By mtaylor | Monday, September 19, 2016 | 11:52 AM
Genesis 1-2 (selections)
September 18, 2016
Cary G. Speaker, D.Min.
When we study church history, we realize that the church reacts to the world. We can go so far as to say that the world shapes the church and its theology. I believe this is true even for, perhaps especially for, Ancient Israel. Going with the theory of composition for the creation story that it was written during the Babylonian Exile, we can make some amazing statements about Ancient Israel’s faith and theology – and hopefully we will be able to make similar statements about our own faith and theology.
I grew up in a culture influenced by the Great Depression of 1929. Not that I lived through that economic depression, but my parents did. The effect of not knowing if there would be enough – enough money, enough jobs, enough food and housing – all of that had a life-changing and life-shaping effect on this country and all of its inhabitants. I am a member of the “baby boomer” generation. When I was born, the war was over and economic prosperity had returned to this country. There was a sense that the world was safe for democracy. There was a sense that we had made the world safe and we were responsible for our own economic prosperity. We had pulled this country, and even the entire world, up out of the depression – emotional as well as economic – by our own bootstraps. We were masters of our own destiny. We were living large and in charge.
Contrast our experience as the victors against the experience of the Babylonian Exile. In the experience of Ancient Israel a theology of creation was developed that became their faith statement. Central to Israel’s faith is the belief that God is in charge. Israel repeats this litany of abundance as a part of their worship liturgy.
God said, “Let there be light.”
And the people said, “It is good.”
The creation story is a statement of faith that God is still in charge of all creation even when the whole world is spinning out of control in chaos. When we sit down by the waters of Babylon and hang our harps on the trees, we still know that the God of creation is for us. We know that God will provide for us and care for us as the Creator has always cared and provided for us. It is the very nature of God to care about us. God created us so that we can be in relationship with God and each other. The love of God for us is so amazing that God became one of us in Jesus Christ.
But do we really believe in the God of abundance? Unlike Ancient Israel, who shaped its faith in the devastation of defeat and exile, it is very difficult for us to believe in the God of Abundance when we live in the culture shaped by fear and scarcity. We have heard it so much and for so long that we believe it. What counts in this world is money. The writers of the Old Testament knew that and Jesus knew that. That is why there is a consistent theme running through the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments, that there is a special place in God’s heart for the poor and the powerless, the last, the least and the lost.
I know before saying this that some of you will interpret what I am about to say as a political statement, and I believe that there is a political component to what I am about to say, but the statement is born out of theology. The wealth of this country is grounded in the myth of scarcity. The myth of scarcity has infected all of us. We believe that there is not enough. We believe that we must conserve what we have because, …. Well, because, what if we run out? What if we have a rainy day and we did not save some for it?
I grew up with parents who survived the depression. As a young adolescent in the early ‘60's I remember how proudly my middle class hard-working father was when he announced that he had “maxed-out” his savings account. He announced that he was ready to open a new account. What I later discovered that meant was that Dad had saved $10,000. That was the maximum amount for which the FDIC would insure a savings account.
My generation has never done without. I always had what I needed and more. My children – the next generation, have grown up with no experience of economic depression or shortages. OK, the price of gas has gotten quite high, but it was not rationed. And most of us kept driving. We, the parents, have protected the next generation from scarcity by overwhelming them with things. Can you remember how outraged you felt the first time you saw a pair of Air Jordan basketball shoes on sale for $100? Today we do not blink at that price. We may not always buy everything we want or our children want, but we could. Well, maybe not, but we almost could. This next generation does not know the concept of doing without. Is it not ironic that in a country where we have the most, we are afraid that we do not have enough? Our culture is so controlled by the myth of scarcity that we no longer know what enough is. We have become a culture of consumers rather than givers.
The litany of abundance found in this first chapter of Genesis is a reminder to the people of God to be constantly dazzled by God’s generosity. God gives us the gift that keeps on giving – the gift of life, abundant life. You will remember that the litany goes something like this:
God created the heavens and the earth and the people said, “It is good.” It is a reminder that all of this abundance is not by our doing. It is all a gift from God.
There is an orderly movement found within the creation litany. There is the movement from chaos to order. We experience this order in the church when we remember all of those people who serve in our ministry of Christian Education. When we remember all of the teachers on Sundays and Wednesdays, the various Bible studies and prayer groups. There is abundant order here in worship. We could not have this abundant worship experience without the choir, the ushers, and the liturgists. We see all of those jobs being done. Do not forget those who do the jobs that make worship happen, but we do not see them in here during worship. Remember the Chancel Guild that prepares the sanctuary and cleans the sanctuary; those people every week who are taking care of young children in the nursery. Nor can we forget our Maintain Cluster providing for all of our buildings and grounds. I have heard several comments recently that our church grounds look the best they have seen in a long time.
Within this litany of abundance is also the reminder of blessing. The refrain, “God saw that it was good,” is a blessing. We can imitate that blessing in as simple a custom as saying a table grace before meals. God has provided for us and will continue to provide abundantly for us. A very large part of why we have difficulty letting go of our things and our money is because we believe we earned that money and it is ours. As long as we think that way, we are prisoners to the myth of scarcity. The myth of scarcity is so powerful that in spite of the evidence, we believe there is still not enough. Think about the finances of this church. This church has accumulated vast assets. Thanks to the foresight of previous generations that tradition of generosity has continued. We have no debt. We do not pay a mortgage. We have a tradition of being good savers and money managers. We do not need to be afraid of having enough and saving for a rainy day. This church is not going to stop being a good money manager.
This church has been blessed with abundant resources. You and I both know that this church can afford to do whatever we decide we want to do. If the money happens to not be in the church account, then it is still in yours. But we know there is plenty of money. There is no scarcity. During this stewardship emphasis season I am not talking about your sacrificial giving. I am talking about your abundant living.
I am sometimes tempted to speak for God. Every time I am so tempted, I am reminded of Adam and Eve and what we have come to know as “Original Sin.” Some people understand original sin as being disobedient to God’s command. I think it is Adam and Eve’s desire to know what God knows. In other words, Original Sin is our effort to be more like God. So, when I am tempted to speak for God, I know that I am not alone in that temptation. So what is a preacher to do? It is the very nature of preaching to attempt to speak the word of God. I will let you in on my secret. I go back to the Bible. When I study Genesis, this is what I see: God looks at creation, including us, and says, “It is good. It is very good.” Our response in this litany is to say back to God, “It’s all good.” The challenge for us is to discover our part in making God’s gift even better. What can we do? Where can we step up and get involved in the ministry and mission of this church? This church needs you to be involved. Make your commitment to abundant living through your involvement in the life of this church.