Scripture Genesis 1:26-31 [NRSV]
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Message ”Be Fruitful and Multiply” Rev. James Renfrew
Before the pandemic appeared, we used to enjoy going out to hear music in Rochester. Some of the musicians were friends of mine and even I ended up doing two or three weddings among band members, in one case Patrick the base player married the Eilene the accordion player!
There was one group that I enjoyed that has long since disbanded. I looked it up, they last performed in 1984. I guess I’m getting old. The band was called “New Math”, and the slogan on their posters was this simple assertion, “New Math, it all adds up!”
It all adds up. Yes, it does, and this could be a slogan for a church. If we had a congregation filled with mathematicians it would certainly work well. Just think of it, instead of people playing with their cell phones during the sermon, all of our mathematicians would be playing with their calculators as I preach! Calculating minutes and seconds, calculating dollars and cents, calculating raindrops and snowflakes, calculating generosity and love. A church where it all adds up!
Today we’ll pretend that we all are indeed mathematicians, and we’re going to have fun with multiplication. Our stewardship theme this fall is “multiplication”. And I think everyone knows the plan: we’re following the theme story in the Old Testament of II Kings 4, with the poor woman saved from one of the particular horrors of poverty, needing to settle her debts by having her children seized by creditors to be sold into slavery. Elisha the prophet comes to help. He urges her to search the village to find as many empty jars as she can, empty jars, into which her few meager drops of cooking oil begin to miraculously flow and multiply to fill every one of those empty jars, rescuing her from poverty and her children from slavery. It’s a very old story, but it is a recipe for how God is aiming to save you and me!
You, know I heard someone say this about the Bible. The Bible is a recipe book. Don’t just read the recipes, make them! So don’t just read the stories, live them! So our church is living into the story of the empty jars, as we brought in one jar on the 10th, two jars on the 17th, and today four jars! Next week, eight jars.
Should we keep this going week after week? Fortunately, my cell phone does have a calculator app. So let’s see where weekly doubling will get us. So here we go, 1,2,4,8,16,32. Well let’s see how many jars we will have. In ten weeks, between now and Christmas 1,024 jars, in twenty weeks, approaching Easter 1,048,576. My advice: better start stockpiling those empty peanut butter jars because you’re going to need every one of them and more!
There’s an old riddle: which would you rather have, 1 million dollars, or the total of putting a penny on one square of a chess board, and doubling it on each of the remaining squares on the board, 64 of them, arriving at a total of 18,446,744,074,709,551. That’s 18 and a half quintillion, more pennies that have been or ever will be made.
Of course, it’s absurd to keep doubling jars each week, because in a year we would be approaching 18 quintillion of them. But the point of this exponential multiplication exercise is not the jars of oil. The point is to marvel at the abundance of God. That whatever your need, however many needs you have, God responds. This is God’s math: it all adds up!
Today’s reading from Genesis offers a story from the 6th day of the Creation story, when God created the first people, and offered these instructions: “be fruitful and multiply”. In the beginning there were few people, I suppose, and this instruction made good sense. Lonely people need companionship, families, and community in order to thrive and grow. In our day we need to be very careful in interpreting this instruction, because the planetary population is growing too fast. When I was born world population was under 3 billion, and the current estimate is nearly 8 billion people. It has more than doubled in my lifetime. How much longer can our planet sustain this population growth? Exponential population growth is a huge factor impacting the entire world, in resource depletion, greenhouse gasses, climate impact, poverty, war, collapsed societies, waves of refugees and more.
I think “be fruitful and multiply” in the present time is not so much about multiplying the numbers of people, but of multiplying the things that our world needs much more of: love, generosity, safety, hope, justice and peace.
And that, after all, is what happened in the story of the poor woman and the empty jars. You could focus on the number of jars, but what amazes us more than the flowing oil is what happened to the poor woman. In God’s math, in God’s calculation, in God’s multiplication, her debts were settled, her children were safe, and she could put desperation and fear behind her. This is the math we enjoy. This is the math that continues to amaze us. We may be small in size, but the love and the hope keep multiplying. Be fruitful and multiply! This is the math that adds up.
Affirmation of Faith The mathematics of God is beautiful to behold. Out of nothing God creates everything. Out of negativity God creates love, hope, and peace. Out of despair and defeat God creates abundant joy and resurrection. It all adds up! Thank you, Jesus! Amen.