A poetic thought from poet Charlotte Bronte: “Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.” I had a sense of what Ms. Bronte describes when each of our sons were born. Of course, Lindon and I had our own private parental and wonder to share only with each other, but the event was somehow still incomplete until I could call my family members and close friends and share the life changing news with them. Sharing gave the happiness a great flavor for sure.
In my Introduction to Homiletics course at the seminary we spend a good part of one whole weekly class session simply contemplating some of the abundance of definitions of the word “preaching” down through the years. One of my favorites, and this one happens to relate directly to what we’re thinking about today, is: “Preaching is a starving person sharing bits from small portion of bread she or he has in hand with others who are starving.” In this definition, in this situation, bread is God’s love and the good news about it.
Television great, Andy Griffith, died this week at a young 86. Before he was Matlock, Griffith played small town sheriff and single dad, Andy Taylor. I was a huge fan of both of his major television characters. As Sheriff Taylor, he spent a great deal of time teaching his son Opie about real-life lessons and not missing out when Opie taught him a thing or two.
An episode aired when I was about six years old in which Andy believed he needed to teach Opie a few things about sharing, but Opie had already learned a great deal about it unbeknownst to his Pa. That week’s story went something like this.
Andy is upset when he finds out that Opie gave only three cents to a charity drive. Andy believes he hasn’t taught well in this area so he sets out to teach his good hearted and precocious son about how important it is to share with others less fortunate than he. Andy finds out the reason Opie can’t contribute more to the present drive because he is saving up to buy his girlfriend Charlotte a gift, and Andy is appalled. He assumes that Opie is making plans to squander his money on toys to enhance his relationship with Charlotte; we all know how fragile young, young love can be. Andy appears to be kidding with Opie to make his point, and he calls Opie a playboy, which Opie doesn’t understand at all. Dear old Aunt Bee scolds Andy for not having more confidence in Opie to do the right thing. In the end, it is Andy who is in the wrong and who must, therefore, eat crow when Opie tells him he is saving his pennies in order to buy Charlotte a new coat for the coming winter because her mother can’t afford one.
There is all kinds of potential sharing. Good news, as I’ve just mentioned. Bad news through which in the retelling I find a measure of strength from the person I love or trust and am willing or compelled to share news that has derailed my comfort or equilibrium. Children share with their parents or grandparents, with or without being aware of it, an enthusiasm for living that sometimes slips away from us when we wrestle with life’s pressures and absorb what aging steals from us.
There is tangible, material sharing that ranges all the way from sharing a kidney or a lung or bone marrow to sharing housing with the post-hurricane homeless to food with the hungry. There are boatloads of first world capitalists, and that includes prosperity gospel preachers, who hate the fact that the book of Acts passes along a part what we presume to be factual early Christian reporting about EXTREME SHARING in some or all of the earliest Jesus Movements trying to get along after Jesus’ unjust Roman execution.
When I was a kid growing up at the Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Halls Crossroads, the pastor of the Broadway Baptist Church in the city of Knoxville, a few miles away, Dr. Lewis Rhodes, preached positively on this pericope and as a result came to be called a Communist by his detractors, in and outside the congregation.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need (Acts 2:45-46 NRSV).
Politicians enhance our lives by keeping the truth ever before us. Sharing life with a healthy significant other doubles our joys and halves our sorrows, as some traditional wedding ceremony language puts it. And the work of a parent is almost always at least 50 percent sharing and often 100 percent sharing. In one of his lessons or sermons, Jesus deals with this very subject:
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? (Matt 7:8-9 NRSV).
Let me encourage you not to take what I’m saying here as an impetus to SHARE all that free, unsought advice you’ve been just dying to share with so many people. I’m sure you’ve heard it said, and rightly so, “Most free advice is worth exactly what it costs.”
Today’s challenge question is: are we born inclined to share or disinclined to share? Each of us will formulate our own answer and share results in the narthex!
A team of developmental psychologists, Katharina Hamann and Michael Tomasello, created a test of sharing for kids at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. In part one of the three-part experiment, two kids have to pull a rope to get some marbles out of a marbles machine; the result of part one is that about 75% of the time the two kids, and the psychologists were working with three year olds, equalize their holdings with little or no conflict–a mirror of how the budgeting process works here at Silverside. Either the kid with more marbles spontaneously hands over enough marbles to make it even Steven or Stefanie; or the “poor” kid asks for one or more marbles, and her or his request is immediately granted.
A reliable experiment, though, cannot have only one condition in its potential processes so Hamann and Tomasello devised two other versions of the study to make their research fully reliable. Why had there been such high rates of sharing since many of us know three-year-olds who are often reluctant to share new treasures?
New twist. Children who took part in the second approach found marbles already waiting for them in cups when they first walked up to the machine. No was work required. it was a finder’s keeper’s deal. If you had the bad luck to find yourself in front of the cup with one marble, then your partner was very unlikely to offer you one, much less several, and you’d be unlikely to ask. If you bothered, you likely heard, “No way!” Only about 5% of the time did any marbles change hands.
Third variation. Things start off just as in the first situation; you and your partner see two ropes hanging out of a machine. As you both start tugging it becomes clear that they are two separate ropes. You pull yours, and one marble rolls out into your cup. Your partner pulls the other rope and is rewarded with three marbles. That’s what the marble machine was programmed to do. What happens next?
In the words of the experimenters, it’s a puller’s keeper’s outcome. Even though both kids did the same work (rope pulling) at more or less the same time, you both know that you didn’t really collaborate to produce the wealth. Only about 30% of the time did the kids work out an equal split.
Take heart. Tomasello discovered that chimpanzees doing tasks similar to these do not share the spoils in any of the circumstances. They just grab what they can, regardless of who did what.
“Tomasello believes that the ‘share-the-spoils’ response emerged at some point in the last half-million years, as humans began to forage and hunt cooperatively. Those who had the response could develop stable, ongoing partnerships. They worked together in small teams, which accomplished far more than individuals could on their own.”
The hymn we sung during the early part of the Gathering is one of my favs. Dr. Phillip Landgrave was a professor of church music at my seminary. He set the words to a Grace Noll Crowell poem to music, and I first sung it from a xerox copy in seminary chapel–before, of course, it had found its way into print. Crowell was once the poet laureate of Texas. By the way, the Mormons like her hymn too and have it in their 1985 hymnal. Chances are, you and Mit Romney have enjoyed the same hymn. You could have that added to your bumper sticker!
I’ve shared this with many of your before, probably around Thanksgiving time, but its meaning is dramatically more expansive than as limited by one time of year.
Because I have been given much, I too must give.
Because of thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live.
I shall divide my gifts from thee with every sister/brother that I see,
who has the need of help from me.
Because I have been sheltered, fed by thy good care…
I cannot see another’s lack and I not share–
my glowing fire, my loaf of bread,
my roof’s safe shelter over head
that s/he too may be comforted.
Because I have been blessed by thy great love, dear Lord,
I’ll share thy love again according to thy word.
I shall give love to those in need.
I’ll show that love by word and deed,
thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed.
The story from the ministry of Jesus about Jesus preaching to 4,000 to 5,000 men plus their wives and children and then feeding all of them when the disciples, for once, are on the ball enough to recognize reality. “Excuse us, Jesus, sorry to interrupt your masterful but very long sermon, but the people have become so enthralled in your inspiring but extended message and have stayed so late in the day that some of them are beginning to get hungry. Even if you dismissed them right this minute, which it doesn’t seem like you’re quite ready to do, many of them have quite a ways to go to get back home, and they ran out of food before you finished the first part of your extraordinary sermon.”
Jesus responded to them, “My, my, how time flies when one is preaching sermons on mounts or plains. Anybody have any workable ideas for how we can get this problem addressed ASAP?”
One of the disciples, let’s say Thaddeus because he’s always overlooked, wanting a pat on the head from Jesus that day spoke out and said, “I saw a little boy who seems not to have eaten a bite of the lunch his mother prepared for him; there are still two fish and five cakes of bread in his lunch basket.”
For some readers and hearers of this story, ancient and modern, this is essentially where the story stops. Jesus hears that someone has a little food on hand so he, Jesus, works miracles over the minuscule portions of food and ends up multiplying it so extensively that thousands of people are fed until they are full leaving leftovers. For those who interpret the story in this manner, the miracle is God’s power working through Jesus to take a little bit of food and turn it into a lot of food.
You may remember that when Jesus was struggling with his call to ministry, one of the temptations he knew he would have to put away was utilizing his God-given powers to create bread from desert stones, a skill that would mean he and presumably those who served with him would never have to be hungry. Even if they came home late at night after a day of fishing, carpentry, and preaching, teaching, healing–no worries! Jesus could snap the fingers of his rugged wood worker’s hands and turn a pile of rocks into pounds of pita.
That is not how it was supposed to be for Jesus and those who served with him. Sometimes, they didn’t have safe places to sleep at night; they didn’t always make it home from a day of laboring. And just because they may have found decent accommodations didn’t mean that they would always sleep with stomachs full. No, they knew what it was to share the little food they had on hand with those who were hungrier than they were so that they–Jesus and his disciples–heard and felt their stomachs growling as they finally fell asleep from exhaustion.
A commitment to be a follower of Jesus never has meant–not at the beginning and not today, Jolly Joel Osteen and Cheeky Charles Stanley notwithstanding–that those serving according to the example of Jesus would always be on the side of the haves while only the unfaithful would ever have to do without. That was a serious theological misconception that Jesus tried to erase from contemporary (to himself) theological thought. Honoring God, even serving with one’s all as Jesus did, would not, cannot, will not, and never did mean that you’d be provided for while those uncommitted to Jesus’ ways or ambivalent about them would comprise the company of suffering.
Now, I could almost end my sermon right here, but, of course, I won’t. I won’t because, even though some few of you would happily sacrifice the correct interpretation of one of the stories about Jesus in exchange for a little more time at the pool on a day like today, I would not have taken you to what I think is the true meaning of the story of the little boy’s fishes and loaves, which becomes an essential life lesson for those of us who would dare to serve as Jesus served.
With that in mind, let’s jump back up to the part of the story where one the disciples seems to believe that he has come up with a way to feed the masses with one little boy’s meagre lunch, something that amounted to two fish about the size of sardines and five loaves–meaning cakes of flat pita. The disciples colleagues are trying to have a good laugh at the expense of their comrade.
Some of them said, “Ooh. Aah. Let’s make you president of Bread for the World. You’re brilliant beyond words, but be sure to hire a top flight accountant like Matthew here since you obviously have a great heart with no ability to count.”
Before the taunting continued, Jesus said, “Hold on here. Thaddeus just might be on to something.” And Thaddeus was about as surprised as were all the others.
Still in executive session in the middle of his marvelous sermon for the day, Jesus said, “If this kid has food he hasn’t eaten, there must be others who still have something on hand, even if it isn’t very much. If we could get every one here to pool the food she or he has remaining, we might be able to solve the problem.”
Back in his preacher voice now, Jesus says, “To bring our Gathering this afternoon to an end, we’re going to eat together by asking everyone to be willing to share all she or he has letting it become a part of a massive covered dish buffet that will benefit all who are here.”
The little boy was the first to bring his lunch forward. Not everyone in the huge crowd could see him, but several could. Inspired that a little boy would so readily do what Jesus would do, several others came forward as well. Untapped volunteers stepped forward immediately to help the disciples begin sorting and serving the food. As this happened, some of those who’d at first thought, “I’m not about to give away my food. I’m going to nibble on it, on the way home,” had changes of heart, and before they realized what they were doing there they were as well sharing all they had at the moment for the wellbeing of the whole crowd. Contagious sharing. It’s a beautiful thing, don’t you think? And its message is hardly limited to food.
I have a pint of blood that my body doesn’t need at the moment, until my body can replace what gets removed and placed into a blood bank to help some anonymous person out there get better and/or stay alive even though that person is sunning at a pool somewhere right now unaware that she or he, in the not too distant future, will be hit with a medical condition requiring blood that matches her or his type. Without it there is no hope of recovery, but because someone on a whim with work friends skipped lunch and hit the blood bank one day or someone keeping a monthly appointment at the blood bank as usual had shared the substance that is a biblical symbol, a synonym even, for life, health is restored, or a life is literally saved.
In countless areas of our communal lives, sharing that becomes contagious sharing is the answer to suffering, pure need, and absolute injustice. There is at least one thing each of us can share this very day, other than a piece of our minds with another driver on Concord Pike, that can make a life changing difference to someone today or next week or next winter. When sharing becomes of way of life, with no thought or worry about who the recipient of our act of kindness may be, the world may truly be changed for the good of all.
Because I have been sheltered, fed by thy good care…
I cannot see another’s lack and I not share–