I was with a friend the other day who told me that the celebrations of weddings in his family’s long history almost always included a fistfight at the reception. Celebration and conflict. Rejoicing and injury. Happiness and hurt. Even in the most joyous time, where people were wishing the best for the couple, when lives were joined together in excitement in the present and hope for the future, there was still the reality that life is a mixed bag.
It seems that life is almost always a mixed bag. The pessimist says the glass is half-empty, and the optimist says the glass is half-full—but they are both describing the same thing. So some of what life is about is that the way we see our reality affects our attitude about how we live it out, and that helps guide our actual living it out.
That recognition helps us be generous. When we are able to see that what we have is God’s gift to us—that even if the glass is half-full, that it is indeed hall-FULL—and that that state of half-FULLness is not a one-time thing, then we understand God as generous. And if God is generous, God has given, and God will keep on giving, we don’t freak out that we’re going to run out, and then we can be consistently generous because God is consistently generous to us.
The Gospel passage from Luke 12 reminds us that we shouldn’t hoard, but be generous—because, as we all know, “you can’t take it with you”—and, as Eugene Peterson’s contemporary rendering reminds us, “Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.” The Charles Dickens story most all of us know, “A Christmas Carol”, reaffirms this truth, as Ebenezer Scrooge discovered the joy of giving rather than hoarding.
But getting past the instinct to hang on for dear life to what you have takes a shift in attitude, and a leap of faith, and a firm conviction that God’s generosity is not going to go away. And that as is true with love, the more you give, the more you get back. God’s economy is profoundly love-based.
NEW TESTAMENT 1 Corinthians 15:58-16:4
58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.
GOSPEL Luke 12:13-32 (The Message)
13 Someone out of the crowd said, “Teacher, order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance.”
14 He replied, “Mister, what makes you think it’s any of my business to be a judge or mediator for you?”
15 Speaking to the people, he went on, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”
16-19 Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’
20 “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’
21 “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”
22-24 He continued this subject with his disciples. “Don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or if the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your inner life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the ravens, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, carefree in the care of God. And you count far more.
25-28 “Has anyone by fussing before the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? If fussing can’t even do that, why fuss at all? Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don’t fuss with their appearance—but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?
29-32 “What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.