Message for Sunday October 16, 2016
Speaker: Minister Vicki McPhee
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 4:1-6
One of my activities while I was on sabbatical earlier this year was to do some reading. I seem to collect theologically based books at a ferocious rate but rarely find enough time or space to read them, cover to cover. So, during my three month sabbatical, I read. A lot. I averaged two books a week. There was one book, in particular, that I was determined to get through because I had bought it years ago and have been moving it back and forth over time, hoping that one day I would just pick it up. It is called, Being Generous: The Art of Right Living by Lucinda Vardey and John Dalla Costa. I fell in love with it from the first chapter and so I wanted to share it with you.
When we hear the word ‘generous’ we often think of it in regards to what we give away in terms of money. I was generous with the tip or we gave generously to that charity. You can also generously give away your time or your possessions. But that is not the type of generosity that Vardey and Dalla Costa talk about. When they speak of generosity, they speak of generosity of the spirit, of the soul. When you are a generous of the spirit, you are transforming yourself, not simply giving something away. Giving something away because it is needed is charity. You are charitable because you are moved to give. Generosity exists when you are being moved to change—to change your thinking, your beliefs, your attitudes. The relationships in generosity are interactive and mutually expansive—they are not a one-way street of giving. Because generosity is beyond just giving and more about generating opportunities for change, living and acting generously will definitely impact others but the most transformed is the one who is practicing the generosity.
Charity is necessary in our world. Financial givings in the time of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, are vital so that the relief agencies working there are able to purchase the supplies they need instead of making do with whatever might be donated by people far away who do not understand the full scope of what those on the ground require. People who were evacuated out of Fort MacMurray in May needed to rely on charity so as to feed their families and find shelter. Charity is easy. You give online with your credit card. You give the clothes, blankets, furniture you no longer need or want. Charity is a transaction from the giver to the receiver. You get something in return for giving—if nothing else, the feeling of self-satisfaction that you gave or that you, at least, made the effort. Think back to Halloween when you were growing up. Remember the UNICEF boxes that you wore hanging from a string around your neck? You walked around the neighbourhood collecting AS MUCH candy as possible in the window of time that your parents allowed you to be out that night and, along the way, you asked for some change to fill up the box. And you never said, ‘hey, can I have a fistful of change?’ And you certainly never said, ‘can I have all the dollar bills you have in your wallet—and not just the dollars but the twos and fives and tens and even the twenties?’ Of course not. You would say, ‘have you got any SPARE change for UNICEF?’ This kind of giving teaches two things: the first being reciprocity—that we can expect to get something for ourselves (candy) while doing good (raising money). The second being that we give to charity from our excess, our leftovers, that which is not really of use to us. This type of giving is no-cost generosity.
Nothing is given up when only spare change is passed on. And you know I’m not just talking about money—spare change can be the rote thank you to the tired cashier, offering help knowing the offer will not be taken, considering what you would have done anyway as above and beyond. We are charitable with our surplus but we are generous with what is important to us. We are not stretched, pushed or pulled when giving from the excess in our life. However those things that we have passion for will get our time, our energy, our love, our dedication—working for a particular cause, mentoring a certain youth or young adult, doing your best to live out the Gospel each and every day, loving your neighbour more, hating your enemy less, being kind, seeking justice.
Through the Season of Creation, the scriptures reminded us that our world was created by the One we call God. It was not made by humanity. Not you or I. Only God was there at the beginning of time and made the day separate from the night and the oceans separate from the land. That while, at times, creation may be invisible or taken for granted, we are reminded that it is there because God made it so, precious and indispensable in the air we breath, the food we eat, the water we drink and the natural resources we craft shelter and tools from for making a living. Each and every one of us human beings surf on waves of this unexpected grace. And since humanity has been made in the image of God, we should expect to strive towards the characteristics of God. God shows us such generosity in our creation, we are beholden to be generous ourselves. Generosity is to be considered as not only an ideal, but an essential need for everyone. And, as I said earlier, generosity is to be transformative—it is action as well as attitude. Generosity has to be practiced to have any impact, any hope of creating change. Generosity is counter-intuitive in many aspects of our world, where winner takes all is a prevailing norm and so it takes concentrated effort to live generously. Because theory does us no good unless it is realized through action. Unless we move from the academic to the heart of living.
Vardey and Dalla Costa describe ten virtues that help us live a life that is generosity-filled. Virtues, that when practiced and nurtured, inspire and give form to generosity. Discernment involves taking the time to understand our motivations, why we choose to do what we do. Compassion is the imagining from the heart what it means to be in the place of another. Reliability is the being continually generous which allows others to thrive in the confidence that their needs will be respected. The virtue of trust means to give without controlling the outcome—the more you can give without expectation of a corresponding reward, the more others can trust your intentions. The virtue of hope is essential for imagining what is possible. Without hope there would be no expectation that being generous would have any effect at all. Remembering is the virtue of allowing our memory of what is really important to us to guide our actions. The virtue of balance is experienced from regular rest, restoration and, simply, making space. In church language, this is the time of Sabbath—the time required to prevent succumbing to ceaseless doing, to recreate, to take stock, to discern, allows you to know where to invest your energies in the following week. The last three virtues are courage, mercy and humility. We will be exploring courage and mercy later and today we will look at humility.
The first of our scripture readings today was from Ephesians. The chapters leading up to the reading by Scot is a long theological discourse directing how the church is to be in the world. Chapter four is the beginning of a set of practical instructions oriented toward the Christian responsibility as life within the church. These instructions are the follow through from theory to the ethics of living. Because what one believes and how they understand it, affects the way one lives their life. One can live in theory for so long and then one must act—these are the instructions of how to act ethically in authentic faith. In the First Century, humility was a sign of weakness and servitude. It was certainly not a virtue. But Paul, in this letter to Ephesus, is saying that the appropriate stance before our Creator is a humble one. If one is secure in their faith, they do not need to brag, bring attention to themselves, hold themselves up above another.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines humble as—not proud. Not thinking of yourself as better than other people or acting or showing that you do not think you are better than others. Vardey and Dalla Costa go further when speaking of humility as a virtue. When we are humble, we are generous because we give freely with no strings or demands attached, we seek to give what is actually needed instead of what we may want to give—we remove our ego from the giving and allow for the other to be heard. We help others without selfish ambition and look to others’ interest rather than our own. If we are not humble, then the supposedly generous act can be more about us than about the reality that requires transformation. The Chinese classic text for the religious, philosophical and ritual tradition of Taoism is the Tao Te Ching (the word Tao interestingly enough is translated into English as The Way—which are the words we use to refer to the ministry of Jesus). Anyway, the Tao states, “it is because the way of the heart never attempts to be great that it succeeds in becoming great.” Vardey and Dalla Costa say, this greatness is not about boosting pride and ego but about contributing, as one can, to the greater good of others.
The passage, today, from Micah is the scripture that guides my life. So much so that I chose to have it tattooed on my forearm. Micah explains what God wants for God’s people. Tells us the theological dimension of the sort of life God wants humanity to live. To seek justice. Love kindness. And walk humbly with God. What is fascinating is that in the translation, the Hebrew word for ethics can also mean walking. The task of ethics is to describe how one ought to walk one’s day-by-day life. And we are called to walk humbly. To remember something much bigger than ourselves is at play. We can never presume to be the originating source of generosity—only the conduits of it. Which cannot help but bring to mind the reminder that we are not the only manufactures of our destiny. There is a greater force in our lives. When we forget that, we begin to think we are the only ones responsible for all of our successes.
Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote that to become an expert in something, you need to practice it for 10,000 hours. Which might make you think that it is only your hard effort and work that leads to you successfully becoming an expert. But what is not mentioned by Gladwell are the hours of work put in by the support team behind you. The ones who loved you and cared for you as you toiled through those 10,000 hours. The ones who were there for you when you came up for air. The ones who came before you, clearing the way so you could do what you are doing. Hillary can run for president only because of the suffragette movement. And just because you practice 10,000 hours doesn’t mean that you will become an expert. You have to have some inherent gift, from something beyond just your will or your parents determination, to do what you do well. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. Anyone, anyone who has heard me sing without the aid of Colleen Nabata on one side of me and usually Cindy or Helen Coker on the other, knows that even if I practiced 100,000 hours, I just could not sing on my own. Abigail was explaining to me the other day the joy of getting the b-flat scale with her trombone. She has chosen it for band to follow in her in dad’s footsteps. Anyway, she was all excited about getting the scale and I was like, it’s a trombone, how do you know you’ve got the scale right? And she said, you can hear it. And I said, so I guess I could never play the trombone. And she said, this 12 year trying not to hurt my feelings, ya, you can’t play if you’re tone deaf. Even with all the time in the world, I do not have what it takes to be musical. Karen tries so hard to get us clapping on 2 and 4 when we feel so inspired to clap during the hymns. Two and four?! What does that even mean? But then there’s our eldest son. He can do puzzles like nobody’s business. You know how most of mere mortals do puzzles from the edge and work our way in. Not him. Since he was two years old, he just pick up pieces, looks at them and then places them in the puzzle. It’s like some sort of magic watching him put together a puzzle. He has a gift. Something handed to him from beyond his dad and I. He can do puzzles because he’s practiced but he’s awesome at puzzles because of something inherent in his being.
We are to be humble because we have not done this alone. We stand on the shoulders of the many and the generous who have come before us. Who raised and nutured us. Who broke ground on the path before us. We work knowing the Divine is not finished creating in our world and the Holy Spirit moves in and amongst us. We walk humbly remembering that Jesus called to the disciples, follow me. Walk with me. And so we walk with Jesus knowing that the walking does not promise good or the lack of bad but rather assurance that this walk we take is not taken alone. And knowing this allows us to live generosity-filled lives because we understand that we are not the only manufactures of our destiny. We have inherited, been blessed with gifts and skills we have not earned. We have had help and assistance. Those before us working for the greater good have allowed us to be great. To be successful. To be loving and kind. To be seeking justice. And knowing all of this, calls us by God, to also live generously so that the greater good now and those coming after us can live generously too.
From the theology of Tim McGraw
Go to church ’cause your mamma says to
Visit grandpa every chance that you can
It won’t be wasted time
Always stay humble and kind
Hold the door, say “please”, say “thank you”
Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie
I know you got mountains to climb
But always stay humble and kind
When the dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride
But always stay humble and kind
Don’t expect a free ride from no one
Don’t hold a grudge or a chip and here’s why:
Bitterness keeps you from flyin’
Always stay humble and kind
Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you’re going don’t forget turn back around
And help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind