12 min read

Fast: Practices for a Slow Lent and a Spacious Life // Fasting from Scarcity Anxiety

The only reason I jumped into the pool as a kid was because my Aunt Laura was there with arms open, ready to catch me.
Fast: Practices for a Slow Lent and a Spacious Life // Fasting from Scarcity Anxiety

Sermon Delivered at The Local Church
March 3, 2024 • Lent 3
Scripture: Luke 12:13–35

Do you remember how you felt the first time you rode a bike without training wheels? Do you remember the fear? That uncertainty about whether you could do it or not? The courage it took when your mom or dad finally let go, and off you went?

Or what about that feeling before sending your kids to kindergarten? The lump in your throat? That moment you had to turn away and trust your kid with somebody else for perhaps the first time?

Do you remember when you left for college? The feeling that everything was going to be different now? Or how nervous you were before a first date? Or when you got married, not sure if you were ready? What about when you quit your job to go to grad school, and everyone looked at you like you had lost your mind? (Just me?)

Our lives are full of these moments of risk. Moments of fear, perhaps.

I was thinking about one such moment this week from when I was a kid. Up there with riding a bike. It was one of the first times I jumped off a diving board. Do you remember your first time? For me, it was at my Aunt Laura’s house. She had a pool at her house, so summer days there were the best. Sandwiches by the pool. Utz potato chips. I was probably seven or eight years old at the time, and I wanted to go off the diving board, but I also didn’t want to go off the diving board. You know that feeling? When you want to do something but are also absolutely terrified of doing it?

So I walked over to the deep end of the pool and shouted to the grown-ups, “I need someone to catch me.” And Aunt Laura was the cool aunt. The fun aunt. Many of us have that one. Some of us are the cool aunt or uncle. And so my Aunt Laura put down her drink, placed her cigarette in the ashtray, and said, “I’ll do it.”

She climbs into the pool, swims to the deep end, and treads water with her arms wide open.

I walk to the edge, my toes curling over the side, do the bounce-bounce thing, and take a deep breath. Aunt Laura is still there. Still treading water. Still with arms wide open. The details are getting fuzzier by the day, but I’m sure I said something like, “I’m scared.” And I’m sure she said something like, “I’ve got you. Come on. I’m right here.” I bounced a few more times before finally going for it — leaping off the diving board into my Aunt Laura’s arms — or so I thought. And that’s what makes this story so amazing.

Because I actually leaped into her face. I splashed down into the water and went under, and when I emerged, all I could see was blood everywhere, the other grown-ups in a panic, my Aunt Laura grabbing her face, and my mom jumping in to grab me. Next thing I know, Aunt Laura is on her way to the hospital to be treated for a broken nose — and it’s all my fault. I felt terrible, but it healed fine, and it’s a story we’d tell for the rest of her life.

But I share it because I only jumped off the diving board that day and took that risk because my Aunt Laura was in place to catch me. We’ll come back around to this.

Today marks the third Sunday of the season of Lent. As we’ve shared, Lent is the forty-day season leading to the heartbreak and hope of Holy Week and Easter. Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about where the word Lent comes from. Does anyone remember?

The word Lent comes from an Old English word for “lengthen,” referring to the lengthening days that as spring emerges. (By the way, Daylight Saving Time begins next week, so we spring forward an hour.)

Leah and I and many others think about Lent as a sort of spring cleaning for our souls. It gives us the space we need to clean out the junk drawers of our hearts, freshen up our rhythms and routines, and reorganize our priorities so that we might be renewed and turn again toward love and life, hope and possibility, and be made ready for the joy of resurrection at Easter.

And so, to guide us in this season, we’ve introduced a series called “Fast: Practices for a Slow Lent and a Spacious Life.” And at its core, it’s a series on fasting — but different kinds of fasting. The practice of fasting has long been associated with the season of Lent. Just as Jesus fasted in the desert, many followers of Jesus have taken on practices of fasting — giving something up or taking something on — as a way of growing closer to God in this season.

And what you need to know is that fasting is not about deprivation. It’s about preparation. And so, for this series, we’re particularly thinking about non-traditional and non-physical fasts from things that may get in the way of our connection with God, our relationship with others, and the life that really is life for us. And we’re inviting you to practice these fasts, which will, in turn, lead us to embrace something new toward a spacious life — ready for the hope of resurrection.

So that’s our series for Lent, and here’s our fast for this week: Fasting from Scarcity Anxiety — from the worry that there’s not enough.

But as we begin, let’s be quiet for a moment…

Oh, y’all, this is a good one today. We pick up in the twelfth chapter of Luke. We’re making progress.

Jesus is continuing his journey to Jerusalem. Remember, after the Transfiguration, he sets his face toward the cross. This is that journey for Jesus. And as he goes, he’s now flocked by thousands. A large crowd has gathered. And as you might expect with a crowd this large, they’re all trying to get a piece of Jesus. Some want him to offer his healing power. Some want to see the signs and wonders they’ve heard about. Some want to learn more about this kingdom of God. And then there’s this guy:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13)

This guy is just interested in Jesus settling a dispute over money. He seems only to be concerned with his own wealth and how to handle a brother who is treating him unfairly, withholding some of what belongs to him. And now, in those days, it wouldn’t be uncommon to go to an arbiter, someone with authority, to validate a decision, so that’s likely what’s happening here. This man is seeking validation of his position to take it back to his older brother. But instead, Jesus essentially says, “I’m not your guy. That’s not what I’m here for.” And, as if to put a finer point on it, Jesus offers these words:

And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

In other words, Jesus is hinting at the real motivation behind this man’s request. It’s not fairness. It’s not about making sure everything is just. Instead, according to Jesus, there’s a deeper motivation. And it’s greed.

And this is when Jesus launches into this incredible parable of the Rich Fool. Remember from last week, Jesus used parables to teach in a way that would come near to those who were listening — stories that may not have actually happened, but are true nonetheless and that they would’ve been able to find themselves in.

So he tells this story of a rich man whose land has had a good year—a really good year. His crops produce so much that he doesn’t know what to do with all of it. As Jesus tells it, the man has a conversation with himself.

And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ (Luke 12:17–19)

And so he’s having this conversation with himself. And notice that he’s also only thinking about himself here. Notice the prepositions. We’ll come back to this. And his issue is that he doesn’t have barns big enough. There’s not enough storage for all of his crops, for all of his stuff, and the answer he comes to with the help of himself is to… build a bigger barn. Sure. Put some away. Open that Roth IRA. So that he can rest easy for years to come. So that he’ll have many years of security to enjoy the fruits of his harvest all by himself.

And that’s when God calls this man a fool, but then, as Jesus tells it, the man’s life is demanded of him that very night. In other words, all that he had stored up was for nothing. It was all laid to waste. Meaningless. And Jesus lets that hang there before turning to the disciples to continue his teaching. You heard Catherine read it. Consider the ravens, Jesus says, who neither sow nor reap, and yet they get what they need. They’re not worried. They’re not overworked. They’re not hustling. And yet, God gives them what they need. God provides for them. And the same is true for the lilies of the field in all their breathtaking beauty. They’re not striving. They’re not worried or anxious — about what they have or don’t have.

And then Jesus offers what is, for me at least, a record-scratch moment. A word that changes everything. Here it is:

“For it is the nations of the world that seek all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:30–32)

In other words, if this is true of the ravens and the lilies, how much more true might it be for you? That God will give you what you need.

I’ll be honest, y’all. I have a hard time with this one. I hear this from Jesus and think, “Well, good for them. Adorable. Ravens and lilies? It must be nice. But we know better. Our world is different.” And you might hear this and think, “How naïve. So antiquated.”

Because times have changed, and we know how the world works, right? From a young age, these messages are drilled into us. That it’s all up to us. We have to work hard, get into college, pick the right major, and get a good job in the right field to make a lot of money and secure our future. First to arrive, last to leave. Grind culture. Can’t stop, won’t stop. “Gotta secure the bag,” as the kids say. And if we don’t do any of this, we’ll be behind. We’ll fall short. We’ll lose out because there’s only so much to go around.

That’s the story, yeah? It’s this scarcity mindset. There might not be enough.

In her book Daring Greatly, researcher Brené Brown discusses how prevalent and pervasive this mindset is. She offers a quotation from activist Lynne Twist, who describes how from the time she wakes up, her first thought is, “I didn’t get enough sleep.” And the next one is, “I don’t have enough time.” She goes on:

We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of.… Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack.… This internal condition of scarcity, this mindset of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.

The church is not immune to this mindset either. In some faith communities, the stock response to disappointment in somebody’s life is, “You must not have prayed enough.” Or maybe, in some contexts, it feels like you have to adhere to a certain belief system or behave a certain way, and only then can you belong. And that, too, leaves you feeling like you’re never doing enough or didn’t tick enough boxes. Where’s the grace in that?

Scarcity anxiety is not just the main driver of so much fracture in our society; it often leaves us exhausted, overwhelmed, and in a constant state of worry because it might all disappear. Or somebody could take what belongs to us. Or there won’t be enough. And this is why we continue to accrue, building larger barns with more of what we don’t need because, so often, we don’t know what else to do.

And goodness, I feel this, too. If I’m being honest, one of my biggest stressors, the question that often keeps me up at night, is: “Can I afford to give my kids a good life? What can I do to help them succeed? Can I provide for them in the way I want to?”

Underneath all of this is a fear, an anxiety, that there isn’t enough—not just not enough stuff, not just not enough resources, but also not enough status, not enough prestige, not enough love. Because how else might we know our worth? What is our value if not what we produce?

And so we keep working, striving, grinding, and building bigger barns. We don’t know how else to find satisfaction. Salvation.

This is why it’s so problematic that the rich fool only has a conversation with himself. Because for Jesus, the issue isn’t that he’s had a great harvest. It’s not that he’s wealthy. It’s not that he wants to plan for the future. It’s that with a scarcity mindset, his vision isn’t large enough. He’s not thinking about anyone else. He’s not worried about those who are hungry. He’s not concerned with the poor or those who actually don’t have enough on that day. Instead, it’s an echo chamber.

It’s problematic because a scarcity mindset implies a detachment from everything and everyone around him. This is why there’s jealousy, greed, and prejudice—because it separates us from others. And what’s more, this scarcity anxiety implies a sort of self-sufficiency that flies in the face of God. Because what need for God is there, then?

And this is what makes Jesus’s words so incredible. So hard to believe. Do you remember?

“For it is the nations of the world that seek all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (12:30–32)

“Seek the kingdom,” Jesus says, “and these things will be given to you as well.” Turn towards me, Jesus seems to say, and follow my way, my example, and you’ll find what you need. Provision. Care. Freedom. Love. Enough. Because the God who knows us intimately knows what we need and, what’s even better, wants to give us what we need. It’s the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom, Jesus says.

And yet, in so many ways—in how we live, in what we prioritize, in how we spend our time, in what we seem to value—we end up just like the farmer—turned inward, fearful, anxious. And so I think the real question for us this morning is this: While we may say we believe in Jesus, do we believe him?

Last Sunday after worship, somebody stopped me and said, “You know, Brent, your sermon today connected with something I’ve been doing recently. I’ve been saying to myself, ‘What if?’ Like, when I start to spiral or have negative thoughts, I’ll say, ‘What if?’ — as in, what if I’m okay?’ Or if I get worried about the future, I’ll think, ‘What if it will turn out actually better than I imagine?’

It’s a way of reframing. Of trying on something new. And I loved that so much.

And I’ve been thinking about it for this week, too—this “what if” mantra. What if Jesus means what he says? What if God really does want to give us good things and is just waiting for us to open ourselves to that possibility?

What if the treasure that God has for us is worth way more than the stuff we leave behind? What if we left the striving, the possessions, and our positions behind because what God offers is far better than you can ever ask for or imagine? What if we took that risk?

What would it mean for the 1 in 8 here in Chatham County who is food insecure? What would it mean for the 11% at or below the poverty line? The 1 in 4 in Siler City. What would it mean for those with inadequate housing? For the teachers who can’t afford a place to live? For the nearly 10,000 people served by CORA in the second half of 2023 — an increase of 4,000 year-over-year?

The only reason I jumped into the pool as a kid was because my Aunt Laura was there with arms open, ready to catch me. And when you take the risk to seek the kingdom and fast from scarcity anxiety — when you take the risk to take Jesus at his word, he’s there, too, with outstretched arms. He’s asking you, me, and the farmer to take the risk and trust that he means it. To not just believe in him but to believe him. To believe him when he says your value is not found in these things but in your belovedness. Not in what you have created but in the Creator. And that your willingness to not live with more than you need is an invitation to seek God’s kingdom and to participate in God’s provision of making sure everyone has what they need, too. And that there is enough.

So what if…