The Beginning of Abundance Is at the End of Scarcity – Drew Tucker reflects on how this week’s readings relate to 1990s song lyrics and the life cycle that we witness in our natural environment.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary
Readings for Sunday November 6-12, Year B (2021, 2024)
1 Kings 17:8-16
Semisonic once sang, “every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.” If you, like me, were enamored with VH1 and music videos in the 1990s, you likely remember this bop, Closing Time. It resonates today, more than twenty years later, because the church is headed toward the end of this liturgical year and the birth of the next liturgical year. These last three weeks, as we complete ordinary time and commemorate the Reign of Christ, are our closing time.
Some nostalgia is appropriate in these last few weeks of the liturgical year. Even in a year profoundly shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are things to celebrate. There is good we will miss. There is joy to recall and success to remember.
A level of gladness that Year B is over is equally appropriate. Whatever kind of participant or leader you are, this has been a terribly difficult time. We’ve lost too many loved ones to the pandemic, and too many more to the complications of illnesses that couldn’t be treated due to overfilled hospitals and overburdened medical professionals. The division in our congregations, denominations, even the whole church, feels more profound than any time in recent memory.
Today’s readings, indeed most of the readings for the rest of the year, point to some kind of transition in being, some transformation in existence. There’s some appreciation for the past and some desire to put that past to bed, that something new might awake and greet the new morn.
Of course, nature is a place where we see new beginnings out of endings all the time. Delectable mushrooms grow out of a dead log (as do the deadly ones, so be careful which ones you pick and eat). An acorn falls, seemingly dry of any life signs, only to spring into an oak. Corals take root on shipwrecks.
So too the God inspires generosity in a widow who has every right to fear for her life. A new life made possible out of a deadly situation. Along with Kings, Psalm 146 and Mark both speak of a kind of divine providence, where needs are met despite impossible circumstances. What’s fascinating, and instructive, is how this happens.
In both Kings and Mark, widows make risky decisions to be generous despite abject poverty. Two women, who the world taught to live under the rule of scarcity, instead choose the reign of abundance. They choose to see the possible out of the impossible. The good out of the bad. The life out of the death. The choose to see that every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end, and so they choose that, if this will be their end, it will be one of generous participation in the lives of others.
It seems in our rush to utilize the elements of the environment for our own benefits, we operate out of a theology of scarcity. Burning fossil fuels and damming waterways are only two of myriad ways that we consume or keep rather than share. The destructive results of a theology of scarcity are found in the evidence of transnational droughts and global climate change. Which, of course, leads to more fighting because our selfish behavior manages to manufacture scarcity out of God’s abundance.
The widow Elijah meets at Zarephath and the widow Jesus encounters at the Jerusalem temple offer a different narrative. Though the world has taken from them—spouses, money, security, community—they choose an act of abundance, a new beginning at the end of scarcity. Such behavior gestures to what the writer of Hebrews makes explicit: God’s work in Christ collapses the distance between heaven and earth, ending the time of separation and inaugurating the time of union, ending the time of scarcity and introducing the time of abundance.
But make no mistake: just as our environment points us, there is a death and a birth in this. Something old is passing away even as God is making all things new. Like a plethora of mushrooms bursting forth for a hollow, empty log, the life of abundance grows out of the death of scarcity. There is something to say goodbye to even as we embrace the newness of what now comes to life. Even the existence of this cycle is, itself, a sign of abundance. When it seems that life cannot go on, life finds a way (insert a Jurassic Park Jeff Goldbloom voice if you so choose).
Notice also the subtle creative elements at play, bringing the natural world into focus through your imagery. The juxtaposition of earthly and heavenly sanctuaries in Hebrews opens up the reminder of the distinctive reality of earthly elements. Consider other earthly elements at play in the texts. The copper in the woman’s offering at the temple. Wheat and oil become bread in the hands of a baker, and clay pots appear as the work of an artisan not spoken of in the texts. The ground, the dirt to which we return, is an earthly element that appears in the Psalm.
As you prepare to preach and curate worship, ask yourself questions like: How do the elements in these texts speak to ends and beginnings? How do the texts speak our relationship to these elements? How does your local environment help you understand beginnings and endings? What rituals or worship stations might inspire a different relationship with this kind of life cycle? Especially if your congregation is facing the possibility of closure, near or far, how might the example of nature and of the women in today’s texts frame a different perspective for your people?
Originally written by Drew Tucker in 2021.
Read more by Drew Tucker at www.friartucker.com