Sermon Archives

Sunday, October 22, 2017
The 20th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24, Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
A Journey to the Heart of Christ

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Journey to Generosity:  A Journey to the Heart of Christ

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like taxes.  I pay them, I’m even grateful for what they provide to me and to our common life as a community and nation, but taxes themselves, I don’t like.  Whether it’s a sales tax, or a luxury tax, or an income tax, they all elicit much the same reaction from me – a cringe.  No matter how small or large, though the larger the tax the more I cringe, but regardless of amount, there’s a part of me can’t help but think about all I could do with that money if it remained in my control. 

But it’s not just the loss of the money, or the apparent loss it, that makes me cringe, but the manner of the exchange behind it.  I’ve got no choice, at all, in the matter.  The state has mandated that, in addition to the sale price for that bobble that I want, or as a matter of privilege for living and working in this state or nation, I shall pay thus and such in taxes . . . I haven’t elected to pay this tax, I don’t choose to out of the generosity of my heart or even as an informed investment in the future my family or community.  In fact, I try my hardest to avoid them – I look for every loophole, I even pay an accountant to ensure that I find every possible credit and deduction, lest I pay too much!  No, taxes are not a choice rooted in sacrificial generosity and care, rather I’m compelled to pay them or face a much steeper consequence.  For, if I don’t, the infamous “taxman” is sure to come knocking. 

Worse yet, in spite of all the good that our taxes accomplish – education and meal programs for our children; emergency personal to respond to urgent and life threatening needs in our community; the facilitation of an orderly, even good, society; social services that care for the indigent, the hungry, and the sick within our community; a massive and complex transportation system that facilitates our movement and our commerce across the thousands of miles that make up our nation; social security and Medicare programs for our seniors who are beyond gainful employment; and Medicaid for those who cannot afford adequate medical care for themselves or their children; and the list goes on . . . in spite of all this good – none of which would be possible without our shared taxation – taxes only seem to make me angry or judgmental.  Hit a pothole and I think they’ve wasted my money.  Hear of an overpriced contract or service or government purchase, and I think “they” are all wasteful or that I could do it better.  Worst of all, are the thoughts that occasionally float through my mind when considering programs that provide social uplift -- why should I bear the burden for them?  What are they doing to deserve this service for free or at a reduced rate?

Finally, and perhaps most of all, taxes create in me a pervasive and near perpetual sense of loss.  What once was mine is gone.  Sure I might get something in return, but it wasn’t be my choice nor will it replace what I once had.  No matter what, I’ve lost something of great value.

In the end, in spite of all the good our taxes do, and in spite of the fact that I think taxes are necessary to a good and organized society, I don’t like who I become when tax season rolls around.  Even if nobody else sees it, I feel greedy, selfish, and cold-hearted.

So, if taxes are rooted in a relationship of compulsion, I am grateful that there is another way within our society for us to relate to one another and the world that draws us together – that of transaction.  We do this every day in a myriad of ways.  Turn on the water to brush your teeth or take a shower, and you commit to compensate the water company for the water and the service they offer.  Stop by the gas station to fill up the tank, and you turn over a portion of your hard-earned capital in equal exchange for the fuel and convenience provided.  Roll up your sleeves at work, and your employer commits to paying you an agreed to sum in exchange for you talent, ingenuity, and insight.  Stop off at the grocer to pick up milk or a quick bite for dinner, or at the jeweler for a special gift for a loved one, and you agree again to exchange your capital for something of equal value.

And while I find a transactional relationships far better than compulsory ones, there’s still a dark side, a shadow of sorts.  For starters, there’s no gratitude, there’s nothing to be grateful for in a transaction of equal goods.  No matter the value of things exchanged, all that transpired was an exchange of resources and goods, my money for your time or talent, or another commodity that you possess and I need.  I received your service, you received my money; we are equal.

While a transactional world is markedly better than a compulsory one of taxes and obligation – at the very least I have agency in it – I’m still not fond of who we become in it.  In the world of transaction and exchange, value is nearly always equated to money.  One’s time is quantified in dollars.  The creativity of one’s mind and the artistry of one’s hands, are calculated in dollars as well.  Similarly there is no room for a gift in this world.  Do someone a significant favor and we’re as likely to hear “I owe you one” as we are “thank you for your generosity and kindness,” or when the roles are reversed and we’ve received someone else’s generosity and care, we’re likely to seek out a gift of equal value to give, lest our relationship fall out of balance and we become indebted to another.

Our view of one another in a transactional economy, is similarly marred.  Whether it’s the banker or lawyer or tailor or mechanic or beautician you employ – they are fundamentally a resource for your service.  Yes, we will pay them for their efforts, but no more than is fair and equitable, and if we can get a little extra out – negotiate a bit harder, squeeze the margin a bit more – all the better for us.  For we are always the center and the priority in a transactional economy.

Finally, transactional relationships and an exchange economy, create in me a pervasive and near perpetual sense of deficiency and need.  There is always something that I lack.  Skill or talent or thing – there is always something beyond my reach, something that I don’t have.  It doesn’t help that the media is constantly telling me that life will be so much better with the next purchase; but the consequence is simple – we are never content; we are seldom satisfied with what we have or who we are; we are constantly striving instead for something more.

Fortunately, there is another way forward:  the way of generosity and gift.  Part of what makes family, and marriage, so remarkable is its foundation in generosity and gift.  Consider for a moment the remarkable fact that someone – a mother or father, or spouse or partner, or dear and life-long friend – has given you the gift of their love, free of charge.  No return required; no gift exchange needed.  Your mother did not say to you, at least mine didn’t say to me, when you are 32 years old and gainfully employed, you will begin to re-pay me a lifetime of benefit commensurate with the time and sacrifice that I gave to you as an infant or child or teen.  Such gifts have only one adequate response – gratitude.  Yes, we give gifts in return, but not out of some sense of obligatory exchange, but as paltry attempt at saying what words alone cannot say, “thank you.”

Enter into the world of generosity and the world around us changes.  Suddenly all is gift – the kindness, thoughtfulness, and industry of the business owner who provides me a service at my convenience, waiting patiently for me to arrive to fill my need.  What a gift!  The cardinal on the sill and the rabbit on the lawn, are each a gift of splendor and creation.  The artistry of a musician and singer who has beautifully composed and tireless prepared a work that delights my heart and senses.  How kind of them to create for me!  Even the person who allows me to help him or her out of my abundance and with my care, provides me a much needed opportunity to give, when I, myself, have receive so much from others.  How generous of them to receive from me.

Finally, in this world of generosity and gift, we have all that we need.  Surrounded by generous souls, we will never be alone or bereft, for goodness and generosity abound – they always have. 

Jesus knows this world.  For it was out of generosity that God life and breathe to creation.  It was generosity that drew Jesus to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and now to you and to me here in Grosse Pointe.  It was generosity that healed the paralytic and gave sight to the blind, and it generosity today that heals the sick and ailing in hospitals and clinics across the nation.  It was generosity that fed the Judas on that fateful night and it is generosity that feeds the hungry still today.  It was from generosity that Jesus offered forgiveness while suffering on the cross.

Here at Christ Church, we are walking this third way, for we have undertaken and remarkable Journey to Generosity, which is none other than the way of Christ our God.