2 Corinthians 9:6-8; Matthew 5:38-42, 6:19-21
When I was in college, a textbook we read was titled, “Let God Be God.” It was about the theology of Martin Luther. Beyond that, I really don’t remember anything that was in it. But I always remember the title. Let God be God. It is like a mantra to me. A phrase I come back to over and over and over again. And again for this Sunday.
I have plans, dreams. I think I know how things should go, and how people should behave. I want to make the world work and behave as I want it to be. You too? Why aren’t people listening? How can we make them hear, understand, do what is right?
But the truth is – when I am really honest – what I know is nothing! The real question is: do I trust that God knows better than I do?
In the presence of this kind of trust, we are free for the next spiritual practice of love: Joyful Sharing. When we trust God to be God in this world, to be true goodness and love, creator and imaginer of all that is, we find courage to share with joy and abandon.
Giving is kind of like magic. In Luke 6:38, Jesus says “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
You and I have both heard this used by prosperity preachers, encouraging you to give them money. They teach that we will get rich if we give, though sometimes the magic does work that way. They get it wrong! These passages do not teach us that we will get big bank accounts if we give. Rather, if we cultivate joyful generosity, we will overflow with joy, peace, grace – and that is enough – more than enough! The earth, our community, God will provide all that is needed.
Schroeder says, “A gift shared freely, without expectation, has enormous power. It creates a ripple of positive energy in the world – and the effects extend far beyond our limited perception.”
(Schroeder, Practice Makes Purpose, p. 101). It is like magic. It heals, changes hearts, turns despair into smiles. We often call it grace. Outside the church, they call it “magic.”
So, how do we practice Joyful Sharing? Basically, there are two tests of Joyful Sharing, which Schroeder calls “gates.”
The first gate to pass for something to be Joyful Sharing is “No Obligation.”
If you are asked to give, or feel a heart-tug to give, the first test is to ask yourself if this feels like an obligation. Is it triggered by guilt? Schroeder says, If you or I are giving a gift because we think we have to, it’s not really shared freely. Before we give a gift, we must always check ourselves for a sense of obligation, because this can negate the benefit of the gift (Schroeder, p. 108).
When I first read this, I thought this was the old idea that we don’t get credit for the gift in God’s eyes if our hearts are not right. But that is not what he means at all. Instead, he is being really practical. By simple observation, we can see that when we give out of guilt or obligation, we become resentful or controlling and it changes the relationship of us to the gift and to the one gifted. Giving my time out of obligation makes me feel resentful and leads to burnout. Probably every one of us in this room knows what that feels like because we’ve been there and done that.
The second gate through which Joyful Giving must pass is “No Expectation.” So often, we limit the power of our giving by trying to control the outcome. Joyful Sharing means giving freely of ourselves without becoming entangled in a particular expectation or idea of success. Give the gift and trust that God won’t flub it up. When we are considering a gift, ask ourselves: Do I have a particular expectation about how this will be received? Will I feel angry and resentful if what I give does not achieve a certain outcome? If the answer is yes, stop (Schroeder, p. 109). Shed those expectations or choose another way of giving.
Here we are reminded that giving is a spiritual discipline – it changes, shapes, matures our spirits. When we examine our giving by the gates of “no obligation” and “no expectation,” we train our spirits in trust and joy.
Much of the suffering we experience in this life is due to unmet expectations. Here we get back to letting God be God. Most of us really do believe we know how to make the world work better. We want it to go our way, even out of altruistic motives. We really want the world to be good and whole and happy. And we invest a lot of ourselves in making this happen. And we think our ideas are God’s ideas, that we are speaking for what God wants. Maybe. But I have seen that God is always full of surprises.
The key to Joyful Sharing, is letting go of the expectations that the world should work the way I want it to work. I can let go of trying to be God. There is so much freedom in that! Whew! What a relief not to have to be God any more! It lightens the load enough to bring joy back.
Schroeder again: The universe shares all things freely and unconditionally, without restriction, and all the universe’s gifts to us are meant to be shared. As one of the spiritual masters of the Egyptian desert put it, generosity is like a well. When a person does not share, the well slowly silts up from disuse. There is less and less to draw from in the reservoir. Eventually, the aquifer is blocked and the well becomes unusable. We have to draw regularly in order to keep the flow moving. The more we draw, the more productive the well becomes. This may seem paradoxical, but it is quite true. The best reason to give is to keep the current of goodness flowing in our lives by sharing freely what the universe has shared with us (Schroeder, p. 111).
On my vacation I began reading a book called, Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a professor of Environmental Biology at State University of New York. Once she worked with a graduate student who proposed to study the Native American tradition of harvesting half, and only half, of what is available. She wanted to study the impact of harvest on a community of plants. The thesis committee scorned her proposal: “Anyone knows that harvesting a plant will damage the population. You’re wasting your time!,” they said. But she persevered and studied stands of sweetgrass. She compared those which were unharvested, and those that were harvested in the Native American tradition of taking half and only half. As you may have guessed the fields which were harvested thrived, while those that were not became dull, brown and diminishing. The point was that in regions where the Native peoples continued to harvest half and no more, the meadows of sweetgrass thrived. Where they did not, the meadows disappeared. Kimmerer illustrated the same thing with Black Ash trees harvested for basket-making, rice collected for food, even that this concept of honorable harvest proved true of fur trappers and deer hunters. When the People take what is needed – and no more – Earth mother gives back abundance (Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 156 ff).
It seems counter-intuitive in our Western Industrialized culture, but, “If we want more joy in our life, the secret is to give more, with fewer expectations” (p. 113). Startling! The key to joy is to give more! But it is consistent with Jesus’ teachings. Storing up an abundance of treasures here on earth, does not come from joy. In fact, it comes from fear that there will not be enough tomorrow. The Israelites had to learn this about the daily manna.
So how do we practice Joyful Sharing? Start small. Don’t start by planning to give away your whole retirement savings. Start, instead, as small as deciding to give away 10 smiles today – for no reason at all – just from a heart of abundance. Pass this gift through the 2 gates: No Obligation and No Expectations. And then just start giving, and watch the joy develop. The practice gets to be a self-reinforcing cycle – the more joyful sharing, the more we want to give.
Sometimes we hold back our giving because we don’t think we have anything worthwhile to share. Maybe you only have 2 hours on Thursday morning. Or maybe you can only give $5 per week or month. Maybe you don’t think it is enough to make a dent in the cause which is important to you.
But “all you have to do is share your gift with the intention that it should be a source of good in the world. When we share freely, the whole universe conspires to support our intention. One act of generosity can unleash a cascade of good effects that were impossible to predict, and it can inspire many others to give in turn, so that the power of our gift is magnified a hundredfold” (Schroeder, p. 121).
The mantra for this practice is, “I share what I have freely.” Whenever you are asked to give, or are considering a gift, remember the mantra: I share what I have freely. Has this gift passed through the two gates – is it without obligation or expectation? Then it is free and it can be joyful!
Let us share joyfully, as a sign that we trust God to care for creation! Rubem Alves illustrates the point in reference to date palms, which take a decade or more to produce fruit: “Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. This is … a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.”
It is enough. I share what I have freely. And God may surprise us!