Sermon Title: Generosity: Independent vs. dependent.
Based upon: Luke 11: 1-4; and Exodus 16: 14-21
We are all familiar with the Lord’s prayer, the words, “Give us this day our daily bread,” translated in the New Century Version as< “Give us the food we need for this day.”
This one line has never stood out for me – yes I am thankful for the food I eat, I like you say grace before each meal, but as a prayer, its significance has seemingly gotten lost in my seemingly more important focus on forgiveness, temptation, and the evil powers of this worlds.
Yet during this past month, I awoke in the middle of the night – like some of you my prostrate is like an alarm clock that goes off every few hours – but the thought on my mind was the line from the Lord’s prayer – haunted me so when Pastor Denis called and asked me to fill in for him this Sunday, that line, and the thoughts I have had about it since, became the basis for what I want to share with you this morning. And by the way, I understand that you are in the middle of your pledge campaign, is that right.
So how then is that phrase from the Lord’s prayer related to generosity, the topic of my message? And, while I claim no particular expertise on the mater of generosity, no claim that it has been one of the strongest of my spiritual gifts, God keeps reminding me that all I have belongs to him anyway, and that line in the Lord’s prayer is my newest teacher of what generosity is all about.
As a frame of reference, at what age do you think we start learning to define ourselves by what we own or possess? And, is it at the same time we started learning to be independent – more on our own, making our own decisions?
You see, I believe at some point we observe a child’s behavior as being either selfish or generous. At some point a child begins to share his toys, doesn’t care if he is first in line, and even gives away some snack he or she is eating. This is amplified by observing how he or she plays in a group and eventually translates into patterns of behavior into our youth and adulthood reinforced by good role models.
A young child watches one’s parents even in church as they either drop just a few coins in the offering plate after a random search of his or her pocket or observe a more planned behavior of setting aside an offering before church which might mean writing a check as a part of a pledge using one of the numbered envelopes. A child might even be taught by one’s parents to the practice of putting money in the offering plate either with money they are given by their parents or as a portion of what the child may have earned. It is no wonder this is called a discipline of giving – reinforcing the gift of generosity. It is interesting to note that today there is little comparison between the coins in our pockets and the meaning of the widows two coins.
The worlds influence is strong, however, and society’s world-view seems to reward those that have, and define one’s sense of self-worth by what we own, how we dress, where we shop or eat. We also tend to teach our kids about a work ethic accompanied by the thinking that what we have is the product of what we have worked for – leading to a sense of self-sufficiency – independence. Taken to the extreme, our society would question that God’s grace is even necessary and that what we have and own is not a gift from God but the product of our hard work. Our children can even hear us use a phrase or two that sounds like, “there is no free lunch,” “a beggars hand is an idle hand,” or “we already have too many people on food stamps.” Even the most generous natured child can have second thoughts about sharing at the cost of independence – self-sufficiency.
How different am, I am thinking, about society’s lessons I when I haven’t given that phrase of the Lord’s prayer – “give us the food we need for each day,” when I go to Krogers with my food shopping list. I probably haven’t been thinking about my dependence upon God for my “daily food,” while I am in Krogers, especially when I am buying things on impulse, things not on my shopping list. We might even make it worse by going home and crumbling about the price of food – how thankful is that.
So why did the Hebrews have to spend 40 years in the wilderness to cover the distance they could have covered in a week? The most frequently quoted reason is their disobedience – especially when they refused to take possession of the promise land because those that resided in the land looked like “giants.” I don’t believe God teaches us a lesson (discipline) without teaching us lesson, and this lesson was dependence. There was not way the Hebrews could enter the Promise Land with a “golden calf” on their shoulders – the most supreme example of independence. Before the surviving generation would leave the wilderness, they would learn the provisions of God’s grace, and the story of the Exodus text I read this morning seems to ring a familiar tone with that line of the Lord’s prayer. You have heard the story many times – the people were told “don’t keep any of it to eat for the next day, and if they did, it became full of worms and began to stink.” This was truly a lesson intended to break down their sense of independence and reinforce even their sense of dependence on a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. A lesson that even speaks to us today that all we have, all we really need is what God gives us for the day. Remember, we only have today, tomorrow is really dependent upon God.
Just follow me for a moment as I attempt to point out the correlation between generosity and dependence vs. independence. It seems counter-intuitive to say that dependence breeds generosity – as we think in a traditional way that dependent people generally survive through the generosity of others. Then how can dependence be a motivation for generosity.
1. First, if what we have for the day is all we need, then anything beyond what we immediately need will begin to stink – that’s the literal interpretation of the Wilderness story.
2. Second, we know for a fact that we can’t take it with us, so if we know that as of certain date someone will read our will, we would likely have given it all away based upon our desires.
3. We all have known individuals that have little yet are very generous, I believe because they have learned to live with little. I have observed even some of these random acts of kindness at the food pantry.
And then there is the irony of history. There was a time when the historians would tell us that people paid good money for indulgences – certificates of forgiveness issued by the Catholic Church. Even individuals with little were willing to pay a lot for God’s grace, yet today we struggle to share with God what He has given us when we know that forgiveness is free for the asking. Can you feel the irony of dependence vs. independence? History would reflect that when we felt dependent upon the church, people would share their resources, but now that society feels less and less dependent upon God, or in otherwords independent, self-sufficient, we feel more comfortable withholding the excess of our daily needs.
All of sudden, that one line of the Lord’s Prayer comes home to rest on my heart; why would God put this on my heart, a line I give little regard to.
So what do we have to learn from that child that has watched how we share what we have, imitated how we are dependent upon God for what we have, thankful for every blessing, compassionate for the needs of others, resist the need to hoard beyond our needs that some might call greed. That child may decide to take another path based upon the lessons society will try to teach them – independence, hard work and rewards, build your own security nest, look to your own needs first and the let other, (government) provide the safety net for those in need. Society would also try and convince that same child that he or she wouldn’t have to depend on God to make a future; “be safe,” “be self-sufficient,” “and follow the path we have taught you.” Would this child be generous? Would they imitate your generosity?
So when we pray “Give us the food we need for each day” or the more commonly quoted “Give us this day our daily bread” should we harken back to the wilderness with the Hebrews who God taught the lesson of dependence, and the thankfulness for even one days provisions. It was a lesson not just for the Hebrews some thousands of years ago, but a lesson fresh for the ages so that each of us could pray daily for a portion of generosity – born out of the words, “give us this day our daily bread.”
So as children did you turn out? How did you survive the world’s lessons vs. God’s teaching and your parent’s example? We have all had to learn to save as children and deal with our needs into retirement as adults, but how did we deal with that beyond our daily needs. Maybe we had some bad examples in our youth, but along the way we’ve heard the Biblical lessons about the rich fool who refused to sell all he had and follow Jesus, or the need to store up treasures in heaven vs. build bigger barns to store our bigger harvest. How have we turned out? How will our eulogy be written? Will we be remembered as a “flint” – giving off only chips and sparks, a “sponge” needing to be squeezed ever harder to give up a portion of what we contain, or a “honeycomb” that just drips at will with its sweetness. More importantly, with the days we have left fully dependent upon God for another, how will God look at us? Generously dependent upon him or selfishly independent of needing to understand how that one line of the Lord’s prayer pertains to us?