Deuteronomy 8:2-10

Philippians 4:6-20

Paul writes to the Philippian church rejoicing in the gifts they have sent to support him in his ministry (other churches didn’t apparently contribute as much). He points out that their gifts to Paul are for their sake more than for his: he celebrates the “profit that accumulates to [their] account” in God’s cosmic accounting department. But this is not a sermon about giving – I’ll tell you later how wonderful it is for us to give. The point Paul is making is deeper: “I’ve learned to be content with whatever I have.” This is a powerful statement for us, people who have so much of some things and so little of others.

To be content with what we have is to see our things as sufficient. What we have is enough for us, we aren’t lacking, and so we’re thankful. In times of scarcity, we’re not focused on scarcity – we’re focused on enough. This takes work, a conscious decision to have enough, and often the imagination to make do with what we do have. But we know that sufficiency can be invented, that we can discover enough in among our needs.

Sufficiency is only ever sufficient. It’s not overflowing abundance in the terms we might use to picture abundance, and that’s hard for us. It’s not that God is stingy, but God’s idea of abundance is different from ours. Our human sense of abundance is always more than we have, so we feel like we always need more. We naturally look for more, because we never quite feel secure in what we have. But when we look for more, it’s easy to miss what God has provided already. It’s easy to miss “enough.”

Times of lack and times of abundance will come, and Paul seems almost more grateful for the times of lack. He says he’s “satisfied” with both times. He doesn’t seek more than he has, and he’s never really thrilled when he has much. There’s a balance there, accepting both the rich times and the lean times, because both will come. It’s through deprivation that we learn thankfulness, because God is with us in both rich and lean times. It’s harder to know what plenty is and still not want it. That takes more practice. To know both, as Paul does, takes a deeper knowledge of God’s presence.

We thank God today and this Thanksgiving as we live in a place that sounds a lot like that promised land the people hear about in Deuteronomy: a land flowing with streams, where one can mine iron and maybe copper from the hills. But we know that abundance can’t guarantee perpetual security, and so we have our unique style of optimistic caution when good news comes. We never get too excited about new developments, because we know that good news is fleeting. The boom always leads to the bust. The fat years may be good, but the lean years always come back, and the cycle goes on. This time, of course, the time between the promise of good economic news and the announcement of bad news was especially short!

God’s people ended up back in the wilderness, too, but God was still with them. First, they were given manna to eat, a kind of bread neither they nor their ancestors knew in Egypt, but God was with them. Then, when they were sent out into the wilderness again, they had to learn how to worship a God they knew in scripture, not the way they worshiped at the temple in Jerusalem. Later, they and many others learned how to follow a teacher and king unlike any other, a lord who was humble unto death. Manna doesn’t keep; it has to be renewed every day. We’re always eating bread we didn’t know.

Somehow, the humility of being fed what we don’t expect leads us to God. It leads us to generosity and sharing, because we’ve known hunger too. It leads to openness and hope, as we learn to imagine what God can do. Somehow, our hunger leads us to thanksgiving – our hunger draws us toward God. It’s not that God wants any of us to be without food, but we’re never truly filled until we give thanks for our gifts. So we give thanks, in the face of a world that only says “lack.” There is enough for all, if we only have eyes to see, and we give thanks in saying that we are “satisfied.”