Matthew 6: 19-33
Jesus said: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
St Augustine teaches us that the story of scripture - the great flow of God’s relationship with humanity we encounter in the multiple stories and books of the bible –is above all things a story of love.
What binds the overlapping and interweaving stories of God’s encounters with humanity and creation is love. And in this harvest season, as we encounter that story of love in the abundance of creation, we discover that if love is the emotional core of God’s relationship to his creation, then its practical and material form is shown in generosity.
In all of God’s activity with humanity in creation we never get “just enough” for us to get by. No, God’s activity with humanity in creation is always revealed through stories of overflowing, gratuitous, endless generosity.
Creation - the beginning of scripture itself - is a story of generosity. Of the opulence of the creation that God saw that it was good.
In the saving acts of the Exodus God did not promise to liberate the people of Israel from their bondage to something that was just a little bit better. God promises them a land flowing in milk and honey.
And in the defining moment of God’s relationship with humanity - in the life of Jesus Christ - we find the ultimate act of generosity. As Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians, in Jesus Christ God:
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Through all of God’s encounters with Gods creation we come again and again to this picture this image of the overflowing and endless generosity of God.
At this time of harvest, we give thanks to God for that creation which is filled with the overflowing generosity of God. The question for us today is not whether God is generous. The question for us today is how do we respond to this generosity?
One option, which has been all too common in the history of humanity, is to simply draw endlessly on this generosity.
There is an ancient Norse myth where Thor – the god of thunder - engages in a drinking contest which, through a series of deceptions, ends up with him being challenged to drink the sea. I often think of this image when I think of humanities response to the overflowing generosity of God in creation. All too often our response to the generosity of creation has been to simply receive it as a gift - sometimes with gratitude, but very often not - and use that generosity for our own ends with little sense of the consequences.
But this is not how we should respond to this generosity. When Augustine teaches us to use love as the lens through which we understand scripture it is because love is how God calls us to engage with God and one another. “Whoever” Augustine says:
thinks they understand the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as they ought.
To read scripture is, Augustine says, to learn how to respond to the world with the same love with which God relates to us.
If this is true of love, then it is true of generosity as well.
In our Gospel reading today we hear this pattern played out. In it Jesus paints for us a picture of the generosity of God revealed in creation. “Consider the lilies of the field,” Jesus says:
how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
Even in the smallest parts of creation we can find the inexhaustible generosity of God - but what do we do? Do wen respond in that same spirit and character of generosity, or do we become like Thor collecting and consuming our way through that inexhaustible generosity without any thought to the consequences. As Jesus says:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Too much of the history of human interaction with the foundational generosity of God comes in this former kind. The degradation of our environment and the structural injustices of the world economy have come – in part – because humanities response has too often been simply to receive and take the generosity which God has infused creation without thought to consequence.
In our Gospel reading Jesus offers a different pattern for us to follow. Just as Augustine calls on us to engage with scripture and one another through love because that is how God reveals himself to us, so we are called to respond generously with creation and one another because that is how God reveals himself to us through creation. As Paul says in his first letter to Timothy:
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
We are called to be generous not to win points, or show that we are somehow better. The answer to why we are called to be generous is much simpler than that. We are called to be generous because God is generous.
In this harvest season – and through this season of challenge – this is a call we all need to hear. As a Church – both locally and more widely – but also as a nation we are facing a time of increased financial challenge. More and more we will be asked to reflect on how we will – as a Church, as individuals, and as a nation – respond to that challenge. If we read scripture, if we encounter God through creation, the answer is clear. We respond with generosity, because since the dawn of time in his overflowing, inexhaustible and abundant generosity, that is how God has revealed himself to us.
Questions for personal reflection
• What way might you be a little too much like “Thor” in your daily life?
• How might we better respond to the world in generosity?
• What simple things could you do now to respond the world in the spirit of generosity?