The Necessity of Generosity
Galatians 5:22-23, Mark 12:41-44
First Baptist Church Laurens
July 16, 2017
You may have read before that Redwood Trees are 200-240 feet tall on average with an average diameter of 10 to 15 feet. In fact, some Redwoods grow as tall as 350 feet with diameters of up to 20 feet. But, what is even more fascinating, as some of you may also know, is that one of the most unique characteristics of Redwoods is not only how tall they grow but also how shallow their roots are. Redwood roots only go five to six feet down into the ground. But, those same roots can extend up to 100 feet outward with their real strength coming as the roots of one tree reach out to and intertwine with that of another. This is the key reason that Redwoods are so resilient and are not easily toppled in storms or high winds. This intertwining of one tree’s roots with that of another tree’s roots with that of yet another tree’s roots makes them incredibly well prepared to stand firm despite their enormous size. And, it is this unique aspect of Redwoods that also makes them a great example when it comes to the Fruit of the Spirit that follows kindness is Paul’s famous list.
Which word we name as the one that follows kindness really depends upon which version of the Bible that we use. Most translations such as the NIV, KJV or American Standard Version choose the word “goodness” for the fruit that follows kindness. But at least one translation, the New Revised Standard Version, chooses the English word “generosity”.
Goodness is not a bad choice as long as we understand that by goodness, what Paul meant here was the guidance of the Holy Spirit that compels us to good things that are good not only because they benefit us but also because they benefit others. Goodness here is not just being a nice person or having a cheerful disposition or doing very neighborly things. Goodness here is being intentional about behaving in a way that we see as just as beneficial to others as it is to us.
That is why “generosity” is also a good word. At least from my narrow perspective, what the word “generosity” adds is the idea that the goodness on display in our lives is a result of our being unselfish. We are not making decisions, setting priorities or behaving in ways that are self-focused. Rather, we are always living with a big picture perspective that always asks how our decisions, priorities and behavior are impacting and helping those in our sphere of influence.
Now, let me say at the same time that this unselfishness we are talking about is not necessarily being selfless. The point is not that we loose all regard for ourselves. Rather, the point is that we don’t disregard others either.
This is where the Redwoods come in and become such a beautiful example of this Fruit of the Spirit. Rather than growing roots as far down as possible to only support me, we are called to extend our roots out that we might both benefit ourselves while shoring up others too.
In light of this, let me say two quick things this morning about the Fruit of the Spirit called “goodness” or “generosity”.
First, the call to generous living is the call to be generous because we know how generous others are and have been. We must always think about generosity toward others because we are the beneficiaries of generosity.
First and foremost, we are the children of a generous God. The grand, overarching story of the Bible is a story of generosity. It is the story of God refusing to be selfish with the ultimate example coming in God’s willingness to give of God’s only son. Clearly, Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s generosity.
At the same time, the Christian story, is the story of the way that the generosity of others has paved the way for what we enjoy today. Think about it for a moment by thinking about this very room in which we are right now sitting. Yes, a lot of us have given over the years in ways that have directly impacted this sanctuary. We, our parents or our relatives may have given to help build it. We may have given at times to help with remodeling projects in this sanctuary. Or, we may have simply given our expertise to work on the sound, to provide beautiful flowers on the alter or to even fill this room with our musical abilities. But to say that we are responsible for this beautiful space is a bit silly. Every week, we benefit tremendously from what others have given generously to for many years over the long expanse of time that is now ours to enjoy and to be good caretakers of through our own generosity. We do our part as we recognize with gratitude that others have done theirs.
Did you see the image in the news the other day from the beach in Florida in which 9 people were rescued after being caught in a riptide? It happened last Saturday in Panama City, Florida where 80 strangers all locked hands while extending into the water to where the 9 folks including 2 children and 1 elderly person were in trouble. Ultimately all 9 were rescued as these 80 strangers formed a human chain that reached from the beach into the ocean depths.
Think about this image – one person offered their hand to another who offered a hand back. Together, they acknowledge one another’s generosity and goodness through responding with their own. Their individual unselfishness benefitted them all, made them all stronger and changed the lives of those 9 individuals. This image is the epitome of how we are invited to live and what we too can do for others and in turn for ourselves.
The other thing I want to say to us this morning is that while there is a lot of generosity to celebrate and use as our motivation and our example, living generously is a daily challenge that is not always encouraged by the world around us. We do live in a “me” world in all sorts of ways. We are regularly counseled to look out for ourselves, to guard our time, or to take care of number one. And, of course, there are elements and kernels of truth in all of these statements particularly in certain situations and seasons. But, the day in and day out pursuit of our needs, our agenda, our space, our wants, our wishes very easily creates a self serving approach to life that looses sight of others and that looses sight of who God calls us to be.
Leo Tolstoy once told a haunting story that offers images of an Old West land grab. In the story, a man is given the opportunity to have for himself every acre of land that his feet touch in the course of a day commencing with sun-up and ending with sun-down. In the story, the man walks as fast and as far as he can with his eyes growing ever bigger. Over the course of the day the man literally exhausts himself having never walked so fast or so far in a given day. As the sun begins to set, the man still wants more and strains for one last piece of dirt. As he grabs the last inch of soil, he collapses while suffering a massive heart attack and dies. Tolstoy’s story ends with the man being buried in what Tolstoy says he had attained – a four foot six piece of earth that was his grave. (As remembered by J Wallace Hamilton in Ride the Wild Horses, Revell, 1952, pg 54-55)
Jesus said, ‘what good does it do for a person to gain the whole world and lose their soul’.
In light of our Fruit for today, we might say, “what good does it do us to gain the spoils of selfishness and loose the joys of generosity that benefit others and ourselves at the same time?”
Paul said it this way, the Fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and now goodness or generosity; which is to say both…” Amen.