The Power of Love: Generosity 16th Pentecost
Philippians 1:21-30 September 20, 2020 Matthew 20:1-16
Think for a minute about what a generator does. It takes some kind of power, like a gas engine or a windmill or a water-powered turbine, and converts that power into electricity. A generator.
I thought about generators when I was studying Developmental Psychology in seminary, where we learned about the concept of “generativity.” Erik Erikson, the psychologist who developed the term “Identity Crisis”, coined the word “Generativity” to describe a stage in psychosocial development (a stage that not everybody gets to). He described generativity as “the ability to transcend personal interests to provide care and concern for younger and older generations.” Generative people contribute to the next generation through caring, teaching, and engaging in creative work which contributes to society. It involves asking the question, “Can I Make My Life Count?” then contributing to the development of others through activities such as volunteering, mentoring, and helping upcoming generations. Transcending personal interests to provide care for others.
I don’t know about you, but hearing about this really made me want to be a “generative” person! To be the kind of person that transcended my personal interests and made life better for others. That was forty-something years ago, and now that I am approaching retirement, I want to make sure that, when that day comes, I am engaged in generativity that’s not related to my employment. As one book suggests, “Don’t retire—rewire!” I know that many of you have already made that transition, finding meaning in making life better for others!
You have already discovered that GOD is at work whenever we let the power of love work through us.
We have already explored The Power of Love through Speaking the Truth, and through Forgiveness. Today I want to look at The Power of Love as it is expressed in Generosity. Of course, generosity applies to more than just money or possessions. We are also called to be generous with our TIME and with our TALENTS.
While it’s a natural thing to offer our strength to God’s service, there are times when the most GENEROUS thing we can offer is our weakness. That sounds odd, doesn’t it?! Let me explain. There are times when our weaknesses can be employed by God to work God’s purposes.
One fine example of this can be found in the story of a college student who had been in a wheelchair since fourth grade. She had sensed God’s calling to volunteer for a year in an African orphanage, helping to care for babies and children who had AIDS. She worried about her wheelchair, and asked God to use her however God would. At first, she was able to negotiate her way all over in her chair, but she was having a hard time getting the kids to connect with her. That was during the dry season.
When the monsoon rains arrived, the roads turned to mud and her wheelchair got bogged down. She was totally helpless in her weakness. Then the kids saw her situation, and they ran and helped get her unstuck. They helped her move to the next place she needed to be. Then they started taking turns, helping her negotiate the muddy tracks in this African village!
In her weakness, she needed help. And when the students were able to help her, they began to interact with her. They now had a mutual exchange where once they only had one person giving while the others were supposed to receive! She had offered up her weakness to God, and God used it to make her more effective.
This reminds me of what Paul learned when he asked God to fix his own weakness. He shared with the Corinthians that God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God’s power is sometimes made perfect in our weakness, rather than in our strength. The generosity this young woman had expressed to the children in Africa was the capacity to receive the gifts they had to give!
In our Gospel reading for today, we heard a story that Jesus told his followers—a story meant to illuminate one facet of the Kingdom of Heaven. In this story, we meet a landowner who goes to the marketplace to hire some day laborers to work in his vineyard. In that day and in that place, (and indeed in many places in the world today), people were hired one day at a time to do specific tasks. Every village, every small town had a certain place where workers would wait for someone to come along and hire them for the day. And, at the end of the day, they would collect their pay and buy food for their families—enough for supper that night and some leftovers for breakfast the next day. Being a “day laborer” was subsistence living—barely making it through from one day to the next. And, if no one hired you one day, everyone in the family might go hungry.
Now, in the story, a group of workers was hired for “the usual daily wage,” and they were put to work. But the landowner kept returning to the marketplace, promising to pay the “late-starters” a fair wage, and kept sending them into the fields. He was even hiring workers toward the end of the day, men who figured a small pay was better than no pay at all. But, when it came time to settle up with the laborers, he paid each of them a full day’s wage! We can only imagine the joy felt by those who had only worked a partial day; they were going to be able to buy supper and breakfast for their families! But those who had worked the whole day grumbled, because they had hoped to get an extra bonus. But the landowner (who represents God in this story) told them that they had been treated fairly, and that he had chosen to give the full wage to every worker.
“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?! Or are you envious because I am generous?”
With that question, Jesus puts his finger right on our sinful tendency to resent God’s generosity to others! But the scriptures have made it clear that God IS generous!
- Willing to forgive—sending God’s own son to die for us;
- Like the patient father waiting for the prodigal son to come home;
- (in James) “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”;
- (in Psalms) “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the needs of every living thing.”
Yes, GENEROSITY is clearly one of the hallmarks of our gracious God! And when you and I choose to be generous—gracious—then The Power of Love gets busy!
Take Paul’s letter to the Philippians, for example. In today’s reading, he says that he is torn between two desires: 1. Dying, and being with Christ; and 2. Living, so that he could continue his fruitful labor among the people. It was his generosity that helped him to know that his work (even though it was tiring and sometimes frustrating) his work was worth continuing. His life was marked by generosity, and to this day you and I are blessed by his willingness to keep serving!
So, we have been talking this month about the Power of Love—how God’s love, at work in us, builds up the Body of Christ and makes life good; how we speak the truth in love without judgment; and how forgiveness allows us to release both ourselves and those who wrong us from a type of prison. Now, as we focus on generosity, I want to share a passage from Luke 6 where Jesus takes all of these aspects of God’s love and weaves them into a single command of generous love: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
I, for one, love the imagery of God’s blessings being poured into my lap. And what a BLESSING to be part of that life-giving love that God is pouring over others!
Prayer: God, thank you for the life you freely give us in Jesus Christ. Please help us to be generous, to give others the benefit of the doubt, to let go of our concern for our personal interests and allow you to love the world through us. We ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.