Live Beyond Yourself
First Baptist Church Laurens
June 29, 2014
The classic children’s book The Giving Tree is a favorite to many of us. Believe it or not, Shel Silverstein’s book is now over 40 years old which makes me feel old! Recently I was rereading this wonderful work when I noticed something that I had never recognized before. In the book, it is the tree that always gives to the boy just as the title suggests. When the boy is young the tree gives him apples from its branches, a place to climb and play as well as shade to rest under. When the boy returns to the tree as an adult after a long absence, the tree again gives. It gives the boy wood from its branches for a home, it’s apples to be sold for financial gain and ultimately it’s trunk so that the man can construct a boat to sail away from his worries. After each description of the tree’s generosity, the following page always says the same thing. Each time, the subsequent page says “and the tree was happy”. Rather than noting that the boy was happy it light of what he received, the story says that the tree was the one who found joy in the act of giving.
Many of us would say that this is indeed a fairy tale. Life has conditioned all of us to believe we are in this to receive. Our idea is that life is most full and the richest when we accumulate, build up our resources and take care of ourselves. Yet, the Proverbs and ultimately Jesus teach us that the idea of The Giving Tree is not fairy tale fiction but gospel truth. Joy, happiness and the good life come our way not when we hoard, consume or focus on our own well being. No, the good life comes, believe it or not, when we give, share and dare to live beyond ourselves. Life is most happy and joyful when we give it away and share it with others.
That is what this table teaches too. The goodness of God through the gift of a son created the greatest possibility for joy and the good life that the world could ever know. Participating in this meal reminds us that as we also move beyond ourselves through giving to others we help others to receive life’s blessings while also being abundantly blessed ourselves.
There is an old parable told about a man who had a dream one night. In the dream, he first went to hell. In hell, he discovered that everyone lived with a tremendous agony. All of the people there held bread and drink in their hands. But, in hell, no one could bend their arms and get the food or drink into their mouths to quench their thirst and their hunger. This was their great burden. Then they same man went to heaven. There everyone lived with the same exact issue. But, they had overcome. Rather than only trying to feed themselves unsuccessfully, they had discovered that they could easily and wonderfully feed each other. In caring for one another, they had found heaven for others and for themselves.
No, it isn’t a fairy tale or a children’s story — it really is true. When we lived beyond ourselves with a desire to help others to find a good life, we mysteriously and ironically find the good life for ourselves. Amen.