Pastor Steve Molin
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do you remember when you were just starting out? The humble nature of that first car or that first house probably pales when compared to what might have come later, but those early memories are vivid. At least they are for Marsha and me.
We lived in rentals for the first seven years of our marriage, and then we got the opportunity to buy a home…build a home, actually, in Rochester. It shouldn’t have been possible; not on the paltry salary I was making. It was the house that God provided. Sweat equity was a word we learned to appreciate, doing all the painting – inside and out – and all of the landscaping. Landscaping! Is that what that was? Two birch trees and a hundred rolls of sod? But the memories of moving two little kids into that home filled us with such joy and gratitude that it made us weep. I counted up the homes we’ve owned – there are eight of them – but none have felt like a gift from God like that first one.
Today, our scripture lesson from Genesis is another story of just starting out. It’s one of the most familiar and memorable texts in the whole bible, the story of Creation. “In the beginning” the story starts out. In the beginning, there was nothing. But then God started the amazing act of creating. On the first day, God creates darkness and light, and at the end of the day, God says it was good. “Tov” in Hebrew. It was good.
On the second day, God creates the waters, and “Tov” – it too was good. On the third day, it was the earth, with its dry land, its oceans, its trees and bushes and plants. “Tov,” said God. This was good. Day four brought the sun and moon and stars in the sky, and the division between night and day. Tov. On the fifth day God filled the sea with fish and the sky with birds. Tov again. And on the sixth day, God creates all kinds of animals and beasts to walk upon the earth, and snakes and insects to slither on the ground. And finally God creates man and woman, and tells them to be fruitful and multiply. And only now does God stand back and say…not “Tov.” Not “It is good.” Rather God says, “Ki Tov.” “This is very good!” And then God rested.
That’s the first chapter of Genesis. After hearing that narrative, we think we understand the Creation Story, right? But then the second chapter of Genesis comes…and a whole other creation story…a different creation story is written. The first one was a methodical, day-by-day description, but the story told in Genesis 2 is random, hap-hazard and artfully told. Yes, God creates water and land and rivers and plants; God even picks up a scoop of dirt in his hands and creates a man, blowing breath into the man’s nose to make him come alive.
Then almost as an afterthought, what seems to be an absent-minded God says, “Gee whiz, I don’t want this guy to be lonely; what am I going to do now? I know; I’ll make a companion for him.” So God creates a cow and brings it to the man and says, “What do you want to call this?” And Adam says, “Cow.” And God brings Adam a red bird and says, “What do you want to call this one?” And Adam says, “Cardinal.” God shows Adam a giant green monster with glaring eyes and flashing teeth…and Adam says, “Tyrannosaurus Rex.” And I have it on good authority that God brought forth a football player next; a hapless, wimpy little football player with skinny arms and skinny legs.” And Adam said, “I think I’ll call that a gopher.”
And because all of these things failed to be a suitable companion for Adam, God puts him to sleep, removes a rib from Adam’s body and from it creates a woman. And now creation is complete. God has given humankind everything they need to be successful in this life; a bountiful garden in which to live, food to eat, beauty to behold, a purpose of caretaking for the planet, and a companion with whom to share the journey. The argument between two political camps this summer has been silly: One side says, “We built what we have all by ourselves” while the other side says, “No you didn’t; the government helped.” They are both wrong, because everything we have, everything we own, everything we have become is by the hand of a gracious God. It’s all gift.
And it’s still a gift, isn’t it? The tiny rambler in Rochester…or Stillwater, or wherever you live; it’s a gift. The money you’ve earned; it’s a gift. The academic degree you’ve achieved; Gift. The artwork you’ve created, the children you’ve raised, the Roth IRA that you’ve set aside; it’s all a gift.
I think that’s how Adam and Eve saw things; that God had granted gift after gift for them to enjoy. But then they made a fatal error with God’s gift, and it’s the same error that we continue to make today.
Their error was this: over time, they thought they had created the Creation. “This is our garden! We’ve worked hard pulling weeds, and tilling soil, and cleaning up after those darn giraffes, and hauling water to the cornfields. So if we want to eat from the tree in the middle of the Garden – the one that God said was off limits – it ought to be our decision. And if our crop grows and our neighbor’s crop fails, it ought to be our decision to share or not. And if I want to abuse the garden, pollute the rivers, grow toxic plants, and be cruel to my neighbor’s children, I will do that BECAUSE IT’S MY GARDEN!”
But it’s not our garden, you see. It’s God’s creation. There is no evidence in the bible that says God turned over the deed to Adam and Eve. Rather, God said, “Care for my garden, manage it, nurture it, use it; but remember that it all belongs to me and I loan it to you as a gift.”
Whenever stewardship season comes around, pastors like me pose the question, “What should we do with what we have? Our money, our time, our talents, our abilities, our stuff…what should we do with it?” And today I say that it is precisely the wrong question…or it is at least a premature question. Until we come to grips with the source of our blessings – the owner of our blessings – we are not prepared to answer the question, “What should we do with them?”
When I set out to plan this stewardship series, it occurred to me that the title of the series says it all. Ourselves…Our Gifts. The primary issue of stewardship is not “Who do we give our money to?” Rather the primary issue is “Who have we given ourselves to?” If we have confessed faith in Jesus Christ, if we have given our lives to God, then we are partners with God as to how we use our gifts. If we have given ourselves. But if we have not given our lives over to Christ, then I suppose we conclude that we control our stuff. It doesn’t matter what God thinks I should do, it’s mine alone and I make the decisions.
I love that image of the little boy who was visiting grandma’s church one Sunday when the offering plate passed by. He set the plate beside himself on the pew and he sat inside it and said, “Jesus, I don’t have anything to give you, so I give you myself.” I would to God that every one of us would replicate that image when the plate comes by today; that we put our lives in that offering plate. Next week, it is our confirmation students’ turn, as they stand, not in an offering plate, but before all of us, and they give themselves to God.
Where does success start? When we graduate from college? When we buy our first house? When we start earning, or start building, or start creating? Or does success start here, when we conclude that God is the source of all of it…and we get the privilege of using it for a lifetime. It doesn’t start with giving…it starts with believing that it doesn’t belong to us anymore. Ourselves…then our gifts.
May it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.
©2012 Steven Molin