Dr. Bill Sears, expert on early childhood, says that until age 2 ½, children should not be expected to share. Most children aren’t capable to real empathy until age 6, so sharing is a learned behavior. Two-year-olds are learning their own separate identity. They want to do things by themselves, and shout out “Mine!” when anyone tries to take their toys. Some two-year-olds even walk around rooms pointing at things and yelling, “Mine!” This reflects a growing ability to form attachments to persons and things and is necessary for healthy development. At age 3 they may ask, “Why do I have to share?” Selective sharing starts occurring by age 4 or 5. Children will choose to share some toys, but hold back their prized possessions – and that is okay. Adults don’t share everything either -- our wedding rings or treasured afghans come to mind. The practice of sharing develops as children see the adults and older children around them modelling that behavior. When they see us sharing books, popcorn, cookies – they model that behavior. [i] They even begin to think, “What do I have to share?”
17 Warn the rich people of this world not to be proud or to trust in wealth that is easily lost. Tell them to have faith in God, who is rich and blesses us with everything we need to enjoy life. 18 Instruct them to do as many good deeds as they can and to help everyone. Remind the rich to be generous and share what they have. 19 This will lay a solid foundation for the future, so that they will know what true life is like. 1 Timothy 6: 17-19
Riches can become a problem. Paul isn’t saying that they necessarily are a problem….but that they can become one. It’s interesting and perhaps a bit surprising that Paul doesn’t attack the very idea of wealth because in his time, frequently wealth was acquired by “selling out” -- cooperating with the Romans and participating in the oppression of the poor. But that isn’t what this letter says. It says that we shouldn’t focus on wealth. We should be generous and ready to share.
There’s more to this instruction than a conventional and expected perspective of faith. The early church understood their role in the world as to be a counter-cultural movement. They worked to model a just distribution of resources and taking care of those who were vulnerable. Those who had wealth gave it generously to ensure that those who had unmet needs were cared for. In the early church, those with wealth had something to share.
In the Tennessee Annual Conference there was a position created to help churches connect with the needs of their communities: Coordinator for Ministries with the Poor and Marginalized. Harmon Wray led workshops and gave lectures to help churches understand how we could help those in poverty. He also called lay people to hear about what local churches were doing. He called Brooksie Buchanan, Woodlawn United Methodist’s mission chair ask what the church was doing with the poor and marginalized in their community. Brooksie asked what he meant – and he said things like a food pantry, a homeless ministry, or coat closet. She told him that she was sorry, but they didn’t do any of those things. He called me right afterwards to check in on what was going on, and I laughed. I told Harmon that he was thinking in metropolitan terms. This was a new initiative and the terms hadn’t been explained yet in the churches. I told him that for rural churches or those in small towns he might need to change his language. He might want to ask how they were helping their neighbors. And I suggested that he call Brooksie back. He did, and she explained that they “rented” out the parsonage to a single mom with three kids and all she had to do was pay the utilities. She told him that the UMW took turns babysitting for women who wanted to take night classes, and how when a house burned the church refurnished it and stocked the kitchen. She asked him if he wanted to hear about the reading ministry to three blind older adults, and the church-sponsored scout troop that did minor home repairs -- the UMM bought the supplies. She was happy to tell him – she had a lot to share and found joy in sharing it. Her church was generous. As St Paul said: “do good, to be rich in works, generous and ready to share…”
What are riches? There is more to riches than simply accumulated wealth. Monetary wealth tends to make us look in at ourselves. What if instead we looked out? Looking out for others means that we’ll see people. Looking out means that we balance our own lives and the world around us –the bigger picture.
The word “prosperity” comes from Latin roots. Pro=for. Spec=hope. Prosperare is the Latin root and means literally “to cause to succeed” or “to render hope.” To prosper, according to the Latin word, means to be a means of success and hope for others.
There has been research done on satisfaction associated with wealth and giving practices. There isn’t an inherent correlation between wealth and happiness. Money, beyond covering necessities, doesn’t actually make us happy. The interesting finding is that people who give money away DO find happiness. Dr. Steve Taylor, psychologist and author of Back to Sanity and The Fall, concludes that giving time and money does lead to happiness.[ii]
“While possessing wealth and material goods doesn’t lead to happiness, giving them away actually does. Generosity is strongly associated with well-being. For example, studies of people who practice volunteering have shown that they have better psychological and mental health and increased longevity. The benefits of volunteering have been found to be greater than taking up exercise, or attending religious services - in fact, even greater than giving up smoking. Another study found that, when people were given a sum of money, they gained more well-being if they spent it on other people, or gave it away, rather than spending it on themselves. This sense of well-being is more than just feeling good about ourselves - it comes from a powerful sense of connection to others, an empathic and compassionate transcendence of separateness, and of our own self-centredness.”[iii]
Looking out for others build relationships and connects us to others. Think for a minute about Ebeneezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. At the beginning of the story, he is rich, very focused on himself – and alone. When two well-dressed gentlemen approach him, asking for a donation for the poor he dismisses them, refusing to give anything. “Are there no prisons, no work houses?” But after his Christmas Eve perspective, he stops these same men on the street and whispers an amount of donation in one of their ears to an astonished response.
Lord bless me!” cried the gentleman, as if his breath were taken away. “My dear Mr. Scrooge, are you serious?”
“If you please,” said Scrooge. “Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favour?”
“My dear sir,” said the other, shaking hands with him. “I don’t know what to say to such munifi—”
“Don’t say anything, please,” retorted Scrooge. “Come and see me. Will you come and see me?”
“I will!” cried the old gentleman. And it was clear he meant to do it.
“Thank’ee,” said Scrooge. “I am much obliged to you. I thank you fifty times. Bless you!”
If we consider true riches, we might conclude that Ebeneezer Scrooge at the end of the story is considerably richer than he was at the start of the story. And is repairing relationships that will enrich him and give him joy for the rest of his life.
III. (“They will know what true life is like.” ) The clash of values around our money practices is very real: Clashes between faith values and cultural ones; Clashes between providing for the future and wants in the present. It is hard to get them to align with our values.
It is a hard learning that saying “Yes” to something means saying “no” to something else. We try to teach our children by talking through their plans for their money. “If you spend it all on candy (or pizza), you won’t have money for your trip.” But most of us have overused credit cards to get what we wanted – not thinking that we were borrowing money for this and there would be an extra charge or that it would mean saying “NO” to something later.
Norm Kearney. Retired pastor and Sunday school teacher for a young adult class, Norm taught that getting finances straight would help us manage them joyfully. Also prevent stress on relationships. He challenged his young adult class to tithe. He warned that tithing would mean there wouldn’t be money for everything we wanted – but that we’d make better choices and feel better about our finances. That first year of our marriage, we tithed – and gave more to the church than we spent on groceries. Our entertainment was playing games with friends and splitting the meal: they made the main dish and we made the salad, bread and dessert. Christmas gifts were handmade or IOUs for services. It set some patterns that we have continued for forty years.
Harry’s toast. At the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey learns that his life has had a huge and positive influence on the lives of others. His friends and neighbors contribute the money needed to save the Savings and Loan and keep him from jail. The house is crowded with well-wishers. And his brother Harry raises a glass. “A toast….to my big brother George. The richest man in town!” George sees that his generosity and caring towards others brings more rewards than he had ever anticipated… he learns what true life is like….and it’s a wonderful life!
We do have something to share. We look out at our neighbors and see needs – some we can do something about. We offer shelter in the cold. We offer food to the hungry. We can offer coats to protect against the cold. It’s all taking care of our neighbors – and we have something to share. That’s what riches are for – to do good, to be generous, to be ready to share – sharing builds relationships….and leads to a wonderful life!