Abundance and scarcity in Christian mission

February 6th, 2019

As Christians, what spirit do we bring into our efforts in worship, outreach, and mission? Abundance or scarcity?

When we encounter a poor person or a poor community, do we focus on what they lack or on God's abundance in their lives? When we reflect on our efforts to organize the church and worship together, do we pay attention to who is gathered or who is missing?

From my perspective as someone engaged in a small ministry to the poor and mentally ill of Denver, Colorado, it is clear to me that the truly sustaining spirit in Christian mission and community is the spirit communicated to us by the ritual of Eucharist—a spirit of abundance and thanksgiving.

Indeed, the word "Eucharist" comes to us from the Greek, meaning "thanks." Whether we call it Communion, the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist, eating together and remembering Christ in thanksgiving has been the central ritual of Christian practice along with baptism since the birth of the church. This meal communicates the radical abundance of God to those who participate in it. As a ritual that sustains and orders our community, it fuels the efforts of the church to share this abundance with the world.

But, of course, we know we don't always focus on the abundance in our midst. Close to home, we obsess over tracking declining numbers of members, worshipers, and budgets. Further afield, missions and outreach programs attempt to address the scarcity of money and resources in our local communities and abroad.

The logic of market scarcity has even invaded our day-to-day interior lives, which, in practice, sounds something like this:

We all know time is money but did you also know our emotional reserves could be tapped out? You can't pour out of an empty cup, after all, and a good way to keep those batteries charged is to spend some time in self-care.

Thus, the logic of economic exchange even decides the value of our relaxation. But leisure is impossible when it is used not as an end in itself but as a deposit on future productivity, whether in emotional work or otherwise.

This logic of scarcity pulls every other human value into its matrix: time, money, natural resources, love, companionship, and beauty. All these values and more are stripped of their ultimate value and defined instead by fear and anxiety.

But the abundance of Eucharist stands in contrast with political and economic systems that dictate much of our lives together. Eucharist, is an expression of abundance and a symbol of gratitude for the fundamental fact that everything that is worthwhile in life is an unmerited gift. As Christians, to say "thanks" when we gather together affirms that to be human is to delight in the simplicity of one moment following the next. Our lives together are characterized not by scarcity but by God's creative abundance.

The abundance of the Eucharist ought to pervade everything we do as the Church, whether it is in ministry on the margins of society or in the local corner church. Through this ritual, Christians gesture toward the meal saying, "We exist there, in the wheat and grapes, in the broken body of Christ given for us," and we respond "Thanks," content that this will be more than enough—enough to share.

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