrase it makes me wonder if they’ve ever read the four gospels.)
What Jesus is doing is ripping the fabric of society. This is subversive, unpopular stuff. But as he deconstructs the traditional family unit, he is putting something else in its place.
Two chapters later, as a crowd surrounds Jesus and his own mother and brothers are trying to squeeze their way in to see Jesus, he quips, “’Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”
This new family eventually becomes the church. We are the family of Jesus when we do the will of God, and the best way to judge the will of God is by looking to the words and the way of Jesus. Sometimes we even refer to “our church family.”
Last week, Don and Sherry Bundy sent me a link to a really interesting New York Times opinion piece called, “What Churches Offer that ‘Nones’ Still Long For.” Nones, by the way, are people who have no religious affiliation, and one scholar surmises that one in five is an Atheist (who is sure God doesn’t exist), a second is an Agnostic (who questions the existence of God), and the other three are unaligned with any particular faith tradition but think that God is there. Clearly, that is a diverse group of people. A key asset that churches, mosques, synagogues offer is community. And in an age of detachment and isolation, it’s more important than ever.
In the article, one young man in his 20s tells of losing his job and asking his congregation to pray for him during their prayers of the people. After the service was over, another member came us and said, “Son, if you need a job, you can come work for me tomorrow.” The journalist continues: “While that might sound like a scene from a Frank Capra movie, church really does wind up being one of the few places that people from different walks of life can interact with and help one another.” She continues, “I asked every sociologist I interviewed whether communities created around secular activities outside of houses of worship could give the same level of wraparound support that churches, temples, and mosques are able to offer. Nearly across the board, the answer was no.”
Intergenerational community doesn’t just happen, it has to be created and sustained. Faith communities that draw on multiple generations can do amazing cross-fertilization among their members. As you heard Brooklyn say a few weeks ago, teens who have older folks in their lives (who know their names) tend to have a far easier road ahead than those who do not. Getting to know some teens might be a blessing to some of you who are elders and might be experiencing a sense of loneliness and isolation.
Here is something the article’s author misses: it takes work to create and sustain community. It doesn’t just happen; we have to be intentional about being engaged and involved. It takes each of us committing ourselves to get involved in the community.
A lot of that happens behind the scenes here, so you may not know that a member of your Plymouth family had to go by Wilbur’s to buy port and to Whole Foods to buy bread and then prepare today’s communion. Nobody waves a magic wand…people work to make that happen. You may wonder how our trees and shrubs get trimmed and the windows washed and the weeds pulled…members work to make that happen. You may not realize that there are members of our congregation — Faith Community Nurses, Stephen Ministers, Congregational Visitors — who add to the pastoral care provided by our ministers. Perhaps you’ve wondered who makes decisions that affect the congregation, and there are six boards as well as a Leadership Council who do that as volunteers. That takes time and commitment. There are so many more volunteers who make this congregation vital, and each of them helps create community. That investment of time and intention creates what Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam calls “social capital” in his book, Bowling Alone.
Here is a clip from a new documentary about Putnam’s work and ways we can recover some social capital. [View trailer for “Join or Die.”].
Here is the rub: we have become a nation of people who have shifted so far toward radical individualism and independence that we’ve lost the communal compass bearing guiding our society. We forget that we are in this together. We have lost the thread of our INTERdependence that held together a disparate nation. But Putnam asserts that we can turn the tables by leveraging our involvement in community organizations like churches. This is crucially important for our society.
I’d like to go back to the scripture for today, because it helps us understand why churches are different than the Lion’s Club, Soroptimists, Kiwanis, or soccer league, or youth theater — all of which are great! The New York Times article states, “A soccer team can’t provide spiritual solace in the face of death, it probably doesn’t have a weekly charitable call and there’s no sense of connection to a heritage that goes back generations.” But there is something even deeper that the journalist doesn’t capture.
Church is different, because we have formed and are forming a different type of community that exists because Jesus called us to become part of this new, INTERdependent community that cares for one another, for the widow and the orphan, the alien and the stranger. And we do it as an expression of our love of God.
One Sunday about six months ago, a young Palestinian man named Darwish came into our church needing food, shelter, and guidance. The first thing that happened was that Brooklyn and Mike McBride made him a cappuccino…an even better start than offering a cup of cold water that Jesus mentions. Then Darwish talked with Jane Anne and a group of concerned folks who helped him get student housing, work on an asylum application, got him healthcare, greeted his wife and son when they arrived from Jordan. And today, he has been accepted into a Ph.D. program at CSU in the College of Engineering. Nobody asked if Darwish was a Christian or if he had any interest in becoming one. Each person on “Team Darwish” acted from a sense of Christlike compassion, and it changed Darwish’s life.
We are a community that has incredible potential to grow in our faith, our commitment, our involvement…our INTERdependence. Isn’t that the kind of faith community you want to be a part of? Don’t we embrace the values and vision you want your children and grandchildren to inherit?
We simply cannot do such things all on our own. We need a strong, committed community to help all of us live into our Christian faith, as an INTERdependent community bound together by covenant. Christianity is a team sport!
Here is another secret: We can’t do any of this without you. The magic only happens when we all pull together as a family of faith. If you want to be part of the movement, if you want to get more involved, we can help! We have an easy-to-access online tool called Ministry Match, which links your desire to help with places where it’s needed. It takes less than five minutes to sign up and enter your preferences at plymouthucc.org/ministrymatch.
So, even as we celebrate our nation’s independence from Great Britain, I invite you to celebrate INTERdependence Day here at Plymouth. Right here, right now. Amen.
© 2023 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact hal at plymouthucc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 “What Churches Offer that ‘Nones’ Still Long For” by Jessica Grose in New York Times, June 28, 2023