Life is a Gift

“And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.’” Genesis 1.29

As we look through the first chapter of Genesis we see grace upon grace. God, in freedom, created the heavens and the earth. That in and of itself says that creation is a gift. Then, God animates all of life. He is creation’s source of life. When God creates we hear verbs like, “swarms,” “flies,” “bears fruit,” “yields seed,” “sprouts vegetation,” “moves,” “brings forth,” “multiplies” and “fills.” Finally, God creates the human community, male and female, in his image, the image of the prodigal God who, in complete freedom, out of no necessity, created the entire world. Then as if that weren’t enough of a display of his affection and grace he gave all that was created to humans. How silly! How seemingly wasteful! Look at verse 29 with me. “Every plant,” and “all the earth.” The message of Genesis one is “All life is a gift.”

We were born into a world we did not create, which means that our life is not our own. Moreover, as those made in the image of God, we are made to be givers. However, there’s a problem. We forget. And it’s easy to forget because we have the challenge of being baptized into another narrative: the richest country in the world, an economy based on competition for scarce resources, self-reliance is advocated, and individualism and autonomy are the highest ideals. In this world, we have a tendency to take all that’s been given to us clutch for self-understanding based on our circumstances. I’ve recognized this in two primary ways:

(1)  We develop a sense of entitlement. That is, we look at all that’s been given and say, “I must have done something to deserve this.” This is like a white person in America saying, “I worked hard in school. I made the most of my opportunities. I wasn’t lazy. I’m not privileged, and I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about making the most of my opportunities. I just worked hard to be where I am like anyone else could if they wanted to.” There is a complete lack of acknowledgement of the broken history into which they’ve been born. This entitlement mentality manifests itself in complaining when the simplest things don’t go our way. We get frustrated when we’re cut off in traffic or our kids won’t respond to us. I know to watch out for this mentality when I catch myself using the word “should” a lot. People should treat me better than this. Who says? In addition to entitlement;

(2)  We see ourselves as the only ones qualified to take care of what’s been given to us. We will clutch to what’s been given to us because we worry that we have to protect ourselves for fear that people will reject us. We hold onto ourselves because we worry what people think of us. We refuse to risk putting ourselves out there in relationships. We don’t share ideas. We don’t speak up when we have an opinion. We play it safe because no one will take care of me as well as me.

Here is an important distinction. We’ve all been hurt before. It’s true that we aren’t masochistic. We don’t go looking for pain. However, don’t be deceived & call greed holiness. In other words, it’s possible to act like we don’t need anyone and pawn it off as holiness. We can look like we have a holy detachment from people and what they think of us. In actuality we hoard our love and our gifts because we fear people.

Moving around a lot I learned not to get too close to people. I didn’t even do it consciously, but when it came time to leave for college in Ohio, then for seminary in North Carolina and again for Knoxville I simply left with very little sadness. Maybe you’ve been hurt in love before, or your talents have been taken advantage of at work. Now, you find yourself recoiling at the thought of going to work or entering into another close relationship. Be careful that you aren’t hoarding the gifts God has given you.

Our life is a gift. It is not our own. How quickly we are enticed with the life that is given & the dominion we are given over it. Given the world we’ve inherited, we need to be careful not to interpret dominion as a validation of our entitlement or making us the only qualified to care for ourselves or the rest of the world for that matter. How often does creation swarm, fly, bear fruit, yield seed, sprout vegetation, move, bring forth, multiply or fill with us? How often, instead, do we enslave, kill, trap, manipulate, maneuver, guard, and hide? We are called to tend to creation as those made in the image of the God revealed in this opening chapter, a free, gracious, loving, generous, life-giving God.

So what is the alternative? We are called to enjoy this life without clutching to the people or things given to us. God has given us the ability to lavish our love, grace and forgiveness upon someone without needing their reciprocity to know if it was worth it or right to do. We can give those things away without thinking we’ve depleted a scarce resource or worrying that we’ve lost something essential to our life. God gives not that we simply take. He gives so we give. What if all this love, compassion, grace, truth, and creativity is ours to give away? To let go? To allow others to be free? To allow them to have life? To be fruitful and multiply and fill? To enable all of creation to flourish according to God’s blessing and design?

What if we are to go to the point of giving up our own life to ensure that is the case? Are you willing to exercise that kind of dominion – a dominion that costs you your life for the life of the world?

Now what? We can start by giving ourselves to one another. Here is where the church comes in. The church is the place where we practice giving ourselves away to one another. The fact is, we have all been hurt. We know better than to be “emotional streakers.” The good news is, God is patient and so we will be patient. I promise as we practice here we will learn to give our lives away to the world.

I loved the very small but profound moment that occurred a few weeks ago. The Woodhull kids raved about their mother’s egg rolls. Of course, all of our interests peaked and we started asking Doris when we might get to try her egg rolls. We began making plans for her to teach us how to make them. Remember, she told us that traditionally, in the Philippines, they are made with pork, but since she’s been in the States she’s been making them with beef. She said she thought that Americans tend to prefer beef instead of pork. Then, everyone quickly said they wanted them with pork if that’s the way they’re actually made.

Again, it was a very small thing, but I think small things are always the way big change happens. We were telling Doris, “We want you. We don’t want an accommodation to American culture.” The more we engage in those kinds of conversations and experience those moments, the more we will learn to give ourselves away to one another.

Of course, more than to be with one another, we gather here to remember the gift of God’s very life, freely given. We come here to remember with one another Christ crucified, the one who did deserve all the praise of creation. The one who is the only one capable of caring for all that is given. He is the one who knew he would be rejected and still gave himself to his creation. And it is because of that gift that we have life.

If we believe life is a gift from God, we don’t need to clutch to it to survive. Receiving life as a gift enables true freedom, a freedom from the fear of death. We become convinced we don’t need to work so hard to preserve our lives because instead of clinging to everything around us, we start clinging to the One who is life.

Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to let go of our life is to forgive, to let go of resentment. I hold onto resentment and unforgiveness when I’m looking to something other than God for my validation. My resentment says to me, “You have something on this other person. This is one area where you are justified. You have authority over them in this area. You are right.”

That satisfaction is what I’m talking about. We are looking to be right, to have authority over another person. In the meantime our anger festers and kills us from the inside. I become riddled with suspicion about other people. I live out of a woundedness.

crucifixion-3So why let go? First and foremost, because God forgave us. The one through whom all things were created was rejected by his own creation. If there was anyone who had the right to be suspicious it was Jesus. Yet, he is the one who said from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Our life has been given to us once again. You have everything you need. You don’t need that person’s remorse or apology in order to know you are going to be ok. You are going to be ok because God said so, not because anyone else says so. Being told you are right by a person that has wronged you is not the source of your righteousness. We must accept the gift of Christ’s righteousness that God has given to us.

One of the most powerful stories of forgiveness I’ve heard in our day was about Bishop Rucyahana. He’s an Anglican bishop in

Bishop John Rucyahana

Rwanda, and he is a victim of the genocide that took place in 1994. He spoke at a conference once and said that he would know that he was getting close to following Jesus when he could visit the man in prison who butchered his niece and forgive him.

What an amazing witness! And when I think about the things I get bent out of shape over compared to what this brother in the faith is wrestling with, I feel ridiculous. All the time I spend graveling for scraps, in the form of someone else’s repentance, is time lost enjoying the bounty of God’s gift of life.

We were made in God’s image, and therefore were made to be givers. The good news is, what we failed to be Jesus is. He is our example of receiving life as a gift. In fact, more than an example, he is our life. He saw his life as not his own, but God’s. He prayed, “Not my will but thine be done.” In Jesus we see the image of God, who took the plants – the grain of the field and the fruit of the vine – and said, “This is my body, this is my blood.” Once again, we have been given all creation for food. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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