Created for Generosity
Each fall as school begins and the seasons change, we make our way in worship back to the Old Testament and begin again to hear the story of God’s people. We remember again that our ancestors in the faith may have lived in very different times and places, but they were also like us in many ways. The record that they left for us is a testimony of their experience with God. These are the stories that have shaped our people for thousands of years, and they are the stories that continue to shape us. The stories make us. We find ourselves in them. That’s what it means for them to have authority for us. It means that in some very important ways these stories author us. Now, do we all hear them the same way? Nope. In this room we have a diversity of theological beliefs, many ways of approaching these origin stories of ours. And that’s OK. Even more than OK, that’s good. That’s what’s going to keep us all honest and help us all grow. As I preach these texts, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on whether or not they could have been recorded on video. But I am going to encourage us all to think about what it means for them to be true for us. What it means for them to contain truth and wisdom and beauty and encouragement and warnings that will shape us in this place and this time to be the people that God needs us to be in this world. Because whether you believe these are factual stories or fanciful stories, they are our stories, and they have something to say to us.
“So let us listen now in the reading of Scripture for the Word and Wisdom of God.” – Iona Community Worship Book
Scripture Reading Genesis 1 & 2
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
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. 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.
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.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
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.”
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. 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.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
As we begin our stewardship series today, I want to invite you to reflect on what this story says about God and what it says about us. My favorite part of this story is idea that we are created in God’s image and that’s what I want to focus on this morning.
This idea of being created in God’s image has always fascinated people. Does it mean we look like God? I think that’s a hard case to make. So what’s more likely is that we are designed to act like God, to do the things God does. In other ancient Afro-Asiatic cultures it was common to say that the king was made in God’s image. This had a lot to do with the king’s authority to rule and order his kingdom, on behalf of the god he worshipped. But our story says that everyone is created in God’s image: men and women, kids and adults, rulers and the public. We are all tasked with representing God in our world and taking responsibility for God’s kingdom.
Now it’s a pretty bold move for God to leave this whole thing in our hands. Many of us believe that God guides us and helps us and maybe even intervenes in really direct ways sometimes. But for the most part, the day-to-day ordering of the world, caring for creation and one another, producing and distributing resources, that’s all left up to us. Apparently, this God in whose image we are made would rather give us freedom rather than control us like puppets. To be stewards of all creation is some awesome and weighty responsibility. We have some work to do!
So how do we do this work in the way that God did it? Well in this story, God both speaks and acts. God’s words are tied to God’s actions. God speaks God’s intentions and it’s immediately followed by actions. God speaks and God makes. That means if we are created in God’s image, then our words and intentions are not enough to order the world. We are designed to reflect God, which means that we are designed for our words to be paired with actions. It’s not enough for us to simply want to do good things, or to post a rant on social media. Because we reflect God, we are designed to have our words and actions be integrated together. The words and intentions matter. And the actions matter. And when we put them together, new things happen in the world.
New things need to happen in this world, don’t they? In verse 28, God invites us to subdue the earth. Now that doesn’t mean to burn through our natural resources and do whatever we want. It means that as the creation that God set in motion continues to unfold, there are going to be things that need to be pruned. There are going be things that happen that shouldn’t happen and it’s up to us to stop them. There are going to be things that die and need to be restarted. There are things that are going to become disordered in our world and our societies and it is up to us to bring them back in line with God’s original plan. The beginning of the story shows God subduing chaos and we are invited to do the same.
In this story, God affirms six different times that creation is good. In fact the final time God says that everything was very good. But the story doesn’t say that everything was perfect, or that everything was going to stay exactly the way it was. Maintaining this world in line with God’s original intention of flourishing for all creatures, that’s the work left to us. That’s what it means for us to be created in the image of God.
So what does this have to do with stewardship? I think it’s about generosity. God is inherently generous. God is love. We trust that God cares, that suffering breaks God’s heart. And since we are made in the image of God, suffering breaks our heart as well. One of the most common human impulses is to reach out when someone is hurting. When a hurricane or a tornado or a flood or a fire disrupts the order of things, our immediate and instinctual reaction is to try to put things right. To give money, to send clean-up supplies, to provide clothes, to donate food. When someone falls, almost all of us react with concern and try to help that person up. To be made in the image of God means, in part, to have an impulse toward generosity, to be wired to meet needs.
We are going to spend the next three weeks thinking about different aspects of stewardship from the perspective of some of our well-loved Old Testament stories. To be created in the image of God is to be a giver, not just givers of money, but a givers of time, and love, and care, and space, and encouragement. All of us are already givers, because we are all made in the image of God. The invitation of stewardship is to graciously open ourselves to God’s Spirit to see where God may be inviting us to grow in our giving. Maybe it’s increasing your financial commitment here. Awesome. Maybe it’s increasing your time commitment here. Fantastic. Maybe it’s increasing the amount of love that you express to people outside you own family. Amazing. All of those things matter.
Here at Zion, we are not interested in getting more just for the sake of having more. We believe that God is growing our congregation because there is something that needs to be done in Delaware through our time and our love and our resources, and that’s what we are interested in. Those are the exciting dreams that we can dream together. Does it require money? Yes, of course it does. But if we are all being the generous givers that we are wired to be because we are created in God’s image, then it’s going to work out. We don’t have to worry about it. Remember that Jesus invites to not be anxious about anything and that absolutely includes our church budget. I’m not anxious about it.
So how do we get to the place where we can do what God is calling us to do in Delaware? Well first, we need to discern what that is. Many of you in this congregation are already doing amazing acts of service in the city. But as a congregation, we are not doing much with our collective time and resources. So first and foremost, I’m asking you to pray about what God wants us to. Maybe you’re not currently spending much time on things outside of yourself and so you also want to pray about where God is calling you to serve.
As God reveals these new opportunities to us, we will need the resources do to them. I think when it comes to giving, we can fit into a few different categories. First, there may be a few people in here who haven’t been giving to Zion. For whatever reason, you haven’t made yet that a priority in your household budget. I’d invite you to start. You’ll be amazed at how your feelings about this place change as you take that step in solidarity with the rest of us. You will feel even more a part of what’s happening when you are invested. Make a commitment for the next year on that pledge card and see how your feelings and actions change here.
Next, some of you are already giving what God has prompted you to give. All we need you to do is keep it up. Use your pledge card to let us know what your plans are for the next year. On behalf of everyone else, I thank you for your faithfulness. We decided to approach this season of stewardship by assuming that most people are already being generous, and not by assuming that we are being stingy. We are not just surviving; we are thriving. And that’s because of what we are all already doing together. So just keep doing what you’re doing.
Finally there might be some of you who want to start giving or want to give more but you are experiencing a deep fear of scarcity in your life. This could be a legitimately hard financial season for you, or it could just be that you are scared that if you give more, something will happen and you won’t have enough. As your pastor, let me encourage you to be brave and to remind you that you aren’t alone.
The ironic solution to being afraid of not having enough is to give something away. We fight scarcity through generosity, that impulse to meet needs which is natural in us because we are created in God’s image. Now for your financial and mental health, this may mean that you do something small. That’s great. This is one area where I have personally experienced God providing for me and for other people in very unexpected ways and I want to invite you to just try it. Use your pledge card to make a small commitment, or increase your commitment, stick to it, and see what happens. You will feel terrified and then you feel free. Because you will be living in line with how you are created to be, made in God’s image. Amen.