Gift and Giver

In attempting to sum up what I was carrying forward from our Sex and Money series, I was drawn to the famous statement by Ludwig Fuerbach: “Man is what he eats”. If that connection doesn’t at first seem obvious, let me elaborate. Fuerbach meant to describe his vision of what a human being was: that we are simple material existence, thats all. We are only an extension of the ground we walk on, only of what we take into our mouths. Nothing more. Its not an uncommon view of things. But its wrong. Its reductionism at its meaningless worst.

Contrary to Fuerbach, we are much more than our material existence. And while I could take some time to describe the more that I think we are, I almost don’t feel I need to. We somehow intuit this truth about ourselves. We feel it in our passions. Sex and money are but two of the more prominent ways we look to invest our material life with the more we are looking for. We might not always know it, but as we pursue these things we are hungering for a reconnection to God.

Sex and money are good gifts when rightly understood, and rightly ordered, but they are created goods, gifts of God. They are not ultimate things, and they do not carry the power to fully and finally satisfy our deepest human hunger. Perhaps sex and money feel like the closest things we have to transcendence, but they remain only pointers to the more we crave. If we were wise we would see this, and invite God into these two areas of our human experience.

Our problem is how we see things. And how we think about things. It seems to me that our fall is a fall from awareness that “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Our problem is that we think we can live independently of God.

I remember the moment when my venerable old professor James Houston suggested that we could do our thinking in the presence of God. For some reason, I had automatically assumed that my thinking was necessarily a lonely exercise, something I did in that walled-off place I called my mind. For me, to think about my life, the world, my place in it, and what I was looking for -- even about sex and money -- was something I had to do for myself. But what if, said Houston, we shifted our perspective; what if we chose to do our thinking in the presence of God? We could do that, he assured us.

So let me give you a way of thinking about the material world you live in.

What we see and touch and participate in is nothing less than a gift, a creation, a sharing of God with us. I don’t much like the word “nature”; I much prefer to call it what it is -- creation, the gift of God to us his creatures. This is not just semantics; this is an important way to see things. The idea of “nature” says that things are of their own origin. By contrast, the idea of creation tells us that God makes and gives; God shares. All that God has made, and all the goods that he has created -- including sex and money -- are things to be shared as part of the world he has given us. They have their proper use and proper order (talk for another time), but they are only relative goods. Sex and money make lousy gods.

I would like to prepare you for communion which we will partake of this Sunday. The Lord’s Supper is our recognition that this world, the bread of the field and the fruit of the vine, is God’s gift of life to us, God’s very gift of himself to us, God’s communion with us. We need not be cut off from him, nor take his gifts without him. Instead, we can share his life. And the heart of this life is Jesus himself, the one who entered our embodied existence to bring us to God. As we eat and drink this Sunday we do it with him, of him.

Communion is nothing less than an exercise in re-imagining the world, and, re-integrating our experience of material and spiritual, of life and God, of hunger and the secret of life itself. As you partake of communion this Sunday, consider that the secret of this food is the person of Jesus himself. He is the only one who can truly satisfy your hunger for life.

We now begin our journey to Easter though our new series: Seven Signs. We invite you to read John’s gospel as we do so.

Bob Osborne