Share |

The Abundance of God

A Four-week Worship Series

One of the foundations of Christian justice is the recognition that God has abundantly provided for creation. Stated more simply, there’s enough to go around.

The idea of abundance is radical in a culture that constantly asks if there is enough for everyone. Our nation’s economy is not the unstoppable juggernaut we may have once thought it was. We question whether there are enough resources to ensure that everyone can have access to health care. There are legitimate concerns about earth’s ability to sustain its population and about the effects of climate change on where we live and what we eat. As I write this, my own state, California, is facing its worst drought in the history of weather records.

In the midst of these situations, celebrating the abundance of God takes the focus off ourselves and our needs and places it back where it belongs: on God’s provision for his creation.

This four-week cycle of ideas for worship and accompanying interactive prayer stations (see p. 29) focuses on abundance as our Christian motivation to do justice. It runs from beginning to end: from creation as the root of God’s providential care to the anticipation of the new creation as the hope that keeps us active in our pursuit of justice.

One of the strengths of this approach to the idea of justice is that it doesn’t rely on making us feel guilty for what we have or push us to a form of asceticism that is at odds with a Christian outlook that celebrates the goodness of the physical creation. Instead, it’s rooted in the idea that creation is good, God is gracious to the point of overflow, and we can work to ensure that everyone has what they need to thrive.

These are not fully planned worship services; they are ideas to get you started in planning something that fits the regular pattern of worship in your community. Take some time as worship leaders to prepare not just logistically but spiritually for this series. Abundance is a hard teaching. It gets at our deepest anxieties: our worries about providing for ourselves and those we love the most. Start your preparations for this cycle by gathering a worship team, and reading and discussing and praying together.

I highly recommend that a worship team preparing this cycle of services read not just the Scripture texts for each week but also three short pieces available online. Walter Brueggemann’s 1999 essay “The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity,” (tinyurl.com/LiturgyAbundance) is a very accessible introduction to the theology of abundance. A recent essay in The New York Times about addiction to money (tinyurl.com/TimesMoney) is a great starting point for a conversation about living in a society that’s addicted to more of everything. And an interview with comedian Stephen Colbert tells the story of Colbert returning to church as a young adult when he reencountered the “do not worry” text in Matthew (tinyurl.com/ColbertWorry).

I would also encourage your worship planning group to partner with your church’s deacons, or with committees that work on justice, outreach, and mission, to brainstorm ways to use this month of worship as an opportunity for the church to take action together. This might be a great time to ramp up the congregation’s involvement with an existing ministry or to start a new ministry partnership. An even more ambitious idea might be to organize a month where individuals and families commit to reflecting on what they might be able to let go of and how their lives could be more simple in order to share their abundance with others. Imagine, for instance, a church-wide rummage sale that results in a substantial donation to some organization doing the work of justice.

Week One

Abundance in Creation

Texts

Genesis 1:24-31
Psalm 104:24-30
Matthew 6:25-34

Sermon and Worship Notes

Preaching on Genesis 1 in the context of this series provides an opportunity for a congregation to learn from this text outside the debates about religion and science and biblical literalism. Instead, the focus here is on the Bible’s intention to teach us about God’s providence in creation.

One of the reasons Genesis 1 emphasizes the order of creation is to show how God ensures that everything has the provision it needs before it is created (even the sun and moon and stars are not created until there is light with which they may shine). Psalm 104 reiterates this lesson from Genesis. Every needed thing has been provided. Both texts show how it is God’s intention from the very beginning that there be enough, plenty even, to sustain all of creation. Matthew 6 reminds us that we have no need to worry, because God continues to care for the most intimate details of our lives.

In spite of the presence of sin and evil in a fallen world, we can be assured of God’s ongoing provision for all of creation. Our work for justice is not only our striving for a restoration of the creation order where there is enough for everyone and everything, but also a reflection of our confidence that God will provide what we need and what others need as well. There’s no room for hoarding in a worldview based on God’s abundance and lavishness in creation.

While the reading from Genesis does not include the entire chapter, it would be worth exploring how to use the order of creation from Genesis 1 in some part of the liturgy. Crafting an opening litany that praises God for what was created in each day could work, as could a visual representation (perhaps you could put out a call for congregation members to submit photos for each day of creation and create a projected slide show of these images).

The theme of creation will come up again in this worship series, so you don’t have to cover every aspect of creation. For instance, you might want to leave room for lengthy confessions focusing on earth stewardship for week 3. The main focus this week should be a recognition of the ways that God provides, a reminder that God’s vision for the world is one of abundance, and an assurance that we can trust God to provide what is needed.

Suggested Songs

“We Worship You, Whose Splendor Dwarfs the Cosmos” LUYH 11, PFAS 104C
“For the Fruit of All Creation” LUYH 396, WR 723
“Praise God! Earth and Heaven Rejoice” LUYH 952, PFAS 150J
“The Mighty God with Power Speaks” LUYH 9, PFAS 50A
“We Sing the Mighty Power of God” LUYH 10, PH 288, PsH 430
“God, You Spin the Whirling Planets” PH 285, WR 24
“Bless the Lord, My Soul and Being” PH 224
“Touch the Earth Lightly” LUYH 18, WR 38

Week Two

Abundance of Grace

Texts

John 4:5-30
Romans 5:6-11

Sermon and Worship Notes

Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well pushes the buttons of those who might be worried about the Messiah being a bit too inclusive. This woman fits the bill of a sinner and outsider: she’s had multiple sexual partners, she’s a follower of the “wrong” religion, and she’s being a bit too forward with a stranger. She makes us a little nervous, just as she made the first disciples nervous.

Romans 5 is one of those texts that we read easily when we think it’s about us, but it becomes irksome when we imagine applying it to the people whom we think least deserve grace. It’s easy to praise God for the grace shown to us in Jesus Christ. It’s harder to recognize that God’s grace is big enough for the sins we think of as the greatest. If we aren’t careful, we can slip into the error of imagining that there are limits to God’s grace and that there’s not enough to go around.

Praise for God’s abundant grace is the natural starting point for this service, but we must move beyond a focus on our own forgiveness. The response to confession can go from praise into a sermon that moves people toward a desire to proclaim.

I encourage preachers and worship leaders to talk together about why it may be difficult for us to preach grace, as well as who it is most difficult for us to preach grace toward. Encouraging a congregation to be more expansive about their view of grace should begin with the congregation’s leaders making that examination of themselves. Are there people we think of as beyond redemption? Are there opportunities for outreach and justice work that our church communities shrink away from out of fear that grace is simply not big enough? Are we willing, as Jesus was, to sit and speak truth without condemnation?

You may want to consider a response after the sermon that allows people to make an individual commitment to proclaiming grace in a place they normally would not and to ask the Spirit for the strength and compassion to follow through.

Suggested Songs

“Gather Us In” LUYH 529, SNC 8, WR 649
“Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love” LUYH 299, PH 367, PsH 601, WR 273
“Comfort, Comfort Now My People” LUYH 59, PH 3, PsH 194, TH 197, WR 155
“Table of Plenty” LUYH 808, SNC 247
“Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life” WR 403
“Hallelujah! We Sing Your Praises” LUYH 957, SNC 261, WR 709
“There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” LUYH 689, PH 298, WR 61
“Your Grace Is Enough” LUYH 698

Suggested Readings

The Lord Is Compassionate and Gracious/Psalm 103 LUYH 671

Week Three

Stewardship of Abundance

Texts

Deuteronomy 24:19-22
John 12:1-8
Acts 4:32-37

Sermon and Worship Notes

At first glance it might seem that John 12 is at odds with texts that call us to good stewardship of resources. What is a passage about excess doing in a sermon on stewardship? Think, for instance, of walking into a great cathedral and saying to yourself, “What gorgeous windows: they must have cost so much. Wouldn’t that money have been better spent on building a homeless shelter?”

But the picture of economic justice in the other two texts depends on an assumption of abundance, even excess. You can leave some grain at the edges of the fields, and you need not scrounge for every last olive, because there will be enough—and then some. Likewise, the earliest Christians in Acts were able to live in community precisely because they were confident that there would be enough to go around (the story of Ananias and Sapphira is a counterpoint to this).

Sometimes our messages about stewardship come from a place of anxiety. We feel that we need to take good care of our resources because we don’t have enough. Now, this is not to minimize very real concerns about the limits of a stressed environment or economy, nor is it a suggestion that we go out into the world with a naive optimism. But the correct Christian response to economic, environmental, or judicial disparity is not anxiety or even hoarding. Being good stewards does not mean that we put away more money than we can ever use, or amass in our basements quantities of food and other supplies worthy of an apocalypse, or circle the wagons in our own neighborhoods and socioeconomic groups in order to maintain the privileges that we have. The Christian response to injustice is to move forward with faith in God’s providence. There will be enough for everyone: God will find a way.

Your worship this week can start by expressing praise and wonder for the abundance we see around us, then move to confession of our poor stewardship and our tendency to hang on too tightly to more than we truly need. Consider how you might create a response that highlights a ministry, mission, or project in which your congregation is engaged. This could be anything from extended prayer for those ministries to some act of commitment. The blessing and sending of the congregation on this Sunday should feel like a commissioning.

Suggested Songs

“This Is My Father’s World” LUYH 21, PH 293, PsH 436, TH 111, WR 21
“We Are an Offering” LUYH 874
“Lord, Speak to Me That I May Speak” LUYH 754, PH 426, PsH 528, TH 560/561, WR 593
“God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending” LUYH 876, PH 422, WR 572
“Earth and All Stars” LUYH 271, PH 458, PsH 433, WR 642
“God, We Honor You” LUYH 878
“Take Our Silver and Our Gold” LUYH 880

Suggested Readings

A Prayer: Almighty God, Father of All Mercies LUYH 875
A Prayer for the Offering LUYH 883

Week Four

Abundance of Hope

Texts

Psalm 146
Revelation 21:1-4

Sermon and Worship Notes

One of the occupational hazards of seeking justice is burnout. It’s not unusual for people who work to change the world to feel like they are climbing a sand dune: three steps forward, one step back. But if the grounds for doing justice is abundance rather than scarcity, we have the antidote to burnout. We are not doing this on our own, but alongside God, and the end of the story has already been promised. We have abundant hope for the future, and the future does not depend on our actions alone.

Psalm 146 reminds us that God is the creator, but instead of cataloging creation it moves directly to a reminder that God’s intention for creation is justice. From the very beginning to the very end, God is concerned not only with the beauty of the earth but also with the beauty of justice.

Revelation 21 gives us a vision of what justice looks like in the end. The highlighted text includes verses 1-4, but you might also be inspired by looking at the magnificent visual diversity that comes later in the chapter, with its description of the lavishness of the New Jerusalem. There is more than enough hope in this picture!

A goal of this worship service should be finding the balance between living into the hope of the new creation but not succumbing to an attitude that the world around us doesn’t matter. Additionally, while we recognize that the coming kingdom doesn’t depend on our actions but on God’s actions, we need to avoid the pitfall of assuming this means we don’t have to do anything. We are called to work alongside God and to allow God to work through us. What a privilege to be included in the transformation of all of creation! We are called to be stewards of what exists now because the promise of Revelation is transformation, not replacement.

During this series, find ways to focus on what is good in the world even now (sermon illustrations, for example, could be stories that are little glimpses of God’s justice breaking into the world). Make sure that the final sentiment of worship is not hope in something otherworldy, but hope for the future of God’s creation—the creation we have now, made new.

Suggested Songs

“Listen, God Is Calling” LUYH 753, SNC 65
“My Life Flows on in Endless Song” LUYH 443, WR 424
“What Wondrous Love” LUYH 164, PH 85, PsH 379, TH 261, WR 257
“In Thee Is Gladness” LUYH 344
“Goodness Is Stronger Than Evil” LUYH 707, WR 296
“In the Day of the Lord” LUYH 485
“O Day of Peace” LUYH 487, PH 450, WR 539

Suggested Readings

Affirmation: Come Lord Jesus LUYH 484
A New Heaven and Earth LUYH 486