Hebrews 11.1-3; 8-12
sharing is a way of life
August 11, 2013 the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
After hearing this text one may be tempted to begin a chorus of “Don’t worry, be happy” and merrily lead us on a bird watching venture, gazing on the flowers along the way. Actually, if it weren’t so blasted hot and humid in our fair city, it might be good thing for the people of God to gather in God’s good creation to marvel at the wonders there. I say this as one who just returned from three glorious weeks doing just that in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and one of those weeks with 9 other pastors renewing our spirits in that great place. Thank you for that gift! I mean it.
Here in this place we can gaze upon the hummingbird delicately dips her long thin beak into the bright orange blossoms of the trumpet vine – or the bright red feeder – then darts away only to return to the source of her sustenance. And here we notice the butterfly bushes are in bloom now and the crape myrtle. How quickly they come in all their glory – purple, red, white – then they pass away! There we saw Colorado columbine with the blue and white, the tiny blue bells hanging their heads humbling next to the bright purple nasturtium. Not to mention hearing the Elk “barking” in the wild while grazing in high altitude meadows. Seeing Big Horn Sheep at 12,000 feet is a treat.
Consider these things, says Jesus, learn from them. Learn what?
Learn what; nature’s way? That’s a bit hippyish, don’t you think? I distinctly recall a song back in day – Nature’s way. Perhaps it no so much about Nature’s Way as about God’s way that we are to attend.
Scarcity is the story that rules the world – in that story, there is never enough. Therefore, Be afraid. Remember the rich farmer in Jesus’ parable whose only solution to his overflowing abundance is to build bigger barns, only to die in the process, surrounded by his abundance. Store up all that you can now before someone else gets what remains. The fear of scarcity is the demon that often pollutes our dreams.
The community that gathers around Jesus – he calls them “little flock” – apparently suffers the same worries that haunt our dreams and disable our trust in God. What is it that we are to learn from a text that drives a stake right into the heart of our anxieties about economic security? Would it be the same lesson that the people of God nurtured on these gospel counter stories have learned in every generation? The same one announced in the letter to the Hebrews? “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.”
Abraham did not set out on his long journey knowing everything was secure. Neither did Sarah. Rather it was “by faith that Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance;” and here is the emphasis, “ he set out, not knowing where he was going.” In the end, the reason we remember Abraham and Sarah is because of their utter faith in God and their willingness to follow God’s call. The text then resolutely declares the fruit of that radical faith in God, the promise fulfilled. “From one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
Faith in God’s provisions is the alternative to anxious worrying over scare resources. Faith assumes God’s abundance, and lives from the conviction that there will be provisions for all when all share. Fear assumes there is never enough, and lives from the conviction that the provisions will run out and sharing is cost-prohibitive.
Don’t worry, says Jesus. Your life is about more than food, and the body more than clothing. Besides fretting about all these things will bring you no good thing. As if to make the point more emphatic, “don’t keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after these things, and your Father knows you need them.”
These are the two stories that have always vied for the allegiance of the people of God. Shall we live by faith in God trusting that our needs will also be provided as we share with others? Or, shall we be consumed by worry and anxiety that will bring no good thing and may lead to an early death?
The little flock – the church that gathers around Jesus’ way – will learn to live by a different story, one of faith in God’s provisions – much like our ancestors Abraham and Sarah – sharing what we have because we trust in God’ provisions for our deepest needs.
There will always be enough. This is the miraculous story of the people who trust in God. This is what our scriptures teach us. Economic sharing that brings the poor into the circle of abundance is at the heart Jesus’ way. We call this way the stewardship of all life.
Jesus then urges his followers to share abundantly and especially to those in need. For where your treasure is, he says, there will your heart be also.
Is Jesus’ saying that the truest measure of my spiritual life – my heart before God – is the extent to which I share out of my abundance? Is he saying that what I treasure most reveals my Christian life far more clearly than words could ever do? Do I treasure the things that money cannot buy – where neither thieves can steal or moths consume – the relationships that flourish and all too swiftly pass away?
These questions are not mine alone. They are spoken to the little flock of Jesus that we might help one another live as he taught. We can’t do this alone nor is it Jesus’ intent to have solitary disciples struggling over these matters of economic sharing and faithful living.
Giving generously from our abundance would substantially lift the burden of those who live at the bottom of the pile – the very ones that Jesus called to our attention – vulnerable, poor children. I’m told that if every American who claimed to be Christian tithed, we would raise $143 billion a year. That means you keep 90% and the remaining portion goes to the service of God. The other day Elder Barb Welsh and I visited our mission partners at the Crossways International Community serving vulnerable mothers and their children with remarkable spirit and a shoe string budget. We are their partners and our economic sharing is helping them lift up the poor. You will be amazed at the progress they are making on the new kitchen we funded for their center.
This is what happens when the people of God live into the joyous obligation to share abundantly. (By the way, did you know the average Presbyterian gives 1.3% of their income. That means we keep 98.7% for ourselves. That’s all.) Jesus said where your treasure is there will your heart be also. Ouch.
Yet, consider what happens within us and among us when we imagine a different way – a more simple, joyous way where what is treasured most is relationships, beauty, creation, care for the broken. Our hearts sing; we come alive. We have experienced it here among us in many ways. When we become stewards, trusting God, sharing our resources – the world appears differently, our neighbors become our family. In fact, have a glimmer of God’s kingdom! Right here, right now.
Consider these things, says Jesus, learn from them.