Joy and Generosity
August 7, 2022

Joy and Generosity

Passage: Luke 12:13 - 21

Joy and Generosity

A sermon by Rev. Aaron Fulp-Eickstaedt
At Immanuel Presbyterian Church, McLean VA
On August 7th, 2022

Luke 12:13-21

Today we continue our summer sermon series on joy—how we express it and experience it and where we can find it in the midst of troubling times in life—by reflecting on the essential connection between joy and living a generous life, a life marked by a posture of open-handed and open-hearted generosity—and by that I mean generosity of spirit and attitude as much as the generosity that is shown in sharing one’s time, talent, and financial resources.   As I looked for the right scripture text to connect joy and generosity, several came to mind.  The Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the church in Corinth to give cheerfully and without compulsion was one of them.   Then there is the joy of the psalmist in Psalm 116, gladly paying his vows to God in the presence of the people.  I was drawn too to The Magi in Matthew rejoicing with exceeding great joy upon seeing the star and then soon after presenting their gifts to the Christ child.    But for today I landed on a negative example.  It’s the story Jesus tells of the rich man who knowing that his land produced abundantly, and that he had no place to store his extra crops, instead built larger barns so that he could hoard what was left over.  As you hear the parable, think of it as a window into what sort of life produces real joy—and what sort does not.  And notice what the man says to his soul.  Hear now God’s word to us in Luke chapter 12, beginning with the 13th verse

Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

Today’s scripture passage begins with a man trying to triangle Jesus into a family dispute, in this case a dispute about how their family’s inheritance should be divided.  In that culture, the elder son stood by law to inherit a double portion of the wealth and property of the family, which would have been twice what his younger brother would have received.  Now that doesn’t seem fair to our modern ears—even to people like me who are quite literally older brothers—but

that’s what the book of Deuteronomy prescribed.  And the man who comes to Jesus wants the teacher to intervene and tell his older brother to share the inheritance equally.   He wants to challenge the precedent of Deuteronomy.

But Jesus doesn’t take the bait.  By telling the man “Who made me an arbitrator over you?”  he stays out of the family triangle.  It’s not that Jesus doesn’t challenge the precedent, it’s that he stays out of the triangle.   Instead, in classic Jesus form, he tells a story.  It’s a parable that has a message in it for both brothers. Those are the best kinds of parables by the way.

I think it’s a story about where joy can ultimately be found.  Spoiler alert, it’s not in the abundance of possessions or the amassing of wealth.  It’s not in what we accumulate.  Joy can be found in the stance that we take towards life and living, in how we treat those in need, and in what we hold on to and what we’re willing to let go of.  And all of that, thanks to be God, is about far more than just money.  Not that it doesn’t have something to say about how we handle money, too.

You can relax.  This is not a traditional stewardship sermon.  It’s only August, after all.  This is a story about generosity that goes beyond pocketbooks.

It is clear from the get go that the rich man is on the wrong footing when it comes to joy.  Here’s why I say that.   After the story begins, “The land of a rich man produced abundantly” (making the point that it’s the land that produces, not the man who has come to possess it and, by the way, almost certainly has people to work it for him), there is no mention of the man’s gratitude for anything beyond himself.  He’s a self-made man.  Me, my, and I.  Just listen to how he moves immediately into asking himself the question, “What am I going to do because I have no place to store my crops?”

What indeed?  There are lots of ways to answer that question as to what we do when we have been blessed with abundance.  I’ve been listening over the last two weeks to a series of podcast interviews called The Next Sunday, by a leader in the Disciples of Christ denomination named Spencer Burke.

One of the people he interviewed last week was Brian McLaren, who was one of our Immanuel theologians in residence several years ago now.  In the interview, McLaren talked about leading a retreat for church leaders and asking them to meet in small groups to discuss what they’d do if they had 30 percent money in their budget than they did at that time.  There was some good dreaming that came out of that, McLaren told Spencer.  But what provoked even more energy, even more thoughtfulness, McLaren said, was the question that he posed to the leaders next.  “What would do if your budget had 30 percent less than you anticipated receiving?”  That’s when the real question of what mattered most came out.  What do we do not just when we have no place to store our extra crops, but when we don’t have extra crops to store?

What do we do with abundance and what we do with perceived lack are interrelated.  They both give us a window into what matters to us.

The rich in parable man offers us one model, of course.  Notice his answer to the question what to do with abundance, and how it stays stuck in I and me and my: “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

On the financial side, because that’s going to make all of us a little uncomfortable, let’s grant that it makes sense to plan for retirement and to set aside something for a rainy day and to be prepared for contingencies that arise.  There’s a certain wisdom in that approach.  Judith and I follow it ourselves.  But it does raise the question of how much then qualifies as enough.  In that regard, I love what I read recently.  “Enough is not an amount.  It is a decision.”  Enough is not an amount, it’s a decision.

How do we decide?  How do we decide about what we hold on to, and what we let go of, and how much is enough, and what we are meant to do not just with our money but with our very lives?  How do we decide?

Now I’ve read this parable more than a hundred times in my life, and I’ve probably preached or taught on it at least ten, but it wasn’t until this week that I really noticed and thought about the last thing the rich man says in the parable.  “I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.”  Do you know what I noticed?  Do you know the thing that really opened up this text for me this week?

The rich man is talking to his soul.  He’s not letting his soul talk to him.

Did you catch that?  The rich man is talking to his soul, dictating to his soul, “Yes, now we finally have enough.”  He’s not listening to his soul.  He’s not letting his soul talk to him.

The secret to joy is when we allow our souls to address us, when we allow our souls to ask us the question of what really matters in life instead of letting our egos alone dictate to our souls what matters.  Because what our egos will do--I love the definition of ego (edging god out) I heard once—will be to always make it about us.  I, me, my.  Us and ours.  My comfort, my sense of security, my need to control circumstances beyond my control, my fears, my resentments.

Leave it up to my ego and I’ll hoard resources and hold on to resentments and cling to my sense of rugged independence or my preconceived notions.  Leave it up to my ego and there will never be enough—enough approval, enough financial security, enough creature comforts, enough of an apology from someone who hurt me.    Which is why it is important that we let our souls do the talking to us.  It is also why, by the way, being part of a community of faith that asks us to think about and act on our connection to God and to the whole human race, especially those who have been mistreated and marginalized, is a really good thing.  It is important to listen to the voice of soul.

The trouble that comes when we do the talking to our souls and we don’t let our souls talk to us is that eventually time runs out.  Bodies die.  Empires come to an end.   And then what good do all of the things that we hoard—from our resources to our resentments, from our unchecked assumptions to the stuff that fills our houses, from our tribalism to our triumphalism—what good will those things do?

One of the treats of listening to The Next Sunday podcast interviews was getting to hear—surprise!--our own Anne Evans interviewed.  She talked not just as a mover in the non-profit world through her work with Ashoka, but as someone who cares about communities of faith.  One of the things Anne did in her interview with Spencer was to quote Howard Thurman, who said, “Don’t ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive and then go and do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  What Anne was calling us to do, I think, is listen to our souls.  What is it that brings us joy, that makes us come alive?  Is it holding on?  Or is it learning to let go

What our souls invite us into is an open-handed, open-hearted way of approaching life. One that serves with joy and finds expression in the way we reach out to those in need and in the grace we extend to one another.

Believe me, I’m super aware of the need for grace this Sunday, when yet again, our livestream is not working.  Remember that when you fill out your complaint cards and send them by email to the pastor.

What our souls invite us into is an open-handed, open-hearted way of approaching life.

This week I ran across a few things that really struck me.  One was from a fellow who wrote, “Sometimes I joke about what I’d do if had one day left to live.  What would I do?  I’d eat junk, go crazy, etc.  Today it hit me.  Jesus knew.  And he washed feet.  He washed feet.”

That’s somebody who listened to his soul.

Here’s something else from somebody who listens to their soul.  It was shared by a young adult who is part of Immanuel.  Margaret posted something on her social media page from somebody who goes by the screen name sandersstudies.    Margaret reposted it because she agrees with it.  I agree with it, too.  So I’m going to share it with you.

Sandersstudies, who ever that is (probably a young adult), wrote:

I want a home mostly just to welcome people into it.  There will be bowls of candy for guests, and the cookie jar is full.  I’ll always say, “I was just about to make a coffee/tea/cocoa, would you like one?” when somebody walks in.  There’s lemonade and iced tea made fresh on hot days.  Once it hits that hour and they start saying they really should be going, I’ll remind them that the futon is always open, and I’m making cinnamon rolls tomorrow.  There’s champagne and sparkling juice hidden on a high shelf just in case somebody announces their engagement or their pregnancy or their new job while they’re here.  There is an extra chair in the living room, at the table, and on the deck, and it’s for you.  I want to be able to say, “If you are ever in trouble, come to me.”

That’s a young person who has learned to soul and not just talk to it.  In Jesus’ name.