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