11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
Sermon November 8, 2015
32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, 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.”
“THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS GENEROSITY”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Today we come to the sixth fruit of the Spirit’s presence: generosity - also often translated as goodness. The Greek word used in Galatians 5:22 – where the nine fruits are listed by our brother Paul - is agathosune – normally translated as goodness. But our New Revised Standard Translation has “generosity.” It’s suggested by this that goodness shows itself in generosity.
Of course, we know that God is the source of all goodness. God is also the source of all generosity. Everything good comes to us from the hands of our good and generous God. It’s a theological principle – a deep theological truth - that if God was not keeping everything and everyone in existence at every moment – everything and everyone would fall out of existence.
This moment, sisters and brothers, comes to us from the hands of God. Everything good comes to us at every moment from the hands and the heart of our all-generous God. If God stopped doing what God does – everything would cease to be. Think about that for a moment!
Brothers and sisters, generosity implies an open heart and an open hand. I’ve said many times that I’m deeply impressed by the generosity of our church members and friends. I continue to be deeply grateful for the generosity poured forth from our small congregation. But there are other forms of generosity in addition to the giving of one’s time, talent, or treasure.
Generosity is always a risk. There is the risk of giving one’s treasure – risking that I might not have enough for myself and my family when the proverbial rainy days come. Of course, the question that necessarily arises here: do I care more about possessions or people? I fear the answer for many people in our world today is: I care more about my possessions.
Let’s listen to the Italian psychotherapist and philosopher, Piero Ferrucci. “Generosity touches the deepest strata (layers) of our being. Whenever we have to deal with our sense of property, we become touchy (and anxious) … (This anxiety) is generated by millennia of scarcity, precariousness, poverty, and hunger. Deep within (us) … we are terrified of losing (what we have). (Giving away what we possess is like) losing a part of ourselves. It is like dying.”
Well, if this is the case – perhaps we need to have some oxygen and medical personnel standing by whenever we take up our collections! Of course, I’m kidding here. But generosity requires us to conquer our old and deep-seated fears of scarcity and poverty. This is not easy to do. Both of my parents were born into extreme poverty in their native Ireland. Both fled to this country – trying to escape the degrading poverty of their native land.
Yet both only found more poverty here. My father slept in doorways during the dark days of the Great Depression. My mother lost all her savings when the banks failed during the early 1930’s. She never fully recovered from that loss.
My mother used to keep a significant amount of money under her bed. When she broke her hip and I had her transported to Little Company of Mary Hospital – the first thing she told me to do was to go under her bed and take all the money stored in a box there. It was her last gift to me.
Sisters and brothers, of course we can be generous with our financial resources and our possessions. I pointed out in our Bible Study this past Wednesday that Paul was intent on creating new families in the places he worked and ministered. Paul was an urban person. He was not a rural person as was Jesus. Paul knew very well the problems of cities where thousands were crammed together in horrible living conditions.
Paul knew well how many in the cities had gone there because there was no alternative. They had often been forced off their ancestral farms because of the greed of large land owners. Those of us who have farmers among our ancestors, know how one failed crop can mean the end of a farm. Those who hold the debt for seed and such could easily come in and demand payment and throw the owners of a farm into the highway. At the time of Jesus and Paul, this “throwing off the land” was happening at an alarming rate. And it was to the cities that most of these displaced farming people had to come.
In the cities, these displaced people were subject to all kinds of poverty and degradation. They were often far away from other family members. They were, often, on their own, struggling to keep a roof over their heads and a little food on the table.
What Paul did was create a new family for them – a new family in Christ – where they would have the support and care of one another. This meant financial help when needed – food when needed – generosity when needed. It’s no surprise that many wanted to join these new families in Christ.
Sisters and brothers, we know our world is still a place of extreme poverty and displacement. There is not a week that goes by that I’m not asked to give financial assistance to someone in trouble. Here at our beloved church, we don’t have much to give away.
When I was pastor downtown, I had the joy of giving away $3,000 to $4,000 dollars a month donated to the poor. But the stories I heard almost daily were such disturbing tales of woe. Poverty is alive and well in Chicago. And it is poverty that leads to so many of the other ills we face as a congregation, a city, a country, a world.
So back to generosity! Let’s go deeper into this fruit of the Spirit. I believe a generosity with the highest potential for spiritual transformation – the best chance for transforming a person into a truly good person - is not solely giving away one’s financial treasure. I believe the generosity with the best chance of spiritual growth is to admit how little we really know. To admit how little one really knows means to give away one’s certainties and certitudes.
In other words, deep generosity shows itself when one humbly admits how little he or she really knows. When I graduated from high school fifty years ago, I thought I knew a lot. But I didn’t. When I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree in philosophy, I thought I knew a lot. But I didn’t.
When I graduated with a Masters of Divinity degree after four years of studies in theology, bible studies, and ministry, I thought I knew a lot. But I didn’t. When I went back to university after an absence of ten years, I spent another two to three years in graduate studies in psychology and counseling. When I graduated with a Masters Degree in Counseling, I thought I knew a lot. But I didn’t.
Five years later, I came back to Chicago for doctoral studies in spirituality, in the bible, and in ministry. I spent another three years in demanding and challenging classes. When I received my doctoral degree, I thought I knew a lot. But I didn’t.
Brothers and sisters, do we see a pattern here? The truth is that when I was less educated, I thought I knew a lot – but, in reality, I didn’t. With each further graduate degree, I thought I knew more – which I did – but the deeper I went into any of my studies – the more I realized there was to know. I came to see how truly little I really knew.
The truth is, the deeper one goes into anything – the more complex – the more complicated – it becomes. And, yes, I am well-educated. But I’m educated enough to know how little I know. A serious problem many of us face is that we have just enough education to think we’re really educated and not enough education to know we’re not very educated at all. Ignorance is so very common in our country and in our world.
Is this not the reason behind all the bluster we hear on right-wing and left-wing radio? Whenever I’m listening to such radio – I find it nigh unto impossible to listen to people who call in to offer comments. All I hear is ignorance being unveiled. There is so little wisdom offered on such radio. I fear the same happens not only on radio but also on television and even from many pulpits.
The deeper we go into anything – the more complicated it becomes. This is why many of us prefer to just stay on the surface. And let me say this clearly: when we stay on the surface of anything – we lose any chance at true generosity.
On the surface, we cannot easily admit our ignorance of things. On the surface, we are less able to let go of our certitudes and our platitudes. On the surface, we find only narrow opinions and narrow minds. On the surface, we discover nothing worth discovering. On the surface, we find ourselves far from heart of God.
Generosity, sisters and brothers, shows itself in a willingness to go deep. Generosity shows itself in a willingness to admit what we don’t know. Generosity shows itself in hands that are open and not tightly clenched. Generosity shows itself in a heart that is open to everything and everyone.
This is the kind of heart Jesus revealed to us in his life, death and Resurrection. This is the kind of heart we are called to cultivate. This is the only kind of heart worth having. Amen!