God’s Toxic Asset Recovery Program(s)

Matthew 28:16-20
April 19, 2009
Steve Hammond

I think most of us here have heard the acronym TARP a lot lately. TARP, of course, stands for the Toxic Asset Recovery Program that the Federal Government has launched to deal with the bad mortgage and other investments that have swamped our banks and investment vehicles, as they call them, and put the entire world’s economy on the brink of disaster.

It occurs to me that the resurrection is kind of like God’s toxic asset recovery program. And it wasn’t God’s first attempt. I think Noah’s Ark must have been the first. But I want to even go farther back than that.

You all know the story of the creation. One of the refrains throughout the story is that it was good. And on the last day of the creation God looks at all that God has created, including human beings who have been created in God’s own image. And God says, “it is very, very good.”

But things didn’t stay good very long. We also know the story of Adam and Eve and how sin entered into the world. And things went downhill from there. Instead of things being very, very good they were awful. By the time we get to the Noah story, God regrets the whole thing. We talked about this a few months ago. We read this near the beginning of Genesis 6, which is not very far into the Bible. “God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil–evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry to have made the human race in the first place, it broke God’s heart. God said, ‘I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds–the works. I’m sorry I made them.’” And then a few verses later another voice writes this, “As far as God was concerned, the Earth had become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting– life itself corrupt to the core. God said to Noah, ‘It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere and I’m making a clean sweep.’” And then Noah and the animals load into the Ark.

So that was God’s first Toxic Asset Recovery Program. Just wiping the books clean and starting over with Noah and his family. It turns that God had even more regrets about the flood then the regrets that had led to it. So God tells Noah I will never, ever do anything like that again. That was awful. And besides, it didn’t work. It didn’t take too long for sin and evil and corruption to find their way back into God’s creation.

God doesn’t give up, it turns out, even though there is a lot about this world that still gives God plenty of regrets. So eventually another Toxic Asset Recovery Program is launched. He’s called Jesus. It’s a much different program than the flood.

As cute as the Noah story can be with the animals, and all the things that you can do with it, including things like Bill Cosby does with it, it is still, in my mind one of the uglier if not ugliest stories in the Bible.

In that story God gives into vengeance and violence, and becomes the antagonist is the most destructive story known to humankind. Not even Rambo managed to destroy every living creature, and kill every human being; every man, woman, and child in the world save those who got on to the Ark.

It’s a much different story with Jesus. Instead of God becoming the perpetrator of such great violence, Jesus absorbs the violence of this world that we all direct toward one another. Jesus is not the sacrificial victim God offers up to the world, instead he is our victim. The worst of who we are, all the suffering, all the prejudice and oppression, all the jealousy and fear, all the loathing and hate and violence that we inflict on each other meet in Jesus, who is the truly innocent victim. And he meets that death not with more death, like the flood did, but with life.

So was this Toxic Asset Recovery Program more successful than the first? I guess, or hope. The jury is still out. Part of the issue is, if you will forgive the expression, that God didn’t put everything in the same boat with Jesus.

The resurrection wasn’t just about Jesus coming alive again, or getting us into heaven when we die. It’s about us coming alive with him and bringing his life to this world. The incredible violence and destruction of the flood do not represent the God of Life that Jesus believed in. I don’t know if something about God changed, or Jesus was telling us we were looking at God in a wrong way, or what exactly was going on with this story of the flood. But Jesus believed in a God of Life.

It is Jesus’ plan that we bring that life to this world where death is having its way with us. In this newer Toxic Asset Recovery Program we are not called to float above it all in our safe confines in the midst of the bloated bodies. Instead, we are called to get out of the boat and clean things up by being the living presence of the living Jesus in the midst of all the toxic assets that are out there.

The alienation people feel from God and each other. The ways we separate ourselves from God and each other. The wars and the violence. The racism, oppression, and discrimination directed toward those who live in different places, speak different languages, have different skin color, different genitalia, different sexual orientation, and different incomes and backgrounds. The idols we make of power and money and possessions and status. The abuse we direct or ignore toward others. Our privileging of the powerful while turning from the powerless. Our refusal to love God and love our neighbors. These are among our sins, the toxic assets that are destroying the human economy. And Jesus calls us to follow him out of the tomb and do something about it. He calls us to believe in the God he believed in, the God of Life, and bring recovery.

We have been commissioned by the living Jesus to go into all the world, to make his way of life known, to help people become his followers, to find the God of Life. By being the agents of the resurrection, co-conspirators of the new creation we and the world will recover from things that have gone so badly. And it’s an ongoing call in our lives. Jesus said I’m going to be with you in this thing all the way to the end of the age. So keep it up. Keep bringing God’s life to this world until I tell you to quit.

And we can do it. One of the things you’ve got to like about the Noah story, in spite of all the problems it offers, it is a story of incredible faith. God told Noah to build that boat in the middle of his yard, with nothing but blue skies overhead. And Noah did it.

And look at the faith that enabled Jesus to take the worst humanity could offer and still save us from ourselves. Noah and Jesus trusted that God was with them.

None of us here, I don’t think, have the faith of Jesus or Noah. But Jesus said it doesn’t take much faith, just like a little mustard seed. That little bit of faith can carry us along troubled waters and out of silent tombs. And make us instruments of resurrection.

God’s Toxic Asset Recovery Program. The God TARP. I don’t know what all that stuff with Noah was about, but I do know that God is now flooding this world with love and grace and forgiveness and mercy. That is the flood that will save us, those are the currents of resurrection.

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