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Thomas J Parlette

“Paying what is due”

Psalm 65

10/23/16

There’s a new movie opening next weekend which is at the top of my must see list. Inferno, based on the Dan Brown novel is coming out on October 28th – and it promises to be a blockbuster. Tom Hanks will once again play Robert Langdon. He’ll follow clues from Dante’s Divine Comedy as he attempts to stop a criminal mastermind from unleashing a biological weapon. Langdon will hop from Florence to Venice to Istanbul on his quest to solve riddles and save the world.

The villain in the story is a scientist who threatens to halt the growth of the human population by use of a bio-weapon. He believes that global population will soon overtake Earth’s scarce resources, so he creates a disease to infect a large portion of the world’s population.

In short, he wants to save humanity by eliminating millions of people.

For Langdon, he must locate the bio-weapon before it is unleashed. You can bet the movie will include thrilling chases, hidden passageways and clues tucked away in pieces of classic art. Langdon will race through the streets of Florence and visit the underground cistern of Istanbul, unraveling mysteries and seeking to save the day in spectacular fashion. And I’m looking forward to every minute of it.

The New York Times praised the book as being “jam-packed with tricks,” while the New York Daily News loved its “coded messages, art history, science and imminent doom.” Inferno promises to be everything you want in a good old-fashioned thriller.(1)

At the heart of Inferno is the question of whether the earth can continue to support its people. The scientist who develops the biological weapon is focused on scarcity, as are the other characters who share his concern. One says, “Our current path is a pretty simple formula for destruction. Population growth is an exponential progression occurring within a system of finite space and limited resources.”

Simply put – we are quickly overwhelming our planet.

“The end arrive very abruptly,” says the character. “Our experience will not be that of slowly running out of gas…It will be more like driving off a cliff.”(2)

A scary thought. One that is not out of the question, but a thought that is securely grounded in a focus on scarcity; the fear that there is not enough for everyone.

A man named Thomas Robert Malthus, ironically enough, an Anglican clergyman, started all this when he predicted in 1798 that the world would be out of food by 1890, due to population growth. He recommended killing off the have-nots in the world to ensure that there was enough food for the rich.

Malthus’ ideas led to the theories of eugenicists of the early 20th century who gained power in a variety of countries and enforced policies such as marriage restrictions, segregation, forced sterilization and even genocide.(3) This focus on scarcity is a dangerous thing. Giving in to the fear that there will not be enough for everyone can have terrible consequences.

For instance, in November of 2007, three people died and 31 others were injured in a stampede as shoppers scrambled to buy cut-price cooking oil at a store in China.

The tragedy came about during a promotion to celebrate the store’s 10th anniversary. People started lining up in the early hours of a Saturday morning to buy the cooking oil. When the store opened, throngs of people burst in, overwhelming the security guards and a mass stampede was the result. Three people dead, 31 injured.(4)

The fear that there will not be enough can have terrible consequences.

But the Bible takes a very different outlook. This Psalm for today, Psalm 65, is all about abundance. It is a hymn, a song of thanksgiving that praises God for the bounty of the earth. It begins with a phrase that is unique to this Psalm – it occurs no where else in the Hebrew Scriptures. “Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion.” We pay what is due for God’s forgiveness. We pay what is due for God’s deliverance. We pay what is due for God’s providence. We pay what is due for the fact that God provides everything we need for life. God visits the earth, God waters the earth and everything we need flows from God’s creation. And we make our payment of praise.

The fear of scarcity makes for a good novel – but it is not the way of God. Throughout scripture our focus is shifted from earthly scarcity to divine abundance. When we worry about scarcity, we become self-centered and fearful people, like the scientist who plots to save humanity by killing humanity. But a focus on abundance opens us up to new possibilities, challenging us to care for others and be good stewards of what God has given to us, taking care of the resources God built into this planet.

Such belief in God’s generous goodness isn’t limited to Psalm 65. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says that the Bible begins with a song of praise for God’s generosity in the very first chapter of Genesis, the story of the seven phases of creation. Brueggemann writes, “It tells how well the world is ordered. It keeps saying, “It is good, it is good, it is good, it is very good.” It declares that God blesses – that is endows with vitality – the plants, the animals, the fish, the birds and humankind.”

Genesis offers us a beautiful vision of abundant life, but so often we miss it. Instead, we look around and we see scarcity. We want more – more money, more time, more energy, more security, more resources. We fail to see what Brueggemann calls the “overflowing goodness that pours from God’s creator spirit.”(5)

Overflowing goodness. That’s the reality of the world, as created by God. Such goodness is seen when “wagon tracks overflow with richness,” according to the Psalm, and when “the pastures of the wilderness overflow.” A world of overflowing richness is where we live, and it’s the place we are challenged to care for as we share God’s gifts with others.

We are called to trust in God’s abundance but also to be good stewards, caring for the earth and it’s resources. We are called to take seriously the changes in our climate and how that will impact coming generations, so that we can continue to share God’s abundance, not just with each other, but with our children and our children’s children.

Good things happen when we share abundantly in response to the divine abundance we hear about in Psalm 65. This is true not only in the church, but in the larger world as well.

Think about the attitude that Abraham Lincoln had at the end of the Civil War. At a time when people were angry about the losses of the war and focused on scarcity, Lincoln promised to show “malice toward none and charity for all.”

Later, after the Second World War, both Democrats and Republicans threw their support behind the Marshall Plan, which provided billions of dollars of economic support to help rebuild Western Europe. Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, President George Bush adopted a generous attitude toward the Muslims of the world and affirmed that Islam’s “teachings are good and peaceful.” And when President Barack Obama started his first term in office, the preacher at the Inaugural Prayer Service echoed the thoughts of Psalm 65 by reminding the President that we live in “a land of abundance, generosity, and hope. This is our heritage.”(6)

She was right. That is our heritage. We live in a land of abundance, guided by a God of abundance. We serve a God who is able to provide us with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, we may share abundantly in every good work.

In a world that so often focuses on scarcity, we become better people when we focus on abundance. We also become a stronger church, and a stronger nation. We have what we need – there is no reason to fear.

So let’s respond to God’s abundance by paying what is due; by offering our praise. Praise to God for God’s abundance.

Let us pay what is due by caring for the earth’s resources and sowing bountifully as we share with others.

If we do this, we will always have enough of everything that we truly need. May God be praised. Amen.

 

1.    Homiletics, Vol. 28, No. 5, p.58.

2.    Ibid…p.59.

3.    Ibid…p.61.

4.    Ibid…p.61.

5.    Ibid…p.59.

6.    Ibid…p.60.