Sermon for August 4, 2019, “The Abundance of Giving”
It’s amazing to consider how and where you learn about life. There are probably substantial moments in your life that would come to mind as you consider something great that you have learned. For me, I reflect often on an experience I had in Manila, The Philippines in 2014. I was travelling to the Philippines to represent the Indiana Conference at the Global Young People’s Convocation of the United Methodist Church. I learned several things during that experience, but I’ll share two with you this morning.
First, I learned how to pray, I mean really pray during this trip. During the second leg of my flight from Tokyo to Manila, I’ll never forget when the captain came onto the loudspeaker in the plane to inform us that we we’re going to be landing just ahead of a major typhoon that would make landfall that night in Central Philippines. He said the words you never want to hear on a plane, “Extreme turbulence.” So, as we began our descent, I grabbed my chair under me, I looked out of my window to see a steady stream of lightening in the darkness, certain that was the line of the typhoon. As the plan rocked side by side, I learned how to pray.
Eventually we landed and made it in the middle of the night to where the conference was being held. Still no sleep, as I awoke to the winds of the storm blowing off our roof overhead. Again, I learned how to pray. After the storm finally moved west out of the island nation, our conference went on, but not without valuable lessons on how to pray. The week following, I decided to stay in Manila where I served in the slums of the city with the Catholic brothers or monks of the Missionaries of the Poor. There was one more thing I learned on that trip, by one of the residents of the homeless shelter that the brothers built and staffed.
As I helped the brothers around the shelter, I talked with the men there trying my best to work around the language barrier of Tagalog and English. There was one man, they called Jo Jo, who enjoyed talking with me. We would talk and laugh as I attempted to say words in Tagalog, very poorly, but I tried. He taught me something that has stayed with me for years now. He taught me how to be rich toward God and how to find abundance in giving.
That’s what Jesus was attempting to teach the crowd that day some warnings and encouragements on how they are to live. Jesus is in the middle of encouraging his disciples, when someone in the crowd chimes in and wants Jesus to settle a financial dispute between siblings. If you notice, Jesus refuses to enter the debate and instead starts to teach about the seduction of wealth. It’s clear that this issue of inheritance is of vital importance to the person in the crowd. During this age, the inheritance had something to do with not just survival, but with the identity of the person. It’s obviously a big deal, but Jesus instead simply teaches with a clear statement, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” then with a parable, a story with strong with meaning, he continues teaching.
Jesus then points out not that the rich famer is wicked or that he wrongfully gained his wealth. Instead, Jesus points out how the rich farmer is concerned about one thing: himself. “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? 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. And I will say to my soul.” Do you see what he’s concerned about? He constantly uses the first-person pronouns “I” and “my” in a way to show it’s all about him, his wealth, his security, and his life. There’s no sense of gratitude for what he has. There’s no sense that this rich farmer wants to be generous with what he has either.
The second mistake of this rich famer is found in the belief that his future is set. He believes that he has made it and wealth has saved him and has secured his future. “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” I find it fascinating that every time I read this story, the rich farmer speaks to his soul, not his life, in a way that makes it clear that his soul is seeking the wrong thing. While our lives might be filled with seeking wealth, our souls seek only God.
This is a challenging parable for us to hear today. It seems as though our culture tells us that our success is found in building larger barns for all of our stuff and that we never have enough. No matter how hard we try, how much we work, the world will tell us that we’ll never have enough, even though we finally start to tell ourselves, “you have ample good laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” We sometimes forget that our worth is not found in what we own or how much we have in the bank account. Far from it. Our life’s goal shouldn’t be gaining wealth or putting our name on the side of a tower. This parable forces us to look again at our lives and to consider what treasures we are storing up. Are we building our own little kingdoms, lives where we seek control and comfort in wealth, when this very night our life may be demanded of us? Or are we generous with our treasures building up the Kingdom of God?
Later in Luke 12 Jesus gives us some hints at what this looks like. The lectionary text next week reminds us “Do not work about your life, what you will eat; or about your body what you will wear. Seek God’s Kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” Where do we place our treasure, our trust, our wealth? That’s hard a question to reflect on, I realize this, but it’s one we need to consider in light of today’s Gospel. It’s something that Jesus spoke on all the time in the Gospels. In fact, 16 of his 38 parables were concerned with money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing 1 out of 10 verses, 288 in all, deal with money. If Jesus taught on this topic, then we should not just listen, but reflect on what it means for our lives.
When I was in the Philippines, I had a real-life encounter that forced me to reflect on my life. It was a moment where the Gospel became real for me. It had nothing to do with what I gave or my own generosity, instead I was taught the abundance of giving. I told you about Jo Jo at the beginning of the message. While Jo Jo could barely talk or walk, he communicated with me well through his warm smile and kind gestures as we comically tried to share each other’s languages. One of the brothers told me that Jo Jo had a disease that made it difficult for him to easily move and communicate, so since he was seen as a burden on his family, they decided to put him on the streets. The Catholic monks found Jo Jo in the gutter on the side of the street in the slums of Manila one day. He was mostly nude and nearly dead. They gave him a roof over his head, a good meal every day, and a community.
Then enters me, a person who came all the way from Indiana, which Jo Jo could not figure where I was from the whole time, who wanted to do some work for the shelter and the brothers who ran it. One day, as I was spending time with Jo Jo trying to make conversation, I noted a nice bracelet he was wearing. It was a wooden bracelet with beads and a cross on it. On my last day at the shelter, the day before I was about to fly home, Jo Jo took off his beloved bracelet, placed it around my wrist, and said, “Yours now. Please remember me. Please pray for me.” With tears in my eyes, I prayed for Jo Jo thanking God for everything this man taught me in our short week together. Every day since I have worn his bracelet and remembered him in prayer.
Jo Jo taught me about the abundance of giving. Life is not about the possessions you accumulate or the wealth or security we attempt to gain. Life is about building relationships, sharing love, and being generous with what has been entrusted to us. That’s being rich toward God. There is a wealth in our generosity. We are invited not to build bigger barns, but a bigger Kingdom.
Just a few weeks ago, as I visited with guests downstairs at the Soup Kitchen, a man who I met during my first week said he wanted to talk with me. I had no idea what he wanted to share. He was excited as he reached into his bag and pulled out a cross and said it was for me. Yet another lesson in the abundance of giving. I have to admit that every time I have gone someplace to be a blessing to others, whether it was Guatemala, the Philippines, or even here at home, I have been blessed. Even if I have gone to be a blessing, I have been blessed and I have learned about the abundance of giving.
The other thing to consider from this Gospel reading is the future focus of the reading. Certainly the rich farmer was focused on his future, but not in light of what God’s will was for his life. It begs a question of us. What will be our legacy? As a church, we have an opportunity to ensure that the unique Christian and Methodist witness thrives in downtown South Bend. We have an opportunity to build, not bigger barns, but a Gospel focused, Jesus centered, Kingdom building community of faith in the heart of downtown. We have to build it together. You’ll hear this again at the Cottage Meetings coming up this month, but I’m going to ask you for four things. I ask you to pray for the church and our future, if you don’t already. Come. Come to worship, to serve, and to learn. Invite. Invite family and friends to attend worship or to serve with you and be a part of who we are as a church community. Finally, give. Give of your time, talents, and treasures.
Again, I have to ask: what are we trying to build with our lives? Are we trying to build bigger barns or wealth and security or are we trying to build the Kingdom? Together, I’m inviting you to find joy, hope, and great abundance in giving. I hope and pray that I’ll be able to be a bit more like Jo Jo or the man I met downstairs in the Soup Kitchen, that I’ll be able to find joy in the abundance of giving. Friends, may we all learn the life lesson of the abundance of giving. Amen.