One Sunday morning a preacher stood up behind the pulpit and read Psalm 24:1-2–“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” He began to preach to the crowd that all the community owned was truly God’s and they should honor God by giving of what they thought they owned. Well, a farmer in the community took great offense at the message, so the farmer called the preacher out to his farm one afternoon. The farmer led the preacher to a hill overlooking his farm, and said, “You mean to tell me that this land which I have cultivated for my entire life isn’t mine?” The preacher thought for a moment and said, “I tell you what. Call me to meet you here in 100 years and ask me again.” It’s like the scientist who one day invented a machine, which could transform dirt into a living, breathing human being just like God had done during creation. So, the scientist called God and asked, “Do you mind if I start making human beings?” God replied, “No, I don’t mind.” So, the scientist started gathering dirt into his machine, but God intervened and said, “Oh no, get your own dirt.”
It is God’s. It’s all God’s. God has given us an abundance of gifts and God has filled us with a creative spirit to manipulate these gifts into food, shelter, clothing, and enjoyment, yet we quickly forget that it is God who has provided and that these gifts should be used to build the kingdom of God. Early in our story, in Genesis 2, God forms man out of the dust of the ground and places him in the garden. It is not that God picked up the man like a child’s toy and puts him in a garden-themed doll house. The Hebrew words suggest that the phrase, “God took the man,” was a wooing of words. That is to say that God captured his heart and called the man into the garden, using the natural gift of desire and relationship. We often think that choice entered the human equation when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, but the story tells us that choice was always a part of the human experience, it is that before disobedience humanity was so filled with the image of God that God alone satisfied our desire. Just as God’s voice wooed us into relationship, into the garden, a competing voice began to call us away from God. This voice is not the hissing of a snake’s two-pronged tongue, it is the two-sided sound of fear and self-preservation. We traded listening to the voice of God for our own.
God wooed the man into the garden and said, “You may eat freely of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Some time later the serpent hissed, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die’,” but this is not what God had commanded. God did not say that they should not touch the tree. You see, already there is a hint of this voice within the heart of humanity that is saying, “God is not enough.” We added to God’s command as if God’s boundaries were not sufficient. This gave the serpent an opportunity to cultivate this voice of fear.
The woman’s reply is a fearful one. God told us not to eat the fruit. We aren’t even supposed to touch it. Fear has a way of raising anxiety, making us hear things as they shouldn’t be heard. I have a very bad habit of watching Ghost Hunters on the Travel Channel before bed. I shouldn’t do this because ghosts really freak me out, but I’m glued to the program. Of course, after the show is over and I’m settling down for bed I hear creaks and knocks and some sounds that aren’t even there. These sounds happen all the time and I think nothing of them, but now that I’m primed, the sounds are now louder and spookier than ever before. This fear causes the woman to overemphasize God’s words and the serpent convinces her that she should eat. Our text says that the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise. The tree was good. The tree was a delight. The tree was to be desired. It is not that goodness or delight or desire is evil; it is that goodness and delight and desire have now been misplaced. It is the tree that is good, not the maker of the tree.
And this is true today. Think of it this way. God woos humanity into the garden and plants within it ten trees. God says, you can eat freely from nine of the trees, but leave one for me. Offer one of them to bloom for me. Imagine having $1000. God says you can use $900, and get creative! You can use $900 for food, clothing, shelter, and fellowship, but $100 of it, let it bloom for me. Let it be set aside to do the work I need it to do. This is not to say that we are to squander the 90%, but if we can’t dedicate 10% to God, how can we honor God with the 90% God is giving to us? Now, when you offer your pledge in worship next week, you may not be ready to give 10%. Maybe you can give 5% or 7% or 2%, but the point is that you make a healthy habit of giving to the work of God. It is so that the work of God may be done. Giving allows mission and worship and children’s choir and everything you see in the church possible. Sharing your gifts in the power of the Holy Spirit, gives us a tangible opportunity to be the body of Christ, but maybe more importantly, giving keeps the voice of fear silent. Giving means that the bumps and the creaks and the darkness no longer keep you up at night. Do not let the fearful voice of scarcity woo you away from the God who gives his life so that we may live abundantly.
In my home church on Youth Sunday the seniors were offered an opportunity to deliver the sermon during Sunday morning worship. In 1997 it was my turn. I tentatively got up and stuttered through the scripture and fumbled through a manuscript and forgot my place and before it got any worse I said, “Amen,” and sat down. It wasn’t humiliating, but it wasn’t good. After the service, Rev. Dr. John Lee, co-senior pastor of First Methodist Slidell shook my hand and said, “Boy, you’re gonna be a mighty fine preacher one day.” That was the first time anyone had said that to me, and that got me thinking. Several years later I decided to go to seminary and Dr. Lee gave me about 40% of his personal library, telling me that I would find great use of these books. It was a humbling gift. The next year Hurricane Katrina hit and Dr. Lee lost the other 60% of his library. What he gave away is what survived, and I was telling this story last week to a group of clergy in preparation for Dr. Lee’s funeral which was on Sunday in Alexandria.
Along with the voice of fear there is the voice of self-preservation, the voice which tells us that we have to hold onto what we have or we won’t make it. Dr. Lee’s selflessness made an impact on me that now I give books away. I used to say, “I just read this book and it’s incredible. You have got to get it.” I still say, “I just read this book and it’s incredible,” but instead of saying, “You have to get it,” I now give copies away. Isn’t this what God is doing in our lives? God is saying, “I have created a garden, I have provided a life for you and it’s so incredible you simply have to experience it, so . . . here it is.”
This is what the church is about. We should be telling the story of God and saying, “This a truth which is greater than anything the world has to offer, and here it is,” but in order to follow our calling it means that we, ourselves, must be willing to give, to embody God’s abundance and grace.
God is wooing us into his abundant life, filling us with a good and delightful desire to be in the body of Christ and to do the work of Christ. It is not the tree which is good or delightful or worthy of desire, but the one who was hung upon it who calls us into communion with our Father, our Lord, and our abundant and graceful God. Praise be to God! Amen!