First Congregational Church
May 7, 2017
4th Sunday after Easter
Genesis 1:24-31, Psalm 104:24-30, Matthew 6:25-34
“Abundance in Creation”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
God was sitting in Heaven one day when a scientist said, “Lord, we don’t need you anymore. Science has finally figured out a way to create life from nothing. In other words, we can now do what you did in the ‘beginning’.” “Oh, is that so? Tell me…” replied God. “Well”, said the scientist, “we can take dirt and form it into the likeness of you and breathe life into it, thus creating humans.” “Well, that’s interesting. Show Me. “ So the scientist bent down to the earth and started to mold the soil. “Oh no, no, no…” interrupted God, “Get your own dirt.”
During Lent, we traveled through a sermon series on fear: fear of the unknown, of circumstances, the unexplainable and the unmentionable. Somewhere around the same time I ran across the fear series, I stumbled on a series of ‘abundance,’ and the more I thought about it, the more that it seemed like the right ‘balance’ to the first series. So this morning, looking at the abundance in creation, it seems only right to start at the beginning, or near-abouts. Just one definition before the reading: a leviathan is a sea monster, identified in different passages with the whale and the crocodile or a thing that is very large or powerful, especially a ship.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
24 How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25 There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number— living things both large and small. 26 There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. 27 All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. 29 When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. 30 When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Thank you, Molly and Scott. When undertaking any topic, it’s always good to check the definition, because one just never knows what one doesn’t know. In checking the definition of abundance, I was surprised. It means what we usually think it means: “an extremely plentiful or over sufficient quantity or supply,” such as an abundance of grain. The second definition from dictionary.com is an “overflowing fullness,” as in abundance of the heart. The fourth definition from that website is from the areas of physics and chemistry, as in the number of atoms of one isotope of an element divided by the total number of atoms in a mixture of the isotopes - whatever in the world that means. Google added the definition in terms of solo whist: “a bid by which a player undertakes to make nine or more tricks.”
In one more little anecdotal bit of information, the word “abundance” has fallen out of favor in writing. Between the year 1800 and 2008, the use of “abundance” has fallen by two-thirds. I’m not exactly sure how that was determined, but it is definitely an interesting flavor to add into this abundance recipe.
Erica Schemper is the Presbyterian minister who put this series on abundance together, and her point for this first sermon is this: it is the Bible’s intention to teach us about God’s providence in creation. And she pointed it out beginning with the first scripture reading for this morning. Even in creating this world, God ensured that everything had the provision it needed before it was created. Before the world could be created, there had to be the separation of void and planet. Vegetation was created before birds so they would have something to eat when they would be created. The sun and moon and stars were not created until there was light with which they could shine. Before the created item, God provided what the item needed.
But there’s a problem with this idea of God’s abundance being in place before it is needed. And the problem lies in the fact that from our end of things, more often than not, it sure doesn’t look like God is in the business of abundance.
Reverend Grace Imathiu was born in Kenya and is the lead pastor at Community United Methodist Church in Naperville, IL. I’ve had the honor of hearing her preach, and she tells the story in a sermon she wrote 5 years ago, of when she was serving a church in Nairobi.
“Three young men came to my office. Although they were cheerful, they looked tired and wore out. Their tennis shoes were dusty and their clothes needed a wash. The first thing they asked when they came into my office was whether they could sing a verse of "Amazing Grace" in their language. They sang a cappella, in parts. It was so beautiful. Sounded like angel music, the kind of singing that tugs at the soul and brings tears to your eyes out of the blue. And then they told me their story.
They were university students from Rwanda, 23-year olds. Two of them had been medical students. When war broke out in their country, they had escaped with only the clothes on their back and the song in their heart. They had walked for weeks without a change of clothes with no place to sleep. They had often gone hungry, they said, and they had no clue where any of their family members and friends were.
(Now if this story were to end here, it would be downright sad and depressing. But as it is so often with God, the story didn’t end there.)
They said they had learned to be grateful for their life each day and they had begun singing "Amazing Grace" as a prayer as they walked. They had seen so much violence and death and cruelty that they could not find words to pray so instead they sang "Amazing Grace" as they walked and they said, "God knew and that was enough."
(If this story were to end here, it would be nice and happy, but perhaps a little shallow. But as is so often with God, the story doesn’t end there.)
On that afternoon in my office, these three young men had come to church asking for assistance. They said they had found a room to rent for eight U.S. dollars a month. They said they did not need beds; they would gladly sleep on the floor. They were asking our congregation to help them with a month's rent. Eight dollars and some money for food; a total of $12 a month. I asked the three students to come back in a few days so I could meet with the church leaders, and when I met my church leaders, they all agreed it was a great ministry.
(If this story were to end here, it would be interesting and perhaps a little inspirational, but still lacking in depth. But as is so often with God, the story doesn’t end there.)
But someone talked about the budget. Someone said $8 was not a lot, but if you multiplied by 12 months, the next thing you know, it would be impossible. And someone else suggested, “Let’s have a special project," they said. "Let's have a special offering. Let's tell the congregation about the situation, have these young men sing one Sunday morning, and whoever in the congregation is willing to help, could donate outside the usual tithing and offertory."
(If this story were to end here, it would be a little hopeful and perhaps a little thought-provoking. But as is so often with God, the story doesn’t end there - and it gets “sticky.”
The church leaders talked late into the night. Some were even concerned that so many refugees were in the city that the word would spread our church was involved in paying rent and buying groceries and we would be swamped with needs. Some wanted to keep church and revivals only a spiritual level. No picnics, no food, no dinner.”
(If this story ended here, it would be a political issue that could tear any church apart. But as is so often with God, the story doesn’t end there.)
Grace finished the story with this. “As I listened to my church leaders, I learned so much about the myth of limited resources. We often think there's just enough for some of us. Some have to go without. We're worried we'll run out, but guess what? God's world has enough for all of us. Someone has put it well, saying, "There is enough for all our needs, but there is not enough for all our greed."
And isn’t the abundance of God the story of Jesus and the feeding of the 5,000? The disciples came from the perspective of limited resources. They wanted to send everyone away, to eliminate the need. And Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” They complained that they had just “five loaves of bread and two fish.” And Jesus said, “Bring them here to me.” “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.” How many other times have we seen Jesus do that very same thing with bread, breaking it and giving it out as he illustrates God’s abundant love and grace and mercy?
The bottom line of an abundance versus a limited world view lies in the view. When we view the life of this world, our human tendency is to see the enormity of issues and the limitations, which is true of our spiritual, mental, physical, private and corporate lives. When Jesus views the life of this world, he brings the power of God into the equation. And most times, God has already provided the resources, if after managing our treasure well, we know where to look. As we go about our business this week, let us go with the glasses of abundance, especially the abundance of creation. As the leaves open and fill the landscapes, let us be reminded how God does that all the time, when we remember to look at the world through God’s eyes. So shall we pray.
Glorious, Provider and Giving God, we thank you for the myriad of gifts with which you bless us: from the perfect combination of molecules that is the air we breathe to the rich relationships we have - with you, with each other and with this world. Sometimes we’re not so good at taking care of that which you give us: emotions, people, the environment. So forgive us and inspire us to do better with all your gifts and blessings. Accept our gifts of gratitude, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Use our gifts to you to further your kingdom, that we might all become better at living out of your abundance. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.