"GENEROSITY" - Psalm 112; Luke 12:13-21
A Sermon by Alex Evans, Pastor
Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
Sunday, August 4, 2019
Texts: Psalm 112; Luke 12:13-21
The word for today is GENEROSITY. This is a very important attribute of the faithful life. God wants all of us to grow in faith, . . . . and GENEROSITY. GENEROSITY is a gift of the Spirit; it is a sign of mature faith. GENEROSITY is also a certain avenue to joy, which is another fine attribute of faith. When we are generous, we discover more joy!
In some devotional reading this week, I can upon an intriguing and also indicting quote from the spiritual writer, Thomas Merton. Merton describes our tendency to keep our distance from God. Merton warns that many Christians "are not really interested in God, except in order to insure themselves against losing heaven and going to hell.” Many Christians, he says, “confine their interior life to a few routine exercises of piety (think prayers before meals or bedtime) and a few external acts of worship and service performed as a matter of duty. Such people,” Merton says, “are careful to avoid sin. They respect God as a Master. (And here is where it gets indicting. . . ) In actual practice, their minds and hearts are taken up with their own ambitions and troubles and comforts and pleasures and all their worldly interests and anxieties and fears. God is only invited to enter this charmed circle to smooth difficulties and to dispense rewards.” (See Devotional Classics, 18)
Ouch. We need to keep tending to our faithful lives so that this is not a description of us. God is NOT finished with us.
I want to try something slightly different on this summer Sunday. I want to invite you to open the pew Bible, and turn to page 490, to Psalm 112, which was read a moment ago by Jarl. Can you find it?
Notice. This is a psalm of praise – it starts out, “Praise the Lord!” Then, it says, “Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.”
The word, “fear,” here can be very misleading. It does not mean “be afraid of God.” It does not mean God is threatening and frightful. The Common English Bible perhaps says it better: “those who honor the Lord, who adore God’s commandments, are truly happy!”
The word “fear,” here in this translation, is really more about profound reverence. Those who have “a reverent awe” of God, who greatly delight in God’s ways – God’s commandments – are the happy and blessed ones. God does not want us to be afraid. Remember, the #1 command in the Bible is “do not fear!” God wants us to be faithful. When we have profound reverence for God, we find joy and purpose. (That is not relegating God to the sideline!) When we know we belong to God, we honor God with how we live. When we cherish God’s blessings, when we live with a sense of awe before God, we delight in God’s ways; we praise the Lord with how we live. What a great concept!
As the psalm continues, this theme is played out. When we honor God with how we live, our “descendants” will be also blessed, verse 2. The offspring of those who delight in God prosper. We do not just live for ourselves, we live for God; and when we live for God, it has lasting effects through the generations.
I learned this week that when Native Americans were thinking about future plans and possibilities, they always asked each other, they also considered, “how are these plans going to affect our ancestors 7 generations from now?” This is known as the 7th Generation Principle.
Imagine that as a guiding principle for our lives and decisions.
Just this week, our government leaders passed some budget resolutions that add trillions to the deficit. They did not want to deal with this subject in September, or December. What about 7 generations from now? We are a long way from the 7th Generation Principle.
Our focus on the immediate, that which affects us now, is also affecting our planet. Ice caps are melting faster than anyone expected. What about 7 generations from now?
These verses in Psalm 112 remind us that the descendants of those who honor God, who live with reverence and awe, who seek to follow God’s commands, “will be mighty in the land, and also blessed.”
We are called to live with a profound sense of reverence and awe, with a sense that life is always lived before God.
Then the psalm continues – “wealth and riches will be in their houses; their righteousness will shine forth.” They “rise” and “shine” in darkness; they are “gracious, merciful, and righteous.” All of this flows when we “honor” God, live with reverence and trust and connected to God.
Then look at verses 5 and 9. These same people who “honor” God, who fear the Lord – live with reverence – practice GENEROSITY! The psalm says they “deal generously and lend;” they “conduct their affairs with justice.” And verse 9: “Their hearts are steady in the Lord.” “They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” We have work to do in this way of living . . . .
The point of this psalm is to celebrate those who honor God – praise the Lord! The point of this psalm is to lift up what honoring God looks like – GENEROSITY – gracious living, hearts firm in God, not afraid, conducting affairs with justice, giving freely to those in need.
Again, this is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Now turn to Luke 12 – page 847. We have been looking in recent weeks at a string of great stories in Luke 9, 10, and 11. Now – read along - as I read aloud this story from Chapter 12, verses 13-21:
13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
This too is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Fine southern preacher and social activist, Clarence Jordan – who founded the famous Koinonia Partners Community in Georgia - said whenever Jesus wanted to make an important point, “he lit a stick of dynamite and covered it with a parable.” So true!
This parable does not appear in any of the other gospels; it is only in Luke. So, let’s take note of what is getting blown up by the dynamite in the parable.
First, we note in the opening lines that money – “inheritance” – is the subject. We assume in our lives, in our society, that the money we make, or the money we have, is ours, and whatever is ours, is ours, and what we do with it is finally a matter of personal choice. And certainly in our culture, we value and fight for personal choices. So any talk about money feels a bit personal, more like meddling in our personal lives.
Well, Jesus blows that right up.
Money is mentioned more than 150 times in the New Testament. It is a favorite subject of Jesus. But Jesus never says money is bad. It all, and always, depends on what is done with money, how it is used, how we think about money. He never condemns money per se, but the love of money, the greedy grasping of money, the covetous instincts that lead us to worship money and its ends, . . . and not God.
Notice here that Jesus refuses to be drawn in too close; he does not get pulled into the position of arbitrator for the dispute about a person’s inheritance. Jesus speaks directly to the issue of money – to warn of the dangers of money: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Then he tells the parable.
“The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘what should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’”
The second thing Jesus blows up in this parable is selfishness. Notice that the man does not talk to others; he does not engage his community. He talks to . . . himself!
Don’t we learn that when we talk only to ourselves, we are way more likely to get into trouble? We talk to ourselves and we often come to dangerous conclusions. We talk to ourselves and our fears grow, our self-esteem falls, our paranoia increases, our rationale decreases, and our conclusions suffer. No, we are made for community, for connections – broad, diverse community is best! That is where we find life, find wholeness, and find direction and purpose – not selfishness.
William Barclay, the Biblical scholar, points out that there is no parable of Jesus that is as full as this one of the words, “I” and “me” and “my” and “mine.” Count the number – in verses 17 -19: he says, “what should I do, for I have no place to store my crops; I will do this, I will do that - I, . . . my, . . mine” - at least 10 times in 3 verses.
This deserves our close attention.
A schoolboy was once asked what parts of speech “my” and “mine” are, and he said, “aggressive pronouns.” He had it right.
Jesus is blowing up our great tendency toward selfishness. There are lots of ways all around in these days when we need to hear Jesus’ warnings about “I . . . my, . . . mine.”
Just think a moment about that – the prevalence in our culture of “”I, . . . my, . . . mine”: my money, . . . my way, . . . my guns, . . . my border, . . . .
Selfishness is always a pervasive challenge for us – individually, . . in close community, . . . in our nation, . . . across the world. We have to watch out for the “I, . . . my, . . . mine” lest we find ourselves far away from God.
Henri Nouwen reminds us that we are all so easily lulled into living a life that seems to anticipate questions from God that will never be asked. It seems as if we are conditioned to live our lives preparing for the questions like this, anticipating that this is really what matters: “how much did you earn during your lifetime?” or “how many friends did you make?” or “how successful were you in your career” or “how much influence did you have on other people?” or even “how many conversions did you make?” These are all rooted in selfish gains, selfish achievements, self, . . self, . . . self.
Nouwen’s voice becomes prophetic: are “any of these the question Christ will ask when he comes in glory? If so, we could approach judgment day with great confidence. But nobody is going to hear those questions. The question we are going to face,” says Nouwen, is not about selfish attainments and selfish achievement, and not about anything related to “my,” or “mine.”
“The question we are going to face is the question about “the least of these” from God’s perspective. “What have you done for the least?” As long as there are strangers; as long as there are hungry, naked and sick people; as long as there are prisoners, and refugees and slaves; as long as there are people who are handicapped physically, mentally, emotionally, and people without work, or a home, or a piece of land, there will be that lingering question from God: “what have you done for the least?” (Nouwen, Seeds of Hope, Daily Dig, 7/30/19 from Plough Publishing)
Jesus blows up the idea that selfishness is the way. Jesus affirms that a life centered on one’s own prosperity, one’s own security is the opposite of the faithful life: Jesus asks, “You fool, . . . the things that you have prepared (namely big barns and selfish attainments), whose will they be?”
Simon Sinek is a best-selling writer, engaging speaker, and creative thinker in these days. He has a term: “Destructive Abundance.” “Destructive Abundance” is what happens when selfish pursuits are out of balance with selfless pursuits. (see Sinek, Leaders Eat Last, p.155)
The man in this story is not mean; he is not immoral; he does not steal or mistreat workers; he is simply, according to Jesus, “a fool.” He lives completely for himself, he talks to himself, he plans for himself, he congratulates himself. We see this so often. He is a “fool,” because he got caught up in destructive abundance – “what does it profit anyone if you gain the whole world and lose or forfeit your life?”
Thomas Merton, (again) the American monk, pointed out that we may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success and achievement, only to find when we get to the top that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. (R. Rohr, Falling Upward, p. xvii)
Remember, Christians are made, . . . not born. Faith and life are the result of our intentional devotion and God’s Spirit working in and through us. We want to be the people we aspire to be – full of faith and GENEROSITY. This takes our intention, our sacrifice, our attention.
The whole Bible, and Jesus especially, keeps wanting us shaped toward GENEROSITY. Generous living, generous sharing is the way to be “rich in God.” It is also the way to joy, peace, and hope, . . and life eternal. May it be so. Amen.
Prayer of Commitment: Holy God, to turn from you is to fall; to turn to you is to rise; to share life with you – to live with faith and generosity – that is to abide forever. We seek that way following Jesus. AMEN
Alex W. Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during Sunday morning worship on August 4, 2019. This is a rough manuscript.