Finding God in the Sandbox: Share Everything?
January 11, 2015
I was at a Jefferson High School football game this year and watched as a couple of middle school girls were walking up the steps. One of the girls was wearing a mouthpiece with flashing lights, so every time she opened her mouth it looked like a miniature rock concert was taking place in her mouth.
The other girl was admiring this unique piece of mouth wear, so the girl with the mouthpiece just took it out of her mouth and let her friend put it in hers.
“Share everything.” That’s what Robert Fulghum said he learned in the sand pile at Sunday School. (All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten).
In the beginning children seem to share everything, from pacifiers to baby cups to food. It doesn’t really matter to babies who it belongs to. If it’s within reach, it belongs to them and then it goes in their mouths.
We do teach our children to share, but it doesn’t take long before they learn that we really don’t mean share everything. Don’t share your used gum. Don’t share the bathroom stall. Don’t share every thought you have.
We heard that message as early as kindergarten but mastering it is difficult for everyone.
Why is that? We all fight against selfishness. Many of us tie our self-worth and our happiness to the things we can acquire. Many believe that happiness is equal to what we own. We don’t share because that means there is less for us.
A man came to Jesus complaining that his brother who had inherited the estate from their father refused to share it with him. Legally, the older brother was not bound to share anything with his brother, but the younger brother was appealing to Jesus for fairness.
Not willing to get dragged into a legal dispute, Jesus declined to play the role of judge. Now Jesus could have played the role of judge. He was certainly qualified.
Instead he told them a story that would challenge them to hear the truth and hopefully work it out for themselves.
The story was about a rich man who had a bumper crop. He had such a great harvest that his barns would not hold all the fruit.
Now listen to what the farmer thought and notice how self-centered his thoughts are. I will place emphasis on the first person pronouns.
“He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry’”
(Luke 12:17-19 NIV).
The man in Jesus’ story resembles the man in this poem.
I had a little tea party this afternoon at three.
It was very small, three guests in all,
Just I, myself and me.
Myself ate all the sandwiches while I drank up the tea,
It was also I who ate the pie,
And passed the cake to me.
This man in Jesus’ story was with an abundant crop and he was having a party for one. At no point does thankfulness, generosity, or any thought of sharing his abundance seem to occur to him. He was self-centered. He was greedy.
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (vs. 20-21).
He was saying to the brother who wouldn’t share, “You think by holding on to all the inheritance that you are going to ensure yourself a life of happiness. What happens if you die tonight? Will your greed be rewarded in heaven?
Greed is the unquenchable desire to acquire more or to keep all that we’ve got. The thought of sharing doesn’t last very long for a greedy person.
When we are stuck in this desire to acquire more for our sake, sharing is far removed from our minds and Jesus warns that we have put our souls in jeopardy.
Did you hear that? Jesus ties our lack of sharing with putting our souls in jeopardy. That is the reason he uses the word “fool” to describe such people.
Jesus was also speaking to the younger brother. Jesus wanted him and us to be on the lookout for covetousness, which is kin to greed. When we covet, we want what someone else has.
We can covet others’ property, their success, their spouse, their career, their reputation, their money, their looks, or their popularity.
Of course, it’s natural to get angry when we’ve been treated unfairly. Try dividing anything up among children and they will complain if they realize someone has been given all the goodie and they got none or less than their fair share.
When dividing things among children I like to say to one “you divide,” and to the other, “you choose.”
We are a lot like children. We complain when others get more.
Jesus wants this younger brother to hear, “You think if your brother gives you half of the inheritance that it’s going to ensure you a life of happiness. What happens if you die tonight? Will your material possessions grant you entrance into heaven?”
The good life, as defined by the world, is often defined by what we acquire. However, from Jesus’ perspective, it seems to be more closely identified with what we give away.
The life the man who built bigger barns was chasing had a false bottom. Too often, we only realize the fallacy of chasing such a life when we realize that the things we worked so hard for have not made us happy.
Jesus wants us to trust him on this. “Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot” (Luke 12:15 The Message).
Is that why we are here? Does the one who finishes with the most stuff win? Jesus says, “no.”
When someone else has it, but you want it, be careful. As God said to Cain who wanted the same blessing that Abel got but didn’t get it, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen. 4:7b) Instead, the anger ruled him and he ended up killing his brother.
Many people sacrifice relationships, their integrity, and their values to get stuff and Jesus tells us in the parable that it can come at the expense of our souls.
Why didn’t Jesus play judge? Well, he’d been a child before. He’d played in the sandbox. Sometimes adults aren’t much different than children.
Perhaps Jesus remembered that you can make a child share a toy, but you cannot change a child’s heart. As soon as you make one child share, you make one child happy and you anger the other.
Jesus doesn’t step in and force any of us to share what we have; neither was he going to take sides with these brothers. Generosity has to come from our hearts.
Hopefully, our hearts will change as we understand that things will not save us. In fact, if we do not learn to let go of things, our arms are not empty enough to embrace others. Our hands are not empty enough to receive the grace of God.
Jesus taught us that when we embrace others, even the least among us, we have embraced him.
When we share, we loosen the grip of materialism. We cannot share with a closed fist. A closed fist claims things. An open hand releases things.
To share we have to let go. So letting go is not only good for the one who needs what we give away; it’s good for the giver because we are acknowledging that the item we are letting go doesn’t have a hold on us.
When we are unwilling to share, we need to ask, “Do I own these things, or do they own me?”
Sharing is our insurance policy against greed. When we share, our thoughts go beyond ourselves to the needs of others. We combat the tendency to sit down with me, myself and I. We realize we live and work within a community. We realize that sharing is much, much more than a kindergarten concept. It is actually a way that we worship God.
If we do not open our hands to share with others and open our hearts to share our confessions to God, how can we receive the love, compassion, and forgiveness of God through his son Jesus?
The thought of Jesus giving reminds us that sharing is sometimes sacrificial. We don’t always share out of our abundance. Our faith is based on the sacrificial, unconditional love of Jesus. He only had one life to give and he gave it away.
We cannot look at the cross without thinking of God sharing himself with us through Jesus in a painful, sacrificial way. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” John 15:13 NRSV.
When people think of you, do they think of you as a sharing person? Are you leaving a legacy as a person who shares your time, your gifts, your love, your knowledge, your encouragement, your witness, your prayers, and your knowledge with others?
Many years ago Robert Fulghum was in Bombay, India at a baggage claim and he realized he had no Indian currency left. The agent would not take a traveler’s check and he was uncertain about getting his luggage and making his plane. A man he did not know paid his claim ticket and as Robert tried to figure out how to repay him, the man told him that his father taught him how to be generous. (All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, p. 153)
Fulghum discovered that the man’s father had once worked as an assistant to V.P. Menon. Menon was a significant political figure in India during its struggle for Independence from Britain. (p. 151)
He was the oldest of 12 children. He quit school at 13 and started to work in blue-collar jobs but eventually got a job as a schoolteacher. He talked his way into a job as a clerk in the Indian administration and from there he began to rise up the leadership ladder. Along with his sharp intellect, negotiation skills, and integrity, Menon was known for his generosity.
The day that Menon arrived in Delhi to seek a job in the government all of his possessions, including his wallet, were stolen at the railroad station. (p. 152)
He had nowhere to turn. In desperation he asked a Sikh to loan him 15 rupees until he could get a job. The Sikh gave him the money but would not give him an address so he could be repaid. The man said he owed the money to any stranger who came to him in need. He said the help came from a stranger and was to be repaid to a stranger. (Ibid)
The day before Menon died, a stranger with sores covering his feet knocked on the door and asked for money to buy a pair of sandals. Menon, on his deathbed, instructed his daughter to take 15 rupees from his wallet and give it to the stranger. It was the last conscious act before he died. (Ibid)
Generosity to strangers is a Hebrew concept. They were commanded by Moses not to oppress the stranger, but to love the stranger, remembering that they were once strangers in the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)
The writer of Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing so you have entertained angels without knowing.” (13:2)
Without knowing it, when we show generosity to others, for many we become an angel, a messenger of God. The message is, “What I have is not nearly as important to me as showing you the love of God.”
No, we might not share everything, but if we can put our selfishness aside and share what we have, it might mean everything to the person we have shared with on that day. If we live this way, might we inspire others to live this way as well?
Perhaps the world will become a more generous place, and the treasure that means most will be the treasure that we lay up in heaven for the good we have done as a disciple of Jesus.