October 13, 2019
Stewardship story #2
First story: The Son of Abraham and the three requests
Remember the story: The angel awakens the Jewish farmer and says God has looked with favor upon him and therefore grants him three requests. First request? One thousand cattle. The second request? A son. The catch? His neighbor will be given a double portion of requests. Final request: He will be made blind in one eye. And that request came out of his bitterness at his neighbor’s better fortune and was not granted. The sidelong glance of envy causes him to lose perspective.
Today, we here a second story.
Second story: The Two Brothers
There once was a farmer who had two sons. He loved them both and taught them well. When he died, he left his land and farms to the two of them, They chose to work together and share in a living partnership 50% of all they had grown.
One brother married and had eight children. In a particularly good year he thought: My brother will not have a family to care for him in his old age. I have been so blessed with a wonderful wife and children. It is only right that he have more. And so in the middle of the night, this brother moves grain from his barn to his brother’s barn.
The other brother never married. He thought. My brother has many responsibilities and many mouths to feed. It is not right that I have so much and only myself to care for. And so in the middle of the night, this brother moves grain from his barn to that of his brother.
Well, one night when the moon was full and they each set out on their secret task, they came face to face, each on a ministry of generosity and a mission of love.
And the old rabbi who tells this story says that when those two brothers came together, though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, a gentle rain began to fall.
Do you know what it was?
God weeping for joy that two of his children realized there was enough. You see, love is the conviction that there is enough. Fear is the suspicion that there isn’t enough but the good news of the power of love is that love can out fear. Love empowered these brothers to look beyond themselves and sense the need of the other.
These two brothers learned that the greatest joy comes when we trust that there is enough for all of us. It is state of mind and a spiritual practice that, contrary to a culture that frightens with the language of scarcity, exposes a realm of abundance. When I trust that there is enough, I am liberated from the fear that leads to selfishness. Only then can I be a blessing to someone else. This is a living embodiment of the great commandment. The truth is not in the rock logic of insufficient but in the water logic of abundance. The truth of Jesus is that his answers always hold out the hope that life can be much richer than we can ever imagine.
There is enough, gifts enough for all, when we have eyes to see. When we have not lost perspective with that sidelong glance of envy. I suggest that the two avenues of joy are gratitude — astonishment for what we have and generosity — knowing how to take that and make it a blessing to others.
Our very lives are like these three requests granted to the Jewish farmer. Our very Ives are pure gift, undeserved, dependent on the utter graciousness of God.
As long as we stay in tough with the unending astonishment that life is a gift and that birth is a windfall, it gives us a way of looking at the particulars with a sense of awe and gratitude that I believe is the very wellspring of authentic and joyful life.
When the farmer compared his life before the angel came, to the 1000 cattle and a child he so wanted, this was an occasion of great delight. But when he shifted his focus into the sidelong glance of envy — suddenly he had a different perspective. The generous gift of God became tainted in the sidelong glance of envy — where there had been abundance, he could only see scarcity.
Jesus stands before us again and again and says, “It’s in the seeing and believing that we find life, either the chance to give thanks or the choice to see that our neighbor has more. An expression of gratitude or a cry of despair. On this day, we begin to examine what pulls us to shift our gaze from gratitude to despair. Stewardship is the spiritual practice of giving thanks for the gift of this life. The sidelong glance will never sense the goodness of God.
The goodness of God is only seen through the eyes of gratitude.
Remembering that every breath is a gift and more than we deserve.
And I would suggest that if you will live in these two stories and these two hands of the Christian life, then you have embraced the great commandment: love God and love your neighbor.
Your gratitude will have not autumn and your generosity will continue to grow as you perceive more and more the very abundance of God.
In these early autumn nights, the sky has been very clear and when I’m out late walking my puppies, I am captivated by the night sky — full of galaxies, suns and their planets — the abundance of the universe is staggering.
And when I study the richness of our humanity and learn that the network of our mind — body and soul, soul and body — this neural network contains more connections that the vastness of the universe. It is mind blowing to consider our potential. But all of us are of two minds — one is activated by self-interest that is driven by threat and fear. The other is elevated by the capacity to love, to be compassionate, rational, thoughtful and generous. Paul spoke of this duality in theological terms and neuroscientists and social biologists understand it in scientific terms. And Jesus, taught and enacted the better way — a way that gave everything away, for our sake.
These two stories, like the parables of Jesus break open the great paradox of our humanity — we can be selfish, envious and cruel and we can be generous, loving and kind. We exist as the Body of Christ to be witnesses to the second story — what will others see when they encounter the good people of Grace? What is our witness to this island home?
It is interesting that in both of these parables, God ends up weeping. I close with the simple question. This day God is weeping over every one of us. I wonder, is God weeping for sadness because of our envy or for joy for our generosity?
For what are you grateful this year?
In what have you been generous?