The Counter Culture of Generosity
Isaiah was only 4 years old when his best buddy, Noah, got sick with cancer.
Noah had to spend a lot of time at the hospital.
So the families arranged for Isaiah to come for a visit.
Isaiah brought his favorite toy to share with Noah—his brand new Buzz Lightyear action figure.
The two of them played for over an hour with the toy on Noah’s hospital bed, and had a great time.
But at the end of the visit, Noah didn’t want to let Buzz Lightyear go.
“That’s ok,” said Isaiah. “You can keep him.”
It seems like the problem was solved—Noah was beaming, and Isaiah looked happy too.
Until the adults stepped in.
Noah’s mom explained that Buzz was Isaiah’s toy.
Isaiah’s parents worried that as soon as Isaiah got home, he would change his mind and want Buzz back.
“Why don’t you just bring him again another time, Is?” they said.
Everyone seemed uncomfortable with this display of generosity.
“But I want to give Buzz to Noah!” Isaiah insisted. And so that is what happened.
Why do you suppose the adults were so uncomfortable?
They seemed to doubt the staying power of the boys’ solution.
And it is true—what the boys did was contrary to many preschool behaviors,
like whining about candy in the checkout aisle or nagging for a new toy advertised on TV.
You hear a lot of heart -warming stories this time of year about people adopting a family and buying gifts
or being a secret Santa at a nursing home.
But I was struck by a story of a more unusual form of generosity,
a story not fit for the glossy pages of a women’s magazine or the two minute segment at the end of the news.
Two weeks ago, when I was chaplain at Calumet, I met a woman who is a public defender in Massachusetts.
Her clients are the people who are typically despised by the general public--
abusive boyfriends, drug dealers, and thieves.
She said a lot of people ask her why she spends her time with this despicable group of people
when she could make a lot more money practicing in another branch of law.
“Most of the men I defend have had pretty bad lives. I am not trying to excuse what they did.
I am not trying to lie if they are guilty. But someone needs to stand up for them.
Someone needs to go through this with them, so that they are not alone.”
This attorney made me think about just how counter cultural her choice is.
She is essentially being the face of Christ to these men; none of them deserve it.
And that’s the point of generosity—
if you give only to those who are worthy because either can give back or pay it forward,
it’s not really generosity in the first place.
In our second lesson today, St. Paul urges the Roman Christians to “present their bodies as a living sacrifice,”—
in other words, to offer their whole selves to God,
as if their life were the sacrifice to be burned on the altar in the temple.
This offering of self is the polar opposite of how we are wired.
We are wired for survival, not sacrifice;
our instincts are self-preservation at all costs.
When we offer ourselves the way St Paul is talking about, it doesn’t always feel good.
It can be real work, like the effort it takes this attorney friend to try to see her clients as people, not animals.
But it is transformational.
When we give of ourselves, not in an aggrandizing way to feel good about ourselves
not in a way that promotes our own interests,
but in a way that truly serves someone else, we begin to change.
We start to do the counter cultural things Paul talks about at the end of our reading for today:
like focusing on the good in a situation
being patient in suffering
persevering even when prayers seem to go unanswered
welcoming strangers instead of fearing them.
We’ve been talking this month about the ways that “We Are An Offering,”—ways that live out our faith day to day.
I am grateful for the sharing.
Because we have the power to influence each other.
In fact, this church has empowered many of us to be better people
to expand our horizons, to be more compassionate, to find a way to serve others.
The truth is the world is not set up to foster the kind of selfless generosity that Jesus modeled.
Its values will always have the self at the center of that universe,
but we have Christ at the center, and we have one another.
Today we recommit ourselves to being shaped by him;
by his values of compassion and generosity, by his example of self-giving.
St. Paul wrote, do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed the renewing of your minds.”
Today, as we commit ourselves to Christ and his work among us, may Christ use this place and this community
to transform us and the world that God loves.
Today is Christ the King Sunday.
Let’s talk about what kind of king Jesus is. I brought some headgear, because every king needs headgear.
How about this one? (successively pull out firefighter hat, bunny ears, soldier’s hat) No ???
How about his one? (crown) Why is this appropriate for the king? What does a crown mean? (power, wealth)
Oh, wait… I have one more. (Pull out crown of thorns) What about this one?
What would this crown say about the one who wears it? (suffering, weakness, pain, shame)
You’d think that on Christ the King we’d hear about the Jesus with the king’s crown—strength, victory, beauty.
But instead we hear the story of Jesus standing before Pontus Pilate, the Roman governor
who would sentence him to death.
This Jesus does not use earthly power or force to get his freedom.
Instead he willingly wears this crown, knowing that God works through non-violence and love.
This king Jesus challenges us to live like he did—to love, to use our power in nonviolent ways, and to give ourselves generously for others.