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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Divine Economy of Abundance (Part 1): #AllPeoplePractices

The following is part of an ongoing series looking at the #AllPeoplePractices that build the
Body of Christ. This series is in partnership with the United Methodist Church for All People and the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR).

What if we full heartedly believed, not in a God of scarcity, but in a God of abundance? What if every gift that God has ever given us is an asset, and what if we dedicated those assets to building the Kingdom of God? What if "we already have everything we need to make the next faithful step in ministry?"
These are fundamental questions that shape the ministries of UM Church for All People (C4AP). 

When we open the Bible, we see that the story begins in abundance. And when we turn to the final page, we see that it ends in abundance as well. God created a world of plenty and has promised to restore us to that plenty in the end. In between, we observe the effects of human fear, greed, and selfishness that disrupt God's vision for us, and creates a false perception of scarcity. But by living into the generosity that God has modeled for us, we trigger a return to the Divine abundance that God intended. 

We do not worship a God of scarcity, but a God of abundance. There is not a lack of resources in this world, only a problem of distribution. The world wants us to focus on scarcity, that there isn't enough, that it's a zero sum game of winners and losers. But we insist that God does not work this way. When the world focuses on the needs and deficits of our community, we talk about its hopes and dreams. When the world tells us we don't matter, we proclaim our great worth in the Lord. 

Therefore, at C4AP we don't denigrate our community by bemoaning its deficits, even when each grant and each report asks us to describe everything wrong with our neighborhood. But if we compete to prove ours is the greatest need, we undermine the community and pit ourselves against each other. This tendency is pernicious. It suggests that to gain resources for our community we must buy into a mindset of its pathology. It leads to an unnecessary to a race to the bottom at the expense of the dignity of our community. Too often we focus on the obstacles instead of the opportunities

So instead, we listen to the hopes and dreams of our neighbors, and then leverage our mutual assets to make those dreams come to life. We don't ignore the injustices of the world. On the contrary, we are acutely aware of the statistics and disparities that exist because they affect each moment of our lives and of lives around us. And we work hard to combat those injustices every day. 

But we do so through a lens of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD; perhaps the more common and secular term to describe God's Divine Economy of Abundance). In ABCD, the people are not the problems, they are the solutions. More institutions aren't the answer, God's people are.

We believe we have two irreducible assets: God's people, and the Holy Spirit that guides them in doing God's work. God’s people are always assets, never liabilities. And God's grace has no limit. We believe that every person is an image-bearer of Christ, the solution to our brokenness and sinful division. 
Make Your Peace
Art by April Sunami

Instead of the paralysis and despair of a needs-based society, we must re-center the intrinsic worth that God has placed in each one of us, and restore value to the things that the world has deemed useless, or unredeemable. If we give of what we have, no matter how meager it may seem, God will use it and multiply it for what God is doing around us. 

If we will do this, all of the sudden vacant lots become opportunities for gardens, broken glass becomes a medium for artwork, our blighted buildings become the potential for stable housing. 

From a congregation that is 60% below the poverty line, we have done nearly $50 million in affordable housing. And we are among the leaders in second mile/missions giving in our region (and of note to my UMC friends, we always pay 100% of our apportionments!)

Through the Free Store, we give away over $2 million worth of clothing and household items every year. It's all free and our shoppers can come back as many times as they want. And yet, in a store where everything is given away, we have never run out. In fact, there is so much abundance that it piles high and spills over as we try to keep up with the growing piles of donations. 

Our sense of scarcity doesn't have to exist. Our economic gaps don't have to exist. Our racial disparities don't have to exist. Our political inequalities don't have to exist. Our societal injustices do not have to exist.

Instead, let us return to the abundance that God would have for us. Let us insist that God has given us everything we have, and that everything we have is an asset. Then let us use our two greatest assets, God's people and God's Holy Spirit, to transform our society together. 

This isn't just rhetoric or pie-in-the-sky thinking. It's scriptural. And because it's scriptural, it's also practical. Read on to learn about some of the real-life ways God's Divine Economy of Abundance has manifested at UM Church for All People...

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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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