Monday, November 26, 2012
Idea #13: Give What You've Got
That may be strong. This year, I am kind of willing. More willing.
I'm going to preach a little sermon now, because this little sermon is the reason for my willingness. It's a sermon I've preached a lot of times (by "preach" I mean, said outloud to people who innocently asked a question, any question at all really) - it may be my go-to Jesus story for explaining what I believe about this life of ours. Probably, if you've sat with me for more than an hour and chatted about life or faith or Jesus or density bonusing or the cost of rice, you've heard this sermon. But read it again, humour me, and see if you too find a new way of getting to gift-giving this Christmas.
(And here, a caveat for my not-Jesus-loving friends: Truth lives everywhere, and just because you don't dig Jesus doesn't mean there isn't a possibility that you'll trip across some Truth near where he sits. So be brave and read on. Sarah.)
So, there's a story about a super-smartypants religious guy gets a chance to ask Jesus a question, and after pointing out how he's got most of this life thing figured out, including being extra great at all the rules of the church, says, "To be clear, I'm following all the rules, but of all those rules, which one is the one that guarantees I'm in?"
Jesus answers, "Well, what do you think it is?" And the guys answers, "Love God and love your neighbour. That's the one." I think he's waiting for a gold star, but as far as I can tell, Jesus just kind of nods and smiles and is about to go find lunch when the super-smartypants guy says, "But who is my neighbour?"
And then Jesus does that thing that Jesus does when people try to corner him into the corner of their choosing: Jesus starts telling him a story. A story of how a guy gets beaten up and robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. A story about how people who should have stopped to help him, don't. A story about how a guy who isn't a religious leader and isn't from the other guy's town does stop, does clean him up, does load him into his car (donkey, it was a donkey...), does take him to an inn and says, "Here's some money. Take care of him, do what's needed. I'm good for whatever it costs." A guy does all that. Having told the story, Jesus asks his inquiring friend, "So, who was the neighbour?"
Variously, over the years, I've heard it preached where we should learn from this story that our neighbour is not just the people next door, but people from outside our church, or outside our neighbourhood, or a stranger, unless it's someone we know and as one kid at bible camp this summer said, It's Everyone!
I think maybe it's not everyone. If it had been everyone, I think Jesus would have said, Love God and Love Everyone Else. But instead he's kind of specific: Love Your Neighbour.
It's possible that our neighbour is everyone. I just hope it isn't because I can barely love the people in my sweet, small world most days. What I do wonder is if maybe our neighbour is actually anyone who we come across on our journey who needs what we have to give. And then maybe, anyone who comes across us who has what we need to receive.
So, right, about Christmas presents?
The beauty of the story for me is that the Samaritan doesn't give the poor injured guy a pamphlet about how God loves him. He doesn't heal him. He doesn't bring him home and give him a home and food. He barely interupts his trip - he apparently stays at the hotel or inn or whatever it was just long enough to say, "Do something, I'll pay for it," before carrying on. What he does do is give what he has: time, some basic first aid, a ride and some credit at a decent place to recover.
And so as I think about giving this Christmas, I am realizing that in years past, it has been fraught and difficult because I kept making myself give out of what I did not have (namely money, and then maybe good ideas) and people often gave what I did not need. And both felt empty and not-so-full-of-love.
This Christmas, I am going to speand some time really thinking about what it is I have to give. I'll think about my abundance, make a list of things I am thankful for, and really linger in the places where there is overflow. And after I've lived there for a while, I'll start thinking of what I have to give out of that abundance, and where it will fit with what people need. And where there is a match, I'm thinking there's also going to be some joy. Or peace. Or something else good.
What there won't be is guilt. There won't be feeling badly because I've spent what I do not have to give what is not needed. There won't be anger because having given what I could not afford, it is received with barely-disguised confusion. There won't be debt - I will not owe anyone and I will not feel owed because I have given freely out of too much and so hey, that can be free!
There will be people whom I love who do not need what I have to give. And so then I'll suck it up and try to give anyway, because that's what grown-ups do. But I bet that won't feel so impossible after living and giving out of the big bucket of More Than Enough that I have.
Living Occupied means not agreeing with the onslaught of advertising that says that what must be given is a thing that is not needed that I can not afford. It means looking really carefully at the people we love to see what it is they need (hint: I bet it's not always a thing) . It means paying at attention to who they are and not what they own.
So what do you have to give? Where is your abundance this Christmas?