Joining the lavishness of God’s blessing
July 31, 2016

Joining the lavishness of God’s blessing

Passage: Luke 12:13-21

I had a roommate in college who claimed that his favorite book of the Bible was Ecclesiastes. Why? Because of that section made famous by Pete Seeger and the Byrds that says there is a season for everything under the sun: “a time to be born, a time to die” and so on. And for Jim – a young, virile college student – he was hoping that this would be his season to sow his wild oats, if you catch my drift. So he saw Ecclesiastes as giving him all the permission he needed from the Bible. I, however, was young and self-righteous and a bit of a prude in all matters sexual, so I rejected Jim, his logic, and the entire book of Ecclesiastes!

Years later, though, I began to turn to Ecclesiastes and discovered in it profound truth. It is written by an old man who has sought wisdom his whole life. And at the end of his days he pens his conclusions in this book. It is at times despairing, at times hopeful – but it is always penetratingly clear on the human condition. He sees beyond the glossy veneers of optimistic religion, of good intentions and shrewd political maneuverings. He sees and understands the deep currents of the human heart – of what matters in this life, and what ultimately will be revealed as vanity of vanities.

And in today’s Old Testament reading, he reflects in despair that – despite all his toil – he must eventually die and leave it behind for someone else: I hated all my toil, he writes, in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after meand who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled (Ecclesiastes 2:18).

How often have we seen this? the parents who worked tirelessly their whole lives, only to see their inheritance squandered by the next lazy, privileged generation. I’m told that within just a few generations the Vanderbilt fortune has completely evaporated.

But this begs the question: For what purpose do we toil? Is our calling to amass wealth? to amass fortunes and prestige and perpetual security? I think not.

Sure, it is prudent to work with an eye to the future, but foolish – I think – to live in despair of what the future may or may not provide. As someone once said, “Fear is not real. It is the product of thoughts you create….Danger is very real, but fear is a choice” (Will Smith).

And if we allow the fear of what may come tomorrow to infect our spirit today, then it will destroy what is real today, what is good today – this day in which God has given us everything we need.

And beneath it all lies this one foundational truth: everything belongs to God. What will be in the future? That is God’s. And those things we consider ours today: our property, our wisdom, our labor, our loves? Well – those are God’s too. And whenever our selfish, self-centered hearts insist on clinging to our rights, we will never be happy, because it’s not true. Only truth can deliver joy. So when we cede our sense of proprietorship over to God, it ushers in an extraordinary freedom – a freedom where fear is no longer relevant.

I was so moved visiting a parishioner at her home some time ago. Her gardens are beautiful. But it’s not a magazine photo-shoot kind of beautiful. There’s no sense that the garden has become the task-master demanding endless toil. Rather, you can sense a kind of love between the land and the property owner. But that’s just the whole point. She doesn’t consider the property as hers to own. It’s such an honor, she told me, to be able to care for this land for this season. I know that someday it will be time to hand it off to somebody else. Imbued in all her toil is the joy of knowing that she and God are preparing it for someone else – not necessarily her children – but whomever God has chosen to call next to this land. It is hers to love right now, but not hers to possess. And with that spirit, she lives an extraordinary hospitality in welcoming others to her home and to her garden: to join in a meal, to cut flowers and bring them home, to come and rest beside the fire that’s blazing warm on a damp winter day.

We are the possessors of nothing in this life, merely the stewards of what is God’s. And as caretakers of God’s creation, we treat it as God would treat it, as sources with which we love and bless one another. Nothing else. So where is the fear in that?

We are never the destination of God’s blessings. They don’t end with us. They merely pass through us. Imagine being part of a bucket brigade, working hard to put out a fire. You’re hot and sweaty and thirsty. And along comes a bucket of water. Do you stop, take a deep drink, then pour the rest over your sweaty head and say, Oh, thank you Jesus, that was wonderful! No, of course not. You pass it on to the next person and put out the fire. There will be water for you when the work is done.

That is how we’re to live this life. Of course we are grateful when our needs are met. Every day God provides for us and the fitting response is a posture of continual gratitude. But there’s also a danger of developing a “dead-end” type of mindset: God gave this to me and I’m so fortunate to be able to possess it for my own pleasure. That’s no longer gratitude. That’s selfishness – a spirit never to be associated with our God in whose image we are made.

We are not little safety deposit boxes into which God makes periodic deposits. We are not so small and puny and self-contained. We are made to be like God, flinging ourselves into the torrent of God’s lavish mercy and abundance. And in doing so we discover a joy and a meaning far deeper than mere possession. We become a part of the dynamic, living, out-pouring Kingdom of God.

An old college friend of mine was visiting us this spring. She’d recently inherited money from two different aunts who’d died in the past couple years. It wasn’t an enormous amount, but it was significant enough. She shared how disheartening it had been to clean out their apartments: these elderly women who’d spent their whole lives hoarding their few possessions, hoarding their modest bank accounts. And she said, Eric, I determined right then that I would not become what they’d become. I live a simple life. I am comfortable enough and my daily needs are provided for. The extra money I receive must be used to bless others.

A few days after she returned home, an envelope arrived in the mail. In it was a check. For your pilgrimage, she wrote. What she didn’t know was that – on the advice of some wise friends – I’d committed to going on this pilgrimage with no certainty of where the money would come from to pay for it. Let God provide for you, they’d counseled me, and experience him loving you through his provision. And what my friend also didn’t know, was the amount she’d given me was the exact amount I needed for the pilgrimage and plane flight.

And so I am going – not merely provided for – but provided for in such a way that I feel the breath of God at my back. The question, of course, will now be: How will this experience call me into the chain of God’s blessing? How will this not simply be a lovely getaway for Eric (which would be a dead-end blessing), but rather, how will God be calling me into a greater freedom to share in the generosity of God’s abundance? not only with my money – but with my whole spirit? Can I discover myself more fully drawn into the heart and identity of Christ, fully given in obedience to God and love of my neighbor?

In many ways it is fair to say, that I would like to grow in faith in ways that I already see as alive and mature in Laura who we are celebrating today, as we mark her transition as curate at St. John’s to Associate Priest.

Of the two of us, she’s the more generous one. She gives more generously to the church than I do. She gives extravagantly to those in need – both with money and with time, as I know many of you have experienced. As her boss I’ll sometimes get annoyed when I hear her carrying on and on relationally with people who stop by the office. Get back to work, I’ll grumble in my spirit. Which is, of course, ludicrous because she is doing the very real work of the Kingdom of God – in loving others with presence and time and with her full spirit.

I remember one occasion when she went to the hospital to pray for someone having surgery. After the person was wheeled into the operating room, she realized how anxious the husband was, the husband who had been left powerless and alone in the waiting room. So what did Laura do? She put all her other tasks aside and spent the entire day at the hospital so the husband would not be alone. Foolish in terms of efficiency and productivity. Yet, oh so very wise, in the eyes of God.

And it is because of this spirit that St. John’s has loved her and called her to join us – no longer as temporary curate – but as our associate priest, to stay with us for as long as God should call her here, to continue to share the spirit and passion of Christ.

And it is also because of your generosity in increasing your giving that we are able to offer her this position. So on this day of our “Sweet Jesus Carnival” we are celebrating – not only Laura – but all of St. John’s. We are celebrating both a woman and a parish who – in the language of today’s parable – are choosing to pull their grain out of their barns and to share it with one another that, together, we may all relax, eat, drink, and be merry – to dunk the rector in the dunking booth and to eat popcorn and cotton candy and pie, to laugh and to celebrate the abundance of the shared life in Christ.

So it is for those who are rich towards God in loving with all God has entrusted to us.