Our Generous Host
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As we start this series on generosity this morning, let us start with this truth – God is our generous host. God is the generous provider of everything. Our lives. The life of our world. Time. Our own gifts. They have all been given to us by God, who is our generous host and who is all about abundant life.
We can think of this in terms of a party. Think of going to a party hosted by someone who is incredibly generous. There is plenty of food and drink for all. There is no worry about scarcity. We do not need to rush to the grill as soon as we hear that the burgers/lamb chops whatever is being grilled are ready. We do not need to crowd around the person going around with the tray of pulled pork sandwiches because there will be plenty for everyone and indeed, more than enough for everyone. We can spend our time focussed on each other and focussed on having a good time in the various ways that we might have a good time at a party.
This is the kind of scene that is described in Genesis 2. It is the second creation account, and probably the lesser known of the two creation accounts. We’re more used to the creation account in chapter 1 where God speaks into creation there was evening and there was morning the 1st to 6th day and God saw that it was good. In chapter 2 we read about God planting and forming. In this account, we move from a picture of a land barren of any life to a garden filled with abundance. We have God forming man from the dust of the ground and breathing into him the breath of life. From the very beginning then God is the source of life itself. Life itself is a gift from God. We have God planting a garden and making to grow out of the ground every tree that is pleasant and good for food, the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (which we will get back to). We have a picture of Eden being a headwaters – the source of water, which means the source of life – and the branches of the river going out to different parts of the earth. We have a picture of the goods of the earth – good gold and bdellium and onyx. Animals and birds and every living creature are formed by God from the ground. Man is given a role in naming them. We have God providing family and community and partnership. The need for community is written into human DNA, as someone has said, and God provides it. There is a proverb attributed to Kenyan philosopher and theologian John Mbiti: “I am because we are, and because we are, I am.” God has provided life and everything needed for life – food, freedom to share in God’s generosity, and family. So far so good.
But of course, it isn’t good, is it? There is a scarcity problem in our world. Oftentimes we feel that we don’t have enough time, money, community. Stark inequalities exist in our world which were laid even more bare in the last two years. Poverty is a reality for many, whether it be an economic poverty or relational poverty. Going back to the picture of the party we considered at the beginning of the sermon, imagine a different scene. One group of people grabs all the food and takes it into a room. They barricade themselves in there, unwilling to share it. When asked why they say that they’re worried they have enough to last until the end of the party. Another group grabs all the drinks and locks themselves away into another room. They’re afraid of running out, feel they need to take whatever they can get and hang onto it. The party turns into a fight for limited resources. Before long no one can even remember what things were like when food and drink flowed and everyone was at ease because of their generous host. Few even remember the host
What happened? The lie happened. The lie that God is not actually a generous provider, but a withholder (because we like to make God in our own image oftentimes). There was a prohibition in the middle of all the abundant provisions in the garden. The prohibition was about recognizing God as gracious creator and generous provider, and ourselves as thankful recipients of the generosity of God. “Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” was the one thing. This does not mean the knowledge of how to tell good from bad or have a conscience. The expression in Hebrew is more like “the knowledge of all things.” Unlimited knowledge or knowledge which enables a person or group to control. Knowledge which belongs to God. Knowledge which, should we believe we have a claim to, results in a rupture of the relationship between us as God’s creation and God as our generous host. Putting ourselves in the place of God as provider, thinking that we need to provide for ourselves because maybe God is really more of a withholder if God exists at all.
“Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’” These are the words of the serpent in the next chapter. This is the lie which, like any good lie contains an element of truth. The woman said to the serpent “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said ‘You shall not eat of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” The idea of God as withholder has crept in and is furthered in the woman’s answer. God hadn’t said “Don’t even touch it” after all. Doubts are being raised. Maybe God doesn’t have our best interests at heart but rather his own, wanting to keep us in our place and all. She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. They eat of the tree and instead of wisdom find shame.
The problem of scarcity has begun. Humanity has bought into the lie that God is neither good nor generous, and that we have to take matters into our own hands. Competition and struggle for resources comes on the scene. Envy and violence comes on the scene as brother murders brother. Vengeance and payback come on the scene. We read about Cain’s descendant Lamech in Genesis 5. Lamech boasts about killing a man for wounding him, a young man for striking him. “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” What a mess.
Thankfully God steps into our mess. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” We were never going to be left on our own in the mess. Jesus is new in time but part of something very old. “Late in time behold him come,” as we sing at Christmas. God made his grace known in the garden. Someone has said that God’s first act of grace after we decided that we had to take matters into our own hands was providing garments of skins for the man and his wife and clothing them. Even in our shame, we thought we had to cover it up ourselves. God said no, I’m going to do that for you. Our gracious generous host…
…who on the third day finds himself at a wedding in a town called Cana in Galilee. On the third day, and we mustn’t miss the significance of this unit of time which is more than a unit of time. We are third-day people after all. On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. The kingdom of God is like a wedding and there is abundance. The renewal of all things is like a wedding banquet and there is abundance. There’s also the creation of a new family. We are reminded of this often in the everyday, aren’t we? I remember one year at our summer camp helping to serve lunch and there was an abundance. One child ran up to the table where we were serving pizza and yelled out “This is like a party!” The kingdom of God is like a party at which we never need to worry about resources running out. This was the first of Jesus’ signs, John tells us, and revealed his glory. We have seen his glory. Isn’t that significant? The first of Jesus’ signs is about abundance. It is about having more than enough. It revealed his glory. Someone has described the meaning of glory here as this - the majesty, radiance, and substantial weight of God’s essential nature. This act of turning a lot of water into a lot of wine is the first sign that Jesus is the same God that created the world and gifted us life, love, and community. Jesus is the one from whom we receive grace upon grace. In Jesus, a new age has dawned. At the end of that age, all of creation will be restored and renewed and there will be no more anxiety about scarcity or worrying about enough because there will be more than enough for all.
When we gather around God’s table we recognize God as the source of life. This also means recognizing that we are not the source of our life – that our life is not made by accumulating, holding onto, amassing. Accepting an invitation to any table or party means ceasing from striving, trusting in the generosity of a gracious host. It should anyway. To drink together from the cup of blessing at the Lord’s table is to recognize and give thanks for new life, renewal, restoration in Jesus.
It's thought that those stone water jars at the wedding would have contained about 150 gallons of water. When we think of water on Pentecost Sunday, we can’t help but think of the way that water symbolizes the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John. God pours out his Spirit abundantly. Listen to these words from John 3 – “He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” (3:34) Listen to these words from John 7 – “On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive…” (7:37-39a) May we say with another person we encounter in John, “Sir give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty…” (4:15) May God pour his Spirit out on us in abundance.
So that we might be people who live generously and abundantly. Any talk of generosity on our part is rooted and grounded in our generous God, and what God has done, is doing and will do. Throughout five weeks we’re going to be considering what it means to be generous, and I know that when we hear generosity we often think first of money. It goes far beyond that though. What does it mean to be generous with our time, our tables, our thanks, our praise, our space? These are questions we’re going to be considering over these weeks. You know I’m a big believer in symbolic action. Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend the Greek Orthodox Church that Nicole’s mom attends. At the end of the service, they bring a large basket filled with pieces of bread (substantial pieces too) for the people to take on their way out. I’m told this bread is baked by someone in the congregation and brought to church as a sign of thanks and shared. Abundance. A little girl said to her parents as we were standing eating it on the sidewalk “They’re giving away free bread!” To which the father replied, “Maybe we should come every week!” We don’t have bread this morning but we have samosas. I want us to take these this morning and dwell on God’s abundance of goodness to us; to dwell on God’s abundant love for us. Share them with someone. Share them with a neighbour and when asked why say “Because I am thankful for…” Let us be thankful for God’s generosity to us in creation, to God’s generosity to us in Christ, and in God’s generosity to us in the Holy Spirit as we prepare now to gather around the table of our gracious host from whom comes every good and perfect gift. And all God’s people said.