Other sermons in this series
“Generosity: the Core of Creation”
18th Sunday after Pentecost: The Story of God’s Generosity (1/3)
Scripture: portions of Genesis 1-4
Intro: The Bible is the story of God’s generosity. From Genesis to Revelation, God put his generous nature on full display. Every book of the Bible, each in its own way—some overt and some more subdued—reveals the generosity of the God we worship. The story of God’s generosity begins all the way back “in the beginning,” because Creation itself was the first place God put his generosity on full display.
The Bible contains two accounts of Creation. The first account is found in Genesis 1, and it’s the one we most often think of when we speak of God creating the world. In this story, Creation takes place over the course of six days. Each day builds upon what was created the previous day. The second Creation story is focused on the lives of Adam and Eve and their family while they lived in the Garden of Eden. It puts human nature’s rebellious ways on display. But at the same time, it also reveals God’s grace and generosity in the face of our rebellion. I’ve asked Barb to read highlights of these important stories which provide the foundation upon which is build the rest of the Scriptures.
In this life, in our interactions with one another, what, for the most part, begets generosity? How about appreciation? It’s my observation that expressing appreciation to the person who’s been generous is a lot more likely to result in them being generous again than not expressing appreciation. I frequently read the various “Dear Abby” columns just to see if I agree with their advice. One recuring issue through the years is the lack of any expression of appreciation on the part of children or grandchildren for gifts given to them. Should I continue to give to them? is often the question posed by the disgruntled parent/grandparent. And, of course, anyone involved in fundraising who’s wise knows that the first thing you do after receiving a substantial gift is send them a thank you letter. Why? To increase the likelihood that they’ll give again—because we all know that in many cases, appreciation begets generosity.
What else begets generosity? How about worthiness or being deserving of one’s generosity? For example, almost every city has people begging for money. What do almost all of us want to know before we give them any of our money? We want to know what they’re going to do with it, right? Are they going to use it to buy food? Or alcohol or drugs? Because most of us have determined that if they’re going to use if for alcohol or drugs, then we’re not going to give it to them. In essence, their self-harming actions make them undeserving of our generosity.
What else begets generosity? Well, along the same lines of being deserving is the idea that one has earned another’s generosity. One clear example of this is scholarships. Academic scholarships, athletic scholarships, even need-based scholarships—all of these require that the recipient show that they’ve met the criteria for even being considered for the scholarship. Through their grades or skills or financial need, they can show that they’ve earned the right to be considered for the scholarship.
One more thing that begets generosity in this world is the ability to pay it back. Just ask a bank if they’re willing to lend you $10,000 though you’re currently unemployed. How generous do you think they’ll be feeling?
Now, just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that any of these ways that effect generosity on the part of others is wrong. All I’m saying is that in our world, generosity tends to come with strings attached. Not always, but very often.
Not so with God! In fact, it’s never so with God. God’s generosity has never come with strings attached. In fact, as I’m about to point out, his generosity has always been poured out even when we’ve failed to express appreciation, when we’ve not been deserving of it, when we’ve not earned it, and even through we’ve never been able to pay it back. That’s the truth about God’s generosity.
So, let me say it again: the Bible is the story of God’s generosity. And that story is rooted in Creation itself. Let’s look again at those opening words. In the beginning…the earth was formless and empty, [and] darkness covered the surface of the watery depths (Genesis 1:1-2). With this opening verse in mind, I love the questions posed by David Bowden: What had nothingness done to deserve the creative words God was about to display? What had the darkness given to God that he needed to repay? What did God owe to the swirling wild and waste? What did chaos do to earn those first six days? What did God see in that nothingness that moved him to create everything?
The answer? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Creation is the supreme act of God’s generosity because nothing earned God’s creative activity. He created the cosmos—including our world and our lives, and everything that has sustained human life to this day—out of his nature to be generous.
So, here’s an important point I hope everyone understands: The story of Creation reveals the truth that God built generosity into the grain of the universe (Bowden). Let me say that again. God built generosity into the grain of the universe. Generosity is a principal foundation of all Creation. To give is to live in harmony with the way God has made everything.
But how did we—humanity—respond to God’s generosity? We went against the grain of Creation by taking. To take is to go against the grain of Creation, and it’s how we humans have always responded to God’s generous act of being made.
God gave us a place to live, where we were in perfect relationship with him and all creation. In the story, there was only one rule, only one boundary line. But one rule was too many, one boundary line too much for us to live within. So, we took the fruit of the forbidden tree and ate it. Here’s the thing, as Bowden points out: we ate from the tree that promised to make us into the image of God….But we’d already been made in his image! It was something God already gave us. As a result of our taking, we brought greed into God’s universe of generosity. From that point on, we’ve never been fully satisfied. We always want more, even when we have more than enough. With that came stealing, cheating, gambling; really, any way to get more. More of whatever we wanted or felt we needed. Even if it meant taking the life of another person. Which is what Cain did. He took his own brother’s life because he felt somehow cheated out of God’s blessing. And things only got worse from there. In time, we took over the world, flooding it with our sin, so much so that God expressed regret for ever making humanity in the first place. And that, according to the Bible, resulted in the great Flood which killed all humanity.
Except, it didn’t. Out of his generosity, God made a way for humanity to make a comeback. He saved Noah and his family, and, again according to the biblical narrative, humanity was restored. But what did we end up doing in response? We took.
And yet, God kept giving. He gave us Abram, who’d done nothing to deserve God’s generosity. God gave him the promise that through him all nations would be blessed. Generations later, after the Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, he gave them Moses, also a man undeserving of God’s generosity. For one thing, he was a murderer! But through Moses, God gave them their freedom, which they’d not earned. Throughout their wanderings, he gave them food and water to live by. He gave them their law to direct them. He gave them a land of their own. He gave them leaders in the persons on prophets and kings. But what did they do in response. They continually took what they wanted and threw back in God’s face any semblance of true appreciation. They broke the law over and over and over, but God continued to give to them. Until it got so bad that God cut them off from their inheritance and sent them into exile for 70 in Babylon. But even then, God provided for them and eventually brought them back to their land.
And it wasn’t the end of God’s generosity, for at that time he was setting the stage for his greatest act of generosity. To the crooks and frauds of the world—all of humanity—God generously gave Jesus. He gave us himself. He gave us himself through his Son, Jesus Christ. And after walking with us with for 33 years, showing us himself, revealing the ways of the Kingdom, and showering us with love, he gave his life for us. He gave it knowing that we’d never be able to pay him back. The bottom line is this: God gave his life on the cross to buy back the very one’s who’s squandered his generosity.
It all comes down to this: Giving is how we were made. The very world in which we reside, the air in our lungs, and eternal life we have in Christ—it’s all been freely given to us by the God who made us. This God has sewn generosity into our DNA. You’ll never find it with the strongest microscope, but it’s there. It’s baked into right our molecules. May we live this story—the story of generosity. Because when we do, then our own stories and God’s story are one and the same.