I would like to begin this message by two sharing two quotes from Old Testament scholar Walter Bureggemann;
“Greed is born out of the idea of scarcity, and scarcity is born out of anxiety – and all three are acted upon in an abundant world. Abundance is denied, not trusted, forgotten in our culture-(Walter Brueggeman)
The conflict between the narratives of abundance and of scarcity is the defining problem confronting us at the turn of the millennium. The gospel story of abundance asserts that we originated in the magnificent, inexplicable love of a God who loved the world into generous being. The baptismal service declares that God has miraculously loved each of us into existence. And the story of abundance says that our lives will end in God, and that this well-being cannot be taken from us- (Walter Brueggeman)
Our culture is saturated with the message and ethos of accumulation. Some of us are driven to accumulate so that we can retire on a sunny beach home or something of that nature while most of us are battling each day just to make the ends to meet. Do the scriptures have anything to share with us in our state of anxiety about possessions? I believe the answer is a resounding yes! The God of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures is an abundant giver. We see this in the creation narrative in the pronouncement that everything God created was “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
We see no hint of scarcity in the creation narrative and therefore no anxiety about not having enough. All was good! God even ceased from work and rested! God had a Sabbath! The scriptures continues to describe this abundance in God’s creation which I believe reflects the creator’s abundance by saying that God blessed the male and the female he created and commissioned them to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…” (Gen. 1:28). This narrative of the abundance of creation and therefore the abundant creator God stands in sharp contrast to our narrative of scarcity and the anxiety that plagues us constantly because we are not sure that we will have enough. I resonate with Brueggemann that it is this is anxiety about scarcity that is the real root of accumulation.
This creator God is depicted in Hosea 11:1-11 as abounding in mercy and love. God is tender and affectionate towards Israel and treats Israel like a loving parent who teaches Israel as an infant child who is being taught to walk by a loving parent, but repeatedly Israel rejects this loving parent and in spite Israel’s rejection God would not destroy her after she returns from exile. God poses this telling question, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over Israel?….My hear is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused” (v.8). God makes the most important commitment; “I will settle them in their homes,” (v.11). This is the God we are talking about this morning.
In Psalm 107, we see yet another glimpse of God’s generosity this time through a community’s praise. Here we see an attitude of thanksgiving offered by worshipers of God who believed that God had heard their cries while in trouble and came and delivered them. It might have been a composition for liturgical purposes in festivities but the theme is very clear; giving thanks to the Lord for God’s goodness and steadfast love. God had redeemed them from the hand of the oppressor and gathered them in “from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south” (verse 3). They were gathered from all over where they had been exiled and dispersed perhaps a fulfillment of the prophetic pronouncements one of which we saw above in Hosea.
These words of praise are not based on some kind of ideological piety; they came from a people who had been away for years in captivity. These people had indeed been “gathered in” by God to their ancestral home. Together they represent, perhaps, the “redeemed of the LORD” mentioned in verse 2. As such, we today can also use this Psalm because we too are the redeemed of the LORD.
The words of Psalm 107 are heartfelt words of celebration of divine deliverance. This psalm gives us some insight into how to handle moments like these in our own lives. We ought to name our situation; cry out to God and tell God what we need; accept the deliverance that God brings; and then give thanks to God for the deliverance. I know it is not always that clear cut, but I do find solace in this story of God’s people. When we do get through, let us remember that it was God and not our own strength or power, or some fortune etc that got us through. Our God surely is an awesome God!
In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus uses an opportunity presented by a man who perhaps operated from a different narrative than the one we have been describing so far. We know this because of how Jesus answered his request, He wanted Jesus to arbitrate an inheritance dispute but instead Jesus went right to the heart of the matter and used the occasion as a teaching moment to his disciples then and I believe to his disciples now as well. He used the occasion to warn against all forms of greed; all desires to obtain more than what one already has. He told them a parable of a successful grain farmer who might represent good hard working people today. The man had worked hard but was too pleased by himself. In fact he talked to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Lk. 12:19).
Then Jesus went right to the punch line, “But God said, to him, ‘you fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you….This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (v.20-21). What do we make of this parable? Perhaps Jesus wanted his disciples not to be caught up on the rat race of their time and by extension of ours as well. The system of the world depends on anxiety and the more anxious we are the more we accumulate or at least attempts to. Jesus wants us to relax and not participate in that that anxious system. Research shows that majority of prescriptions in our culture are for mood-altering drugs.
Jesus wants us not to worry so much about what we will eat or what we will wear and this must not be confused with laziness and dependency. The rich fool operated from a narrative of scarcity, which is characterized by anxiety. He wanted to build bigger barns perhaps because of the anxiety of not having enough. I believe that how we view God shapes our values, priorities and ultimately how we live our lives. In the narrative of generosity, we see life as God gives it. May we receive from this abundant generosity and likewise become instruments of abundance to bless others. My own mother demonstrated this principle to me in Africa. We hardly ate a meal as a nuclear family. My mother fed the neighborhood children who came to our home and she still does. There were moments when we had very little but she insisted on sharing telling us that God was going to provide and I stand as a witness on many occasions God did provide and we never went hungry. Brueggemann provides a great council for all of us thus:
From anxiety to trust
From scarcity to abundance
From accumulation to generosity
From monopoly to community
From violence to peace making
Sermon preached at
Capital Christian Fellowship
August 4, 2013
By Nelson Okanya