June 5, 2016 / Generous Lives Part 2: We Only Get What We Give / Sara Wolbrecht / 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Friends, we began this journey of changing the story of scarcity last week. A journey where each Sunday for four weeks we’re naming a paradigm that will help lead us into a larger life, a more generous life. The kind of life that is shaped by the generous love and life of Jesus. With each paradigm, we’re considering the resources we have – three resources we all have – our time, talent, and treasure – or another way to say it is our calendar, our capacity, and our cash. And we’re letting God do some work in us as we hold those three resources up against these paradigms, these mindsets and asking God to lead us into a more generous life. You know, really easy stuff, right?
In case you missed last week, our first paradigm – and even if you were here, here’s a quick video clip taking some of the content from last week, setting up that first paradigm.
That’s right, we named how generous lives are not marked by how much we can be awesome. But generous lives are fueled by the Holy Spirit and our willingness to keep saying yes to the story of Jesus that gives us access to the Spirit of God beyond ourselves. Good, hard stuff for us to keep living into.
Now this week, to explore the second paradigm, the second mindset, to experience the larger, generous life that God has called all of us to – I want to go to an internal memo contained in our scriptures. We’re turning to 1 Timothy chapter 6.
1 Timothy chapter 6. There are two letters written to Timothy, this is the first. This is sort of an internal memo. We’ve got two of these letters that a guy named Paul, the apostle Paul, sent to Timothy who was a pastor – someone with my job. Paul being the veteran church pastor is telling the younger church pastor, Timothy, how to lead Jesus people. Kinda like a playbook. Timothy is a pastor in a young church in the city of Ephesus. And Ephesus – you can still go to today, it is in modern day Turkey. And looks like this now – back then more impressive. Less ruined. A prominent city of great diversity ethnically and economically. Timothy was leading a church of people who had begun to follow Jesus people in all points along the spectrum, ethnically and economically. A very diverse church. As we read this, we’re seeing behind the scenes – principles that leaders used in these early gatherings of Jesus people. The early church. And in this paragraph, in 1 Timothy 6, Paul zeros in on a principle that may seem a little weird. Paul wants to tell Timothy how to lead rich people. Rich people. Notice what Paul has to say in how rich people can live out their faith in this community.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 (NIV) Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Again – Paul is addressing rich people. The upper crust. The top percentile. Consider our present world, I wonder: who and what comes to mind when you think of “rich people?” Shout them out… Bill Gates, Taylor Swift, Private helicopter, private island…
When we think of “rich” people in our current context, we often think of people who are famous, people who have all the money, and therefore all the free time, and even talent to do whatever they want. And maybe you’re like me that sometimes, when we hear about people like this we think: Man, if I had that kind of time, resources, talent – life is so easy for them – if I had that I would do so much better. Ever had that thought in your head? Ever get judgy with other people’s resources?
But this word, this label “rich” is an interesting one for us to consider. And I want to try an illustration to unpack something about this. A friend showed me this (you may have seen something like this): These ten pencils lined up side by side. They represent the world population, spread out evenly in these 10 pencils, some 7.4 billion people. The one on the farthest right, the golden/orangey yellow pencil, represents the richest people in the world. Imagine the wealthiest, buckety buck, Daddy Warbucks kinds of folks (some that we’ve named) – furthest to the right. Then the pencil on the farthest left represents the poorest people in the world. People who have absolutely nothing – no clean water, no food for today. And the spectrum stretches between them – dividing people up along there according to resources. Now. Think for a moment: which pencil do you think you are? Pick a color.
Well, although we would say we are middle class citizens, we don’t end up in the middle. All of us in this room, all our friends, and Taylor Swift, and Bill Gates – we all occupy the pencil furthest to the right. And the rest of the world – some 6.5 billion people live in the other nine pencils.
So when Paul writes this to Timothy, he has a certain category of people in mind. In the 1st Century in the Middle East, poverty was the norm. Those who were “rich,” then, by Paul and Timothy’s definition would be those with more than enough food, more than enough clothing, and enough shelter for them and their families. That is rich. No private jet, folks – or private camel?
Think about that! It really reorients how we read this, right? When I start reading this text and read the words, “Command those who are rich…” I start to mentally check out – Nah, he’s not talking about me – I’m not rich. I would never use that word to describe myself. But. The rich are those who have even just a little bit more than enough. And when we consider the pencils – you may have seen this in a different form – we actually are at least in the top ten percent of the wealthiest people in this world. Paul was talking about us. We are rich. Don’t get me wrong, I know some of us are struggling, steeped in debt, haven’t had a job in a really long time, our graduates are looking for work, some of us are challenged today. Still. Even in the midst of our very real challenges, don’t we still have more than enough? We’re still in that top ten percent of the world.
So why, why do we look at our resources through this lens of scarcity (I know I do) when it is not true, when we actually have so much that we are rich? Why is that, where does that come from? Well, I want us to spend a few minutes exploring, exposing the source and dynamics of this scarcity stuff – so I’ll offer some reflections, but really I invite you to pay attention to your own story and what has shaped you, uniquely.
From what I can see, here’s what’s attractive about the lens of scarcity. I derive a certain amount of comfort by looking at the world through the lens of scarcity. The lens of scarcity is so prevalent because it’s a wonderful security blanket for me to think that life is a depleting resource and I need to take all that I can get. It keeps me self-centered, it keeps me feeling safe. Protective. Keeps my money in my bank account, I wouldn’t want to risk it. Keeps my calendar on my terms because there’s only so much time left and I don’t want to waste it.
Maybe this resonates for you, too – the perceived comfort of the lens of scarcity. It feels good. And I wonder, where did I, where did you pick that up? Maybe your family of origin, your experiences growing up and the ways your parents did things – that’s a popular place to pick things up. What are some of the messages you received from your family about money and generosity and scarcity?
For me, one dynamic of my childhood that has shaped my lens of scarcity and generosity is how fairness was handled. I have two brothers, and my mom did a supreme job of making sure things were fair between the three of us.
The same number of cookies awaiting us on our plates on the kitchen counter after school. She tallied the amount of money spent at Christmas to be sure it was the same for us all. And especially the use of a chart. A schedule really, for the coveted black stool at our kitchen counter. We had four stools in our kitchen. They were wooden with a round top, no back. But the fourth, oh the black stool, had a metal frame with a slick black vinyl top that included a padded seat with solid back – and it even swiveled. Any kid’s dream stool right there. And so my mom kept a schedule taped to the fridge, each day listing out in a regular cycle whose day it was for the black stool. That person also got to ride shotgun in the car – of course the most coveted seat of any car, at any age.
But this structure around fairness – a wonderful job by my mother, and yet I have this fairness streak in me that keeps me in that place of keeping score, of wanting to hold on to “my share” of whatever we’re talking about. To see life as a depleting resource. Hold my own.
So I wonder: what are your own experiences and memories and stories and practices from your own family that taught you life was a depleting resource. Maybe when food was put on the table for dinner it was every person for themselves and if you didn’t grab that slice of pizza immediately you’d be licking the cardboard, that would be what you had for dinner that night. Maybe it’s the way in which your parents talked about their sense of self, try as hard as I can I’m never going to make it… There’s ways in which we hear these messages early on that keep us safe and secure, and in a small life, because if life is a depleting resource then by all means take whatever you can, get whatever you can. And when fear pings us with messages – we say things like, I’m going to need more money, more margin before I can share any of it. This lens of scarcity gives us messages of I’m so busy, I’m never going to have enough time I can’t even consider helping someone else out because my schedule is just packed. This message of scarcity tells us that I’m just not talented enough, I’ll never be as good as X. …I can’t really make a difference, I can’t really contribute. Where does that lens come from, for you?
But there’s another category of people, another paradigm, another mindset that looks through life and our resources through the lens of abundance. And the Jesus story argues that the messages that people choose to believe through the lens of abundance are more true than the ones that fear would lead us to believe. People who look at life through the lens of abundance say things like: “I already have something that someone needs.” People who look at life through the lens of abundance say: “I have just as much time in my day and I can choose to maximize that for maximum impact.” People who look through the lens of abundance say: “I am uniquely qualified because I am the only one with my story.”
People who look through the lens of abundance see what they have – no matter how much or little it is, and they say: I am rich.
So how do we actually live into this other mindset? We named last week that it is fueled by the Holy Spirit – that generous living isn’t about what we can and can’t do – instead it is in the power of the Spirit that we have agency to choose to believe and live a different story, the Jesus story of abundance. So into the midst of all of this, we hear Paul give Timothy, actually, some pretty practical advice on this. He says, Timothy, to lead them into a larger life, the step here, to free them from a paradigm that keeps their life contained, that keeps it small, that keeps it in that lens of scarcity. He says to Timothy, lead them to not value their lives based on what they have. Not to find their value in what they have.
And we see this struggle in ourselves all the time: “I am only what I make, I am only what’s in my bank account, I’m only how talented I am, I am only how much time I think I have…” We’ve talked about previously how these are the great lies we are told and invited to place our identity in.
Paul says to Timothy: free them from finding their value in what they have. He also says free them from finding security in what they have. What we have is so unpredictable. It could all be over tomorrow. Our talent could be taken from us due to injury. Great fortunes are lost in an instant, so why base our sense of security on something that is so evaporating, so unreliable.
Rather, Paul says, rather than measuring ourselves by what we have, measure our life by what we have to offer.
Paul plays it out this way: …to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:19
Do we want to have life that is truly life? I do. Then let it all go – be rich not in money and resources, but in good deeds, in sharing – another version of this text says be extravagantly generous. I love that.
And this is the big concept for today, the paradigm for today, the mindset to a bigger, more generous life – People who share all they have actually get all they can. People who share all they have get all they can. In other words: We only get what we give.
Let me unpack it a little bit. Paul says in this paragraph, do you want to know how you can make God responsible for your joy? How you can leverage God’s resources for your joy? Share. Do good things in the world and in the lives of others. Give. Not out of a sense of shame or guilt but because God has wired us for it. He’s resourced us for it. We are each uniquely rich in ways that no one else is. Whether we think we’ve got a lot of resources or nothing at all – God has given us what we need to provide for someone else. And in some strange, miraculous way, the more we try to keep and the more we try to hang on to it, the smaller our life gets. Guaranteed. And really, we already know this. Whatever we believe about God and church and Jesus – we know this already – that true life, a larger life is found in giving – because those are our heroes, the best stories, are of the people who sacrificed for the sake of the other. Those are the people we admire. Something in us is drawn towards sacrifice and service and giving. Because that is what Paul is describing here, that is life that is truly life.
And notice: that Paul does not say, do a lot of teaching and praying to change their minds and hearts first so that they then feel ready to be generous and give. It doesn’t start with a change of mind. It starts by taking action. By calling up the friend, by saying yes to the chance to bring in your neighbor’s mail, to cooking food for your church, to volunteering on the board, to buying food and supplies for the shelter, to working towards giving away a full tithe of your income to the work that God is doing in the world. I think Paul knows that we will never feel ready, convinced, able to have all the things in place to give. It simply begins by doing it – by naming that we are rich, and that the Spirit of God is available to us, beyond the point where we end, and just starting it.
And maybe I have to believe this for some of us – but I believe this is truly life, and that is it possible because each of us is made in the blueprint of a Giver. Paul said it here: God has given us everything for our enjoyment. God can’t help but give. Did you know that? God can’t help but give, give, give. And when we decide to open up our lives and allow God to give through us, we don’t lose anything, but we gain everything. We become more fully who we are meant to be. And I think that’s why this works. I think Jesus showed us that the greatest life we can live, the greatest spiritual impact in any community, in any time in history is a life that’s lived for somebody else.
And we may start wondering, wait, hang on a minute, do we just give everything away, shouldn’t there be limits, boundaries around what we do and don’t give? And the answer is yes, absolutely, of course – but you’ll have to come back next week to hear what that looks like.
As we finish this time together, I want to move us into a space where we have time to listen to our own stories, and how we might change the lens we look through.
And to do this, we’re each going to put on a pair of Perspectacles. Glennon Doyle made up this word, it is a mash up of Perspective and Spectacles. It is a matter of choosing to put on the lens that give us a fresh, true, real perspective on our resources and our world.
Pull out your bulletin insert, if you would. And on the back there are two questions, the first is to help us name what I brought up earlier – what are the messages we recived as kids about money and resources. For me, I can name that fairness was a huge part of my family culture – still is. We can name these things without judgement over then. But understanding. We want to name those things, that which has formed us – it helps us then understand some of the work we can do to find truer messages to live into.
And then, the second question invites us to name those new, true messages we want to own. Naming the perspectacles we want to now look at the world through. Frankly, my new perspectacle is: I am rich. I am. I need to own that – when it comes to how I describe myself, how I respond to my children, to how I feel about the clothes I wear and the time I have available to me this week. I am rich! I am enough! I can share even though it may not be “fair.” That is my perspectacle. What is yours? What phrases, ideas grabbed your attention today?
You can write your ideas, responses on the bulletin, and then I also have an activity for us that I’ll tell you more about at Communion time.