Not so random acts of kindness
Luke 12:13-21, Colossians 3:1-11
So! What’s going on with this story in the gospel? It is only found in Luke and in the Gospel of Thomas. Jesus tells a story after a man wants him to act as judge. Now that is one of the things a resident rabbi does, act as judge for the community. There are some great stories about the wonderful judgments rabbis have given. But Jesus says, no, I am not your normal rabbi!
The issue here, Jesus says, is not that you need judgment, rather, you need to deal with the sin of greed. Uh-oh! Paul agrees: he calls greed idolatry.
So back to the question: what’s going on here? Is it bad to have money? I don’t think that’s the point of this story at all. Let’s look at it more carefully. The man has wealth. He already has a good house, a good farm, he already has barns, and now his harvest is so good that he has no place to put the excess. What is his response? Is it total gratitude to God? Is it sharing with those who have less? No! He decides he will tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Furthermore, and here is the real key, he says to himself, you have plenty laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. That’s the problem, and that’s the key.
The problem is that his trust is in his things, not in God, and the key is to have trust in God, not in our things.
Easier said than done! However, the man is not judged for having enough. He is judged for having more than he needs and then not sharing with the community. In other words, he is judged for not having compassion. He is judged for not including God in his thoughts. It’s all about him!
Are you a follower of Christ? Paul asks the Colossians, and us. If so, seek the things that are above, set your minds on things that are above, not the things that are on earth. Put to death those things that keep you “down,” and one of those is greed. And what are the things we must let go of? Anger, malice, slander, lies, and all kinds of abusive language. We have been made new, he says, and in that renewal, there is no longer any division of any kind. None of us is any better or worse than the other. Rich, poor, educated, ignorant, black, white, yellow, red, or mixed, male, female or other, able-bodied or not, no divisions of any kind to drive us apart, nothing makes one better than the other.
This is not easy stuff! Are we satisfied with what we have? Or, do we let the advertising sway us into thinking that we “need” the latest and greatest? When we have more than “enough,” which is deemed impossible in our society, but in fact, is true of most of us; so when we have more than enough, do we share it? Or do we “build bigger barns” figuring out what to do with our money?
Jesus says: One’s life is not in the abundance of possessions. The Native Americans traditionally have done much better with this. There was the practice of potlatch, in which the person who wants to really gain stature in the community doesn’t just give a party, he gives a party and as part of that party, gives everything away. Everything! So that there is nothing left in the house at all. But then a curious thing happens, because it is not ok that someone in the community has nothing, and so things start showing up, until balance is achieved, harmony is re-established, and everyone has enough.
It reminds me of a video I saw this week, where someone was filming acts of kindness. It started with a young woman being given flowers. She looked at the dejected older woman sitting alone in an outside cafe, and gave her a flower. The older woman noticed that a man had dropped his wallet, and ran after him to give it to him. He, in turn, noticed a homeless man sitting nearby, and bought him a couple of hot dogs. The homeless guy helped a woman whose grocery bags were falling apart, and so it went, on and on, it was quite lovely. You could see the joy on the face of each person who found a way to brighten the day of another person, as well as the joy on the face of the person receiving the gift of kindness, and most of it had nothing to do with spending money.
Could we make it a practice to find a way to do a specific act of kindness every day? What do you think would happen?
Over against the acts of kindness we have the acts of horror. This week we remember the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I cannot say anything about this being politically correct, whether it may have saved more lives in the long run by stopping the war quickly, all of that is irrelevant to me. What grips me is the horror, the final horror in a whole series of horror. It is darkness upon darkness, so many lives taken both quickly and slowly with radiation sickness. I am sickened and ashamed, and I want to apologize, over and over again. If I keep going in that direction, I too will get sick and die of sickness of the soul. That does not honor God either.
So what is the way out? It is the recognition that the smallest candle can overcome the darkness. Each act of kindness that we do is a small candle of light in our frequently very dark world. If we do not want to bow down to the god of darkness, then we must light candles with our actions. The more often we light candles, the more “normal” it seems to do that. And we do not need to know how our action will contribute to the whole. We can simply believe that it will.
There was a young boy down on the beach, and the man could see that he was throwing things into the ocean. As the man got closer, he could see that the boy was throwing beached starfish back into the water. There were lots of them. Why bother? The man asked the boy. What does it matter? The boy looked at the one in his hand and said, it matters to this one, and threw it into the water. The man nodded, picked up a starfish and threw it.
It is an act of faith, to believe that the little things we do make a difference. Actually, it is more than that, because the quantum physics folks are able to prove that the little things we do in fact really do make a difference. We may well never know how. As a priest and healer, I simply do what I do, trying to do the best I can, and I rarely have any clue whether what I say and do make any difference. Occasionally, I get something back. Someone connected with me on Facebook that I had not been in contact with for about 20 years, saying thanks for saving my life. I had no idea at the time whether what I had done had really helped.
It is lovely when that happens, but I don’t wait for it. Part of doing acts of kindness is that we get joy simply from the doing of it. It may be a little crazy, but that’s OK, and it probably makes it exactly the right thing to be doing. And it does light the candles, making the world a brighter place. It also encourages another person to step out and do the act of kindness they are called to do. Each of us will be offered different opportunities to make a difference where we are at any given time. It is up to us to pay attention, and then to choose to step up to the plate and do something. And we can be more proactive as well. We can think about what we can do, and then choose to do that. For one person, it may be praying for the people she sees each day, and finding some way to compliment each one. For another, it may be stopping to ask what is wrong, instead of just walking by. Someone else, recognizing how much desperation it took for her sister-in-law to ask for money, deposited more than asked for in the bank. It does not matter so much what you do, if it is done with thoughtfulness and love. And trust.
When we trust that there will be more food, it is easy to share. When we trust that God loves us, it is easier to share. When we are afraid, we get greedy. Fear belongs to the darkness, love belongs to the light. If we want more light in our world, we can remember that God is always loving us just as the sun is always shining. If we don’t see the light, then we must first ask – is it night time? If so, we trust that the sun will shine tomorrow, and we can light a candle. If it is not night time, and we do not see any sunlight, then we must think about how we can open the windows and doors. In SF, we are glad to see the sun because we have so much fog. But even on the foggiest day, it is clear the sun is shining. Even when things seem very dim, God’s love is still aimed at us.
How will you share that love this week?