Back to Index

Happy? Try Giving
March 26, 1995

LUKE 6:38, 2 CORINTHIANS 9:6-12

Are you happy? As happy as you would like to be? Try giving. This is the concluding sermon in a long series on some of Jesus' radical teachings. I have become increasingly aware of how Jesus turns the values and assumptions of our culture upside down. What we seem to think makes for happiness is quite contrary to what Jesus taught. Jesus said that happy people--blessed people--are those who weep, take risks, are non judgmental, assertive, merciful and forgiving.

This morning we look at giving. The world teaches us to hoard, keep, save. In order to have, you must keep they say. Jesus again was quite clear: give it or you will lose it, share or it will be taken from you, give and you will receive. Luke 6:38, Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back. Paul agreed, 2 Corinthians 9:6, The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

An image that might help us understand Jesus is that of a channel. You will be happy when you act like a channel, where God's grace flows through you to others. You will be happy when love, forgiveness, mercy flow through you, and when material things, like money, flow through you. Try to hoard, try to dam, try flood control measures, and you will end up with a foul, smelly reservoir of a life.

There is an example of this teaching in Israel. (Perhaps you aren't aware that I have been on a trip to the Holy Land! We joked among our clergy group about how tired our congregations would be of hearing, "When I was in the Holy Land...!) In northern Israel there is a beautiful lake, eight miles wide and 17 miles long, called Galilee. The Jordan River flows through the lake. With an inlet and an outlet, Galilee is fresh, clean, clear, and by giving of itself, provides 35% of all the water used in the country.

About 60 miles to the south lies the Dead Sea, 2500 feet below sea level. The Jordan River continues to flow south from the lake of Galilee into the Dead Sea where it stops. There is no outlet from the Dead Sea. Where there is an inlet and an outlet, where grace can flow into and out of, there is life. Where there is only an inlet, where there is only get and no give, there is death. The Dead Sea is salty and bitter. At one time in geological history, most of Israel was covered with ocean. Over the years, the salt was washed into what is now the Dead Sea, and, with no outlet, the salt remained in the water. The Dead Sea is 39% mineral, compared to Salt Lake which is 19% mineral. Oceans are 4-6% mineral. The Dead Sea is also shrinking. Since 1900, the sea has dropped 30 feet. The Dead Sea is dead and dying!

However, I need to add that Israeli ingenuity is busy reclaiming the water, and making the Dead Sea the #1 industry in Israel. They have developed ways to boil the salt water and use the steam to run turbines which provide all the electricity for the area without using one drop of oil. Israelis have learned how to use the salt water for agriculture, and lush fields now border the Dead Sea. They mine the sea and sell the minerals. And, one of the newest industries is the manufacturing of cosmetics. If you have noticed how my wife, Ellie, is looking younger and prettier, it's because she is now using hand and body lotion made from the Dead Sea. They have done wonders with the Dead Sea. There is a saying in Israel: the impossible takes a little longer.

What the Israelis have done is to teach the Dead Sea how to give! In giving, there is life. Today, the desert area of south Israel is coming alive because of the giving from the Dead Sea. The dying Dead Sea is giving life. Keep what you have, hoard it, accumulate it, and you will lose it. Give, and it will be given to you.

What Jesus is saying is that giving is the very essence of life. Giving is the heart of life. There would be no life on this planet if the sun were not giving. The sun gives life; in fact, the sun is giving its very life. The sun, like all stars, is dying by giving its energy; but in the sun's dying, we are given life. The earth gives its resources so that we might live, and, those resources are diminishing. They are not inexhaustible, but in dying, give life to us. Animals give their bodies that we might have clothing and food. The pig, the cow, the lamb, the fish, the chicken and turkey; all die that we might eat. Lest you vegetarians tend to feel superior to the rest of us, studies have shown that even plants have a form of consciousness, and when a radish is pulled from the ground, it screams! When you cut a carrot, or pull apart a head of lettuce, the plant is giving its life so that you may eat. Perhaps, the practice of saying grace at meals began as humans realized how indebted we are to those animals, birds and plants whose lives are sacrificed that we might live.

Christopher Colin loved his mother and told her he was going to be a doctor when he grew up, so that he could cure his mother of her blindness. He promised, "Mama, I'll never leave you and I'll always be your eyes." Last Monday, at the age of 15, Christopher was hit by a car and died. Thursday, one of his cornea was transplanted into his mother's eye. Friday, the bandage was removed, and she saw her two surviving children. In dying, Christopher gave sight to his mother. Not only did he give life to his mother, his other cornea, heart, liver, kidneys and lungs went to five other people! I hope you are all carrying a donor card on the back of your driver's license, so that, even in your death, you can give life, give as God gives to you, give in harmony with the universe.

Giving is the essence of life, the very nature of life, even the heart of God. Animals and plants give their lives for our physical life. Jesus gave his life for our spiritual life. The heart of what life in this universe is all about was well expressed by Jesus in Mark 10:45, when he said, The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Jesus went willingly, yet sorrowfully, to the cross out of love for all of us. Loving and successful parents know how sacrifice is demanded of them for their children. Parenting means giving. And God, the supreme Parent, illustrated, exemplified, embodied the essence of life, by giving his Son, giving his life, that you and I may be saved, that we may enter into a personal, living, dynamic relationship with God the Creator, Christ the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, friend and comforter.

When the Japanese invaded China, they found Christian missionaries at work, and imprisoned them in a special camp. The Japanese commander of the camp was a kind man. He did his best to secure food for his prisoners, which he fairly and painstakingly divided among the missionaries. One day a shipment of food arrived from the American Red Cross. The Japanese commander proceeded to divide it equally among all the missionaries, until he was approached from a delegation of American missionaries who felt that because the food was from the American Red Cross, it should only be distributed to Americans! The harmony of the camp was destroyed. The respect which the commander might have had for Christianity was lost.

What I am trying to say this morning is you are running counter to the universe when you hold back, when you try to keep happiness for yourself, when you try to hoard the financial resources God gives you, when you are stingy with your offering. If you are not a channel through which God's grace and money flows, you are a Dead Sea, and it takes a lot of Israeli ingenuity to teach a Dead Sea how to give.

Are you happy, as happy as you would like to be? Are you a giving person? Are you happy with how much you give to do God's work? Are you tithing? Is God's blessing flowing through you to others? Notice, I am not answering these questions. Giving is a matter between you and God. I only raise the issue and ask the questions because I believe how and what you give is of utmost importance in your relationship with God. If you are not merciful, said Jesus, you will not receive mercy. If you do not forgive others, you will not be forgiven. If you do not give, you will not receive.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris