I hadn’t noticed it before. Minutes after Jesus proclaimed that the core of God’s will for us is to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbor as we love ourselves” -right after Jesus said that, He sat down by the Temple, and watched people sharing their livelihood for the work of God’s Kingdom.
And Jesus saw rich people put their money in, and middle class people put their money in. And then Jesus saw a poor widow put in her two thin coins- all she had in the world. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” In sharing herself so completely, this poor old woman became a living parable of love. Like the quote from Pablo Picasso on the front our bulletin covers: “The meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away.”
When we join Emmanuel, we’re asked to pledge a percentage of our income,
so that our giving becomes deeply intentional.
At that moment, loving God and loving our neighbor becomes starkly real!
We pledge our lives to God and God’s community; we look at all the riches of the earth that God has given us, and we pledge our gifts of time, talent and resources, not just in words or good intentions, but in in our actions.
And we pledge, not because we have to, not because we should, but because we love. And to love someone means to take responsibility for their well-being, to seek their good.
Ernest Blevins, a Sunday School teacher in Westlake Village, CA, tells how he handed out sheets of colored paper one day and told the children to share the lone pair of scissors on the table. “What does ‘share’ mean?” he heard one little boy ask his neighbor. “Share” his friend whispered back, “is what you do when you only have one of something and the teacher is looking.”
Today, we’ll be exploring 4 levels of maturity in sharing. Briefly, they are:
1) Sharing to avoid punishment
2) Sharing to gain approval
3) Sharing to feel good about ourselves
4) Sharing as love.
I. The first stage of our development as sharing people is to share because we have to. We share because the teacher is looking, and we’ll get in trouble if we look greedy. The personal commitment of this level is pretty low; as soon as the Teacher isn’t looking, we’re likely to steal the scissors back! Our first concern isn’t so much the joy and well-being of the other person, but the avoidance of punishment.
II. As we get older, though, we begin to realize that there are certain side benefits to sharing- especially if we let everyone know that we are sharing! In this stage, the second stage, we’re not just avoiding punishment because the teacher is looking: We want the teacher to look! We want the teacher to pat us on the back, and hold us up as examples of good citizenship, or compassion, or generosity. We want to gain approval, and have others think well of us. And that’s not bad; it’s nice to feel respected.
III. The third level of sharing, sharing to feel good about ourselves, begins when we don’t have to have other people notice how good we are, or how generous. The third stage comes when we begin to gain satisfaction just in the act of sharing itself. We realize that sharing is good. When we give our time volunteering at the hospital, or share our lives with a foster child, we feel a deep satisfaction within ourselves, just knowing that we are doing good, whether or not anyone notices (although it is always nice when people notice!)
A few years back, Psychology Today wrote an in-depth series of articles on a phenomenon called the “Volunteer High”- the euphoria and sense of well-being we have when we give ourselves to others. In their study, volunteers experienced lower rates of heart disease and stress than the population as a whole. The thrust of the article was that when we share, we generally become healthy, happy people; that, somehow, this is what we are made for. We were created to share.
We need to share, for our own health and well-being. When God made Adam and said, “It is not good for the human to be alone,” God meant it! And so God took the solitary human and separated it into two- male and female, and gave them to each other as companions. Without the capacity to share our lives, we can never be whole, we are less human, we are less than God intended, and certainly less happy. But notice that this third level of sharing is still about… us. About how happy, how healthy we are when we share.
IV. And so, there is another level of maturity into which we are called to grow. This fourth level is sharing as an expression of love, where we share, not so much because we have to, or because other people think well of us when we share, or because we feel good within ourselves when we share; but because… because we want the best for the other person.
That is the level of true Christian love. The philosopher Iris Murdock defined love as the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real- they have meaning outside of us. And so when we love like this, we’re no longer looking exclusively at ourselves. And when we give, we give because we care what happens to the other person, for their own sakes, completely outside of what they may do for us.
We share because we want to be an active force of good in their lives. When we share with that person, we share because we are committed to them. We’re not committed so much to an idea or something which affects us– but we really are committed that real breathing living person in front of us.
When God gave us the ultimate good, what did God give? A set of commandments? A series of ethical values by which we might live a good life? No; God gave us a person. God gave us Jesus. And not so that God could feel good about God’s self, or so that we could be useful to God’s plans, but so that we could be healed, we could be whole. God did it just because God loves us, and wants the best for us.
And growing into God’s image, we’re to do the same. We love the troubled kid down the street, and we want the very best for them- So we spend time with them. We love the old woman in the nursing home, and we want the very best for her- So we read to her, or sing, or visit. We love the refugees we have never seen, but to whom our hearts go out; we want the very best for them- So we stand up for them. We love our church, and we want the very best for it, so we give of our time and resources to help it thrive.
The German poet Goethe wrote these words:
“Until one is committed… there is hesitancy- the chance to draw back-always ineffectiveness. The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidences and meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamt would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream, you can begin it. Boldness has Genius, Power & Magic in it.
The poor old woman Jesus saw at the Temple giving her two thin coins had nothing to give, really, so she gave of her poverty. She had nothing to give, so she gave her faith and trust. She had nothing to give, so she gave her all.
And little did she realize that when she was selflessly seeking the good of the Kingdom, sharing her all with God and neighbor, the Teacher was looking. Jesus was there. And He loved her, for the depth of her gift, and the vision of love it bespoke.
Whatever you can do or dream, you can begin it. Boldness has Genius, Power, and Magic in it. To the glory of God: Amen.
In the Name of the One who gives us all and more- the One who will never let us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resources: Sept. 1988, Psychology Today, “Volunteer High”
Scripture for Oct. 14, 2018 MARK 12:28-34, 41-44
(When Jesus was teaching at the Temple in Jerusalem,) one of the scribes came near… and asked Him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to Him, “You are right, Rabbi… this is much more important than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
(Then) Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then Jesus called His disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she, out of her poverty, has put in everything she had… all she had to live on.”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.