I once talked with a broadcast journalist who was learning to know social service agencies in a Midwestern city. Rather than asking what needs the agencies met, he sought to define what constituencies had to offer the broader community. He asked what they would like to contribute to the community, not what they needed. When the contributions were brought together and shared, it was amazing how many lives were whole without even addressing “needs.”
We come from God, we go to God, and everything in between belongs to God. We are simply stewards of what we are given. Our lives, our time, our abilities, our resources, our work, our love – all are gifts from the Maker on loan. Just like the broadcast journalist found, and as the disciples found when Jesus asked them to gather available food to feed the 5,000 hungry people, when we offer what we have there is often enough. Someone can play the flute, another can carry the tenor line so others can follow, a soprano can soar on the descant to crown the last verse of the hymn. The potluck is complete when everyone contributes their favorite dish.
Have you ever known a happier person than a generous one? Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”
The American industrialist Andrew Carnegie thought a great deal about the responsibilities of wealth, and then acted upon that responsibility. Perhaps you, like I, were one of the children who benefitted from one of the many Carnegie libraries that housed those precious commodities I could never have enough of – books. I chose carefully the six books I was allotted per visit. I owe a lot to Andrew Carnegie.
Andrew Carnegie, on the responsibility of wealth: “This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of wealth: To set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and, after doing so, to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community—the man of wealth thus becoming the mere trustee and agent. . . .” (The Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie, 1835-1919)
Here are a few quotations on giving and receiving, with thanks to the Fetzer Institute for their booklet, Living the Generous Life:
“We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly and without hesitation, for there is no grace in a gift that sticks to the fingers.” – Seneca
“Everyone must do as they will, not reluctantly o under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7
“What a child doesn’t receive he can seldom later give.” – P.D. James
“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu
“The point is not to pay back kindness but to pass it on.” – Julia Alvarez
“It is because of our love—and only because of our love—that the poor forgive us the bread we offer them.” – St. Vincent de Paul
“To receive everything, one must open one’s hands and give.” – Taisen Deshimaru
“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” – Ella Fitzgerald
“The three things we crave most in life—happiness, freedom, and peace of mind—are always attained by giving them to someone else.” – Peyton Conway March
“In the human world, abundance does not happen automatically. It is created when we have the sense to choose community, to come together to celebrate and share our common story. Whether the ‘scarce resource’ is money or love or power or words, the true law of life is that we generate more of whatever seems scarce by trusting its supply and passing it around.” – Parker Palmer
So with these wonderful words of wisdom, may we approach these fall days of thankfulness, giving, and receiving with spirits of abundance, openness to the leading of God’s spirit, and as responsible stewards of the many gifts at our disposal? Thank you to all of you, our musical partners in this journey of faith.