Mustard and Yeast

The Kingdom of Heaven is like this:

A mustard seed is a very small seed. It’s not necessarily the smallest seed in the whole world, but it’s small. And in Jesus’ time and Jesus’ land, it grew wild. It’s not the kind of plant that someone would plant in a well-kept garden, where you want your crops all laid out in nice clean rows.

But a man took a mustard seed and planted it in his garden, and it grew. It grew so big that it became a shrub. And it grew so great that it became a tree. And the birds of the air came and made nests in its branches.

Or the Kingdom of Heaven is like this:

A woman had some yeast. She took it and hid it in some flour. A lot of flour. Like, a lot of flour. Three whole measures; that’s something like 8 dry gallons or 130 cups of flour. And the yeast worked its way through the flour and all of the dough rose.

You see, the Kingdom of Heaven starts small and gets everywhere and grows large.

And don’t we love that image?

You all know that before I came here to be your pastor, I was a fundraiser. 

At the end of every year, I would prepare a report for my Board of Directors. I would tell them how much we raised and which funds and projects it went to. I would tell them what the average and median gift sizes were. I would tell them how many donors we had, and how many of them were new, and how many we lost, and how their giving had changed.

And sometimes that report was pretty positive. And sometimes it was pretty negative.

And at the start of every year, my Board of Directors would give me a number: the amount of money I needed to raise. 

And I would know that that number meant that we needed this many donors, and this many new donors, and this average gift size… which meant that we needed this many donors to increase their giving by this much… so I needed to send this many letters and make this many calls and schedule this many events… and so on.

My life was ruled by numbers.

And, I’ll be honest with you, I still keep track of the numbers. I look at our attendance every week, and I feel a little bit better about myself when that number is higher. I look at giving, and I feel a little bit better about myself when that number is higher. I look at the number of baptisms and confirmations and new members, and I feel a little bit better about myself when those numbers are higher.

And I know that we have some other people who look at those numbers, who feel better when those numbers are higher.

Numbers mean something. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Bigger numbers are better numbers. 

And it’s nice to think that the Kingdom of Heaven starts small and gets everywhere and grows large… because that means that we might start small and get everywhere and grow large.

But the Kingdom of Heaven is also like this:

A farmer sowed some good seed, some wheat, in a field. And while everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds in the same field. So when the wheat came up and bore grain, the weeds came up, too. The people who managed the field came to the farmer and asked if they should pull up the weeds. And the farmer said, “No. If you pull up the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat as well. When the time for harvest comes, we will pull up the weeds first and burn them. Then we’ll gather up the wheat and put it in the barn.”

Or the Kingdom of Heaven is like this:

The Son of Man has planted good seed in the world: the children of the Kingdom. And the devil has planted bad seed in the world: the children of the evil one. At the end of the age, the angels will come and collect all of the causes of sin in the world and all of the evildoers, and throw them all in the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom!

And, as usual, I need to be careful here.

Last week, I told you that, as Christians, we need to be able to judge things and behaviors and systems and institutions. When we can, we need to be able to say, “This is good; and this is bad.” And, more often, we need to be able to say, “This is good; and this is better,” or “This is bad; and this is worse.”

But I also told you that, as Christians, we can never judge people. We are not qualified to look at a person and say, “They are good,” or “They are bad.”

And I told you the good news of our faith: that Christ, who judges with perfect knowledge and perfect love and perfect compassion, withholds judgment for the sake of redemption. 

I told you that Christ, whose vision is clear, can see the divine spark, the image of God, in us—even if it is as small as a mustard seed, even if it is mixed into three measures of flour—and tend it, and grow it. 

And I cannot believe in the Christ I know—in the Christ who has saved a wretch like me, of all people—and also believe that there are children of the evil one who are destined for the furnace of fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But it is also true that Christ does not leave things the way they are.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like this:

It is a garden with a mustard tree with birds nesting in its branches. And that garden is different from a garden where there is no mustard tree.

Or the Kingdom of Heaven is like this:

It is yeast that has been hidden in three measures—130 cups—of flour, and it works its way through the dough, and all of the dough rises. And that dough is different from dough where there is no yeast.

Or the Kingdom of Heaven is like this:

It is someone who has sowed good seed, and who cares for the grain that comes up, and does not even pull up the weeds for fear of harming the grain. It is someone who, when the harvest comes, carefully pulls up the weeds and throws them away, and takes what is good. And that person is different from anyone we know.

Or the Kingdom of Heaven is like this: It is a world without sin and without the causes of sin. Which is to say, it is glorious and unimaginable and utterly different from the world we live in.

“Growth for the sake of growth,” said Edward Abbey, “is a cancerous madness.”

And while there are a lot of things that Abbey said that I disagree with, he is right about this. Growth for the sake of growth is pointless. Growth for the sake of growth is dangerous. Growth for the sake of growth is poisonous.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not growing in us and Christ is not working in us to leave us the way that we are.

The Kingdom of Heaven is growing in us and Christ is working in us—as individuals, as a congregation, as a denomination, as a community, and as a world—to take that divine spark, that image of God, even if it is as small as a mustard seed, even if it is mixed into three measures of flour, and grow it.

The Kingdom of Heaven is growing in us and Christ is working in us to transform us.

And, I know, that can be scary. It would be nice to believe that we could just stay the same, only righteous. It would be nice to believe that we could stay exactly as we are, only holy. But we can’t.

You see, God loves us like this:

The world is a field and we are seed that God has planted. And all around us are weeds and nematodes. And God loves us so much that she tends us constantly. And God loves us so much that we she will not pull up a weed or apply nematicides for the fear of hurting us.

And as we grow towards the kingdom, reaching for the light, God tends us and cares for us.

And, someday, we will be grown, bearing the fruits of the spirit. And, when the last of us is ready, God will pull away the weeds, and wipe away the tears, and take us into the kingdom that she has prepared for us since the foundation of the world. And then we will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Not as who we are now, but as who we are in the fullness of the grace of God.

Hallelujah.

Vox: Finland Gave People Free Money. It Didn’t Help Them Get Jobs — but Does That Matter?

The psychological stability afforded by a guaranteed regular paycheck also emboldened some of the Finnish recipients to be more entrepreneurial. Sini Marttinen, one of the recipients, likened her experience on basic income to winning the lottery. “It gave me the security to start my own business,” she said. This entrepreneurial effect has also been observed in the past with cash transfers in places like Kenya.

Vox: Finland Gave People Free Money. It Didn’t Help Them Get Jobs — but Does That Matter?

Read the whole article.

Radical Charity Update

Some of you may know that I have a book coming out from the Cascade Books imprint of Wipf and Stock, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church). The publishing process is a long process, and Radical Charity had to sit in the queue for a little while. But I’m happy to report that copyediting started last week, and I have received and returned author queries. With any luck, the book will move on to the typesetting stage soon.

This is starting to get much more real!

Judgment

I majored in philosophy. 

Now, before you judge, I majored in philosophy during the philosophy boom of the late 90s, when there was a major philosopher shortage and all of the big philosophy firms were hiring. I had no idea that the philosophy market would collapse right before I graduated.

Either that, or I majored in philosophy because I was in my late teens, and I like big questions, and it was interesting (and maybe even a little romantic).

But regardless of the reason, I majored in philosophy.

And one of the things that philosophers like to do is pretend that people are rational. We imagine that people make decisions based on evidence and logic. And we’re not alone. A lot of people imagine the same thing. Science, economics, law, and other fields are all based on the idea that people are reasonable.

And that’s just not true.

There is a lot of evidence that people aren’t reasonable. But the way that I learned about human irrationality was this: I learned about the fundamental attribution error.

It’s a neat little trick that our brains—that our psychologies—play on us. And it works like this.

When do something bad, I think about all of the extenuating circumstances that drove me to that choice. speed because I’m going with the flow of traffic, and I’m late for something very important, and the speed limit is clearly set to low for this road, and everyone should understand that.

But when you do something bad, I don’t think about extenuating circumstances. I attribute your behavior to your character. I make assumptions about the kind of person you are. Youspeed because you’re a reckless driver with no respect for the other people on the road.

And we all do this. I do it. You do it. That person who cut you off in traffic or didn’t hold a door or responded too curtly to an email does it. We all tell ourselves, “I am a good person who does bad things for good reasons… and other people are jerks.”

We’ve spent a few weeks in Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.

A couple of weeks ago, when we had our first reading from this sermon, I told you that it isn’t really a sermon. It’s possible—and maybe even probably—that Jesus never said these exact things in this exact order.

But Jesus was a teacher and a preacher. And while there was probably no one who remembered a whole sermon of his, people remembered bits and pieces. People remembered the themes and ideas and phrases and images that Jesus used again and again. And when Matthew was writing his gospel, he put Jesus on a mountain, like Moses on Sinai, and had him say these bits and pieces in this order.

And you can tell that Matthew took a bunch of things that Jesus said and just sort of cobbled them together because of this passage.

It starts with Jesus telling his disciples—and with Matthew telling us—not to judge.

“Do not judge,” he says, “so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get… if you want to take a speck out of your neighbor’s eye, you had better make sure there’s not a log in your own eye, first.”

And there’s something beautiful there. Don’t poke around in other people’s eyes when you can’t see clearly. Get the muck out of your own eyes before you try to help your neighbor with the stuff in theirs. Don’t judge people; get yourself together so that you can help people.

But then Matthew has Jesus turn around and say this:

“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.”

So Jesus starts by telling us not to judge, and then turns around and tells us to know what is holy and what is valuable… and who the dogs and swine are… and that sounds pretty judgmental to me.

And, I know, it’s Jesus saying this.

Jesus, who is God-become-one-of-us. Jesus, who knows our hearts. Jesus, who we meet in everyone who has need. Jesus, who feeds us at his table.

Jesus, who will come in glory and put some of us on his right and some of us on his left.

Jesus, who will send some of us into the kingdom that God has prepared for us since the foundation of the world, and who will leave some of us in the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus, who will judge with perfect knowledge… and perfect love… and perfect compassion.

There’s a tension here. And we need to face it honestly.

And it begins with this: I do not judge with perfect knowledge and perfect love and perfect compassion. I don’t know all the facts, I don’t love as I should, I can’t walk a mile in your shoes.

I’m not qualified to judge. I’m not qualified to call someone a dog or a pig. And neither are you.

There’s a tension here. And we need to face it honestly. And it begins with that humility.

And then it goes here: it is one thing to judge a thing, or a behavior, or a system, or an institution; it is an entirely different thing to judge a person.

And this is where it get hard.

As Christians, we have to be able to look at things and behaviors and systems and institutions and say, “This is good; and this is bad.”

As your pastor, I need to be able to look at an immigration system that rips children from parents, and places those children with families they don’t know… and say that it is wrong.

I need to be able to look at a system of mass incarceration that holds more than 21% of the world’s prisoners, where race is a major determining factor in whether you end up in jail, where money is a major determining fact in whether you stay there, and where it’s incredibly hard to get our of the system once you’re in it… and say that it is wrong.

I need to be able to look at the food we gather for the Referral Center, and the warm clothes we gather around Christmas, and all of the other ways that we help people in this community and beyond, both as individuals and as a church… and say that they are good.

And, I will admit, there are very few times when we can look at something and know for sure that it is wholly good or wholly evil. We rarely get to choose between good and evil. Most of the time, we have to choose between good and better, or between bad and worse. And it’s hard to know which is which.

Well-meaning people, acting in good faith, trying to do the best we can, can disagree about things.

But it is still true: it is one thing to judge a thing, or a behavior, or a system, or an institution; it is an entirely different thing to judge a person.

And that’s where the fundamental attribution error comes in. Because so often, when we look at ourselves and see that we’ve done something we’re not proud of, we say, “I am a good person who did a bad thing.” And sometimes we even add, “For a good reason.”

And so often, when we look at other people and see that they’ve done something we’re not proud of, we say, “That is a bad person. He is a dog. She is swine. I cannot give them what is holy. I cannot give them what is valuable. If I do, they will trample it under foot and maul me. They are a bad person.”

And, let’s be honest, there are whole industries—on television and radio and the internet—who will tell you who the bad people are. There are systems and institutions who will tell you who you should say that about. And it can feel so good to judge people that way.

But we are not Christ. We do not judge with perfect knowledge and perfect love and perfect compassion.

As Christians, we have to be able to look at things and behaviors and systems and institutions and say, “This is good, and this is bad, this is just, and this is unjust; this is merciful, and this is unmerciful; this is compassionate, and this is not compassionate.” Seeing those differences is one of the first steps towards making this world a place of greater justice and mercy and compassion.

And, at the same time, as Christians, we never look at people and say, “They are good, and they are bad.”

Because here’s the thing: Christ, who judges with perfect knowledge and love and compassion, withholds judgment for the sake of redemption.

In perfect knowledge and perfect love and perfect knowledge, with no log in his own eye, Christ sees the divine spark, the image of God, in us, in we who are sinners, and redeems us. That is the promise of our faith.

And if Christ has done that for us, how can we refuse to do that for others? How can we, who are not qualified to judge, look at someone and say, “They are good, and they are bad”?

The answer is easy: we can’t. And the truth is that holy things—holy things like grace—are holy even when dogs have them. And the truth is that dogs like me probably need them more.

I know that’s a tall order. I know how easy it is to judge people. I know how easy it is to say, “I am a good person who does bad things for good reasons… and other people are jerks.” I do it. You do it. We all do it.

But I also believe that we can meet that tall order. By the grace of God, we can do to others as we would have them do to us. We can judge others as we would have them judge us: with love and compassion; with mercy and grace.

We can take those holy things and give them to everyone… even the dogs like them… even the dogs like us.

We can build our houses, we can build our homes, we can build our lives, on the solid foundation fo the grace  of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to God!

Why Do Extremely Wealthy People Hate the Idea of Higher Marginal Tax Rates?

As I write this, Howard Schultz, billionaire and former CEO of Starbucks, is mounting an independent campaign for the presidency of the United States. And he seems to be running for that office because he’s horrified at the idea of paying a higher marginal tax rate on the part of the income that is over $10 million. And he isn’t alone in that horror. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, billionaire Michael Dell was asked about that tax rate and quipped, “Name a country where that’s worked… ever” only to be corrected when MIT professor Erik Brynjolfasson replied, “The United States!”

According to Paul Krugman, taxing high incomes at extremely high rates—though below 100%—makes sense. On the one hand, at a certain point, there is no practical difference between the amount of money that an extremely wealthy person has and an infinite amount of money. Think about it this way: I have enough money that I would never notice if less than a dollar disappeared. I can afford far more of anything that costs a penny than I would want, which means that, for all practical purposes, I can afford an infinite number of things that cost a penny. For a billionaire, the same principle can be applied to items that cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, or dollars.

On the other hand, the government still wants those people to bother earning that money so that it claim the revenue. In theory, a 100% tax would discourage people from working for that 10 million and first dollar. But since they would still work for 30% of the amount over $10,000,000, the government could tax the dollars over that amount at 70%, keep the incentive, and reap the taxes.

And that means, as Krugman puts it, that “the optimal tax rate on people with very high incomes is the rate that raises the maximum possible revenue.”

Now, Krugman knows far more about economics than I do, but I disagree with an important part of his assessment. For two reasons, once you’ve reached an annual income of $10,000,000—and probably far less—money isn’t really an incentive to work harder or longer. First, you don’t really control how much you make. Shultz’s income isn’t governed by how many hours he works or how hard he works during those hours. It’s governed by what decisions he makes regarding the investment of the money he already has (and he can even pay people to make those decisions for him). Second, he’s effectively living in a post-scarcity society, and just as spending a few thousand or million dollars doesn’t really mean anything to him, neither does making that money. I can’t prove it, but I really doubt that more meaningless money is really an incentive for the extremely wealthy. There has to be an entirely different incentive structure in place.

But that’s not the question I want to explore here. The question I want to explore is this: why are these billionaires so horrified by the idea of a higher marginal tax rate when that rate will mean effectively nothing in terms of their quality of life?

Over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Paul Campos proposes some ideas… which he then dismisses:

They want to make sure that their great-grandchildren have more money than they could possible squander? No, because great-grandchildren are usually an abstraction. People don’t really care about them.

They believe in some sort of supply-side economic model? Okay, but why do they believe in that economic model when it flies in the face of all available evidence?

They hate those kinds of taxes on principle? Okay, but what’s the actual principle for whose sake they object?

They’re greedy? Okay, but what does greed mean in a context where more money doesn’t mean anything?

Money is a way of ‘keeping score’? Okay, but that’s pathological in a context where money doesn’t mean anything.

You want to be able to buy something that really would put a dent in your wealth, like the presidency of the United States? Yes. That’s probably it.

I think that Campos is missing something here: there’s a cultural logic to wealthy people—especially extravagantly wealthy people—hating taxes. And it’s sort of related to ideas like greed and ‘keeping score’.

Now, I need to be careful here. What I’m about to say isn’t a bit of armchair psychology. I’m not about to suggest that people who are extremely wealthy believe certain things at either the conscious or subconscious level. Instead, what I’m about to suggest is a matter of cultural logic or social imagination. It’s wrapped up in the collection of all of the things—institutions, traditions, symbols, practices, and so on—that help us think of ourselves as an ‘us’… the shared, often unspoken, understandings of how things are and how things should be.

A big part of the social imaginaries of modern capitalism is the link between material wealth and personal value. To put that another way, the more wealth someone has, the more of a person they are. For example, we often talk about people being paid what their work is worth or, even, what they are worth.

Or, as another example, we act as though Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth qualifies him to talk about and influence education policy, healthcare reform, or whatever.

Or, as a final example, we imagine that a wealthy businessperson is qualified to be the president of the United States because he is a wealthy businessperson.

And I strongly suspect that link between material wealth and personal value is felt more strongly by people who are wealthy than by people who are not (partly because I suspect that we tend to find personal value in the things that we have a lot of, are good at, and so on).

If the social imaginaries that a person is embedded in sees a link between material wealth and personal value, then it makes sense that that person would see taxes as a bad thing. That person might even see taxation as a form of violence because, when the government demands money through taxation, it isn’t just taking money, it’s taking personhood. This is related to the notion of ‘keeping score’. The billionaire is a person partly because he’s a billionaire, and taking some of that money—making him a mere multi-millionaire—makes him worth less than his fellow billionaires, not just in terms of his material wealth, but in terms of his very personhood.

(This also helps explain why some people who are very wealthy don’t see a desperate need to fund social programs that help people living in poverty: those people are literally worth less than the extremely wealthy).

There’s a theological side to this: ‘The idea that material wealth is the same—or almost the same—as personhood’ is a pretty good description of greed, not just as a kind of personal vice, but as a sin. On the one hand, it’s a form of idolatry: material wealth is an object of worship. On the other hand, it’s a form of self-harm: instead of finding their value in their status as a bearer of the image of God, they find their value in their status as a bearer of material wealth. It is, perhaps, the most common sin: exchanging God for mammon.

So, what do we make of Schultz’s campaign? He’s afraid. He’s afraid that a popular uprising against the extravagantly wealthy will hurt him. Not literally, of course, but by taking away the source of his personhood. And while he’s right that such a popular upraising will begin a higher marginal tax rate, he’s wrong that it will hurt him in any way. In fact, giving up some of his wealth might even free him from the grip that wealth has on his soul. And it’s sad that he doesn’t see that. It’s almost enough to make me feel sorry for him.

Almost.

Do Not Worry

Way back at the end of November, when we were decorating the church for Christmas, we got the Advent wreath and the Advent candles out.

I wanted to make sure that they were okay, so I lit them. Later, we finished decorating, turned out the lights, locked up the church, and left. And I was sure that I had blown out the candles… but there was a little itchy feeling in the back of my brain: what if I hadn’t blown them out? What if I burned down the church?

I get that feeling—that itchy feeling in the back of my brain—more often than I’d like. I’ve had to backtrack home to make sure that I locked a door or closed the garage door. And I always have, but the itchy feeling won’t go away until I check. It’s not OCD… it’s good old-fashioned irrational worry.

In today’s reading, we are still hearing from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus is talking about worry. So I’ve been thinking about worry.

And we are a people—we are a society—that worries.

We worry on a personal level about little things. I worry that I’ve left the garage door open or the front door unlocked.

We worry on a personal level about big things. I worry about accidentally burning down the church or hitting a patch of ice while I’m driving.

We even have a whole industry to help us mitigate our worry. I have car insurance in case I’m in an accident; health insurance in case I get sick or injured; home insurance in case something happens to my house; and a home warranty in case the water heater goes out. I even have that sewer line insurance in case something happens there.

And, of course, we worry on a social level about big things. We have people who tell us to worry: about terrorism and crime and the economy and immigration and a thousand other things. We live in a bubble of worry.

And here’s Jesus, standing on a mountain, preaching to the disciples, telling them—telling us—to stop freaking out.

“Do not worry,” he says, “God feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field. And you’re more valuable than they are. Won’t God take care of you? So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

And he’s serious. And he’s asking us about our faith.

‘Faith’ is a big word. It’s a word with a lot of history. It’s a word with a lot of baggage. But when you strip all of that away, ‘faith’ just means… ‘trust’.

We have faith in our family and friends… we trust them.

We have faith in our schools and workplaces and coworkers… we trust them.

We have faith in our pastor… I hope… we trust him.

And those faiths are important. And those faiths are little.

But there’s also this big faith. When you’re down and out, when you’re lost in the wilderness, when no one’s around, when your family and friends are miles away, when you are trapped and desperate… where are you going to turn?

Are you going to build up treasures on earth, thinking that they will protect you in times of trouble? Are you going to put your faith in wealth? Are you going to put your faith in money?

It’s common sense, isn’t it? Feasts are made for laughter; wine gladdens life; and money meets every need (Ecclesiastes 10:19). It’s right there in the Bible.

And I’ll be honest: I’m lucky enough to have money. I serve a church that, in accordance with Conference guidelines, pays me well and provides good benefits. I get to have health and dental and vision and life insurance. I can own a house and pay for home insurance and a home warranty and sewer line insurance. My wife is excellent at budgeting, and makes sure that we can pay all of the bills, and that we have plenty saved for a rainy day.

I am incredibly lucky. I could go through most of my life trusting money to see me through.

But I am wise enough to know that could all go away. I could lose my job. I could get too sick for my health insurance to save me. I could end up underwater on my house. We could spend through our savings. We could face a time of trial that is too great for money to save us. I have seen it happen to others… and I know it could happen to me.

Feasts are made for laughter; wine gladdens life; and money meets every need… until it doesn’t.

When you’re down and out, and in your pocket there’s not one penny, and as for friends, well, you don’t have any… where are you going to turn?

Are you going to build up treasures on earth, thinking that they will protect you in times of trouble? Are you going to put your faith in wealth? Are you going to put your faith in money?

Or are you going to build up treasures in heaven, trusting that the creator of the universe, who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field, will give us our daily bread and rescue us from evil? Are you going to put your faith in God?

I want to be careful here. I don’t think, in this day and age, that we should give up all that we have. I don’t think, in the winter in Iowa, that we should all sell our houses and empty our bank accounts. I don’t think that Jesus is calling us to homelessness and starvation.

But Jesus is telling us that we cannot serve both God and wealth. We cannot be Christians and lovers of money. We have to choose.

Now, there are some people who will tell you to make your faith in God subservient to your faith in money. They will tell you that the reward for your faithfulness to God is wealth here on earth. They will tell you that, if you give money to their church as a demonstration of your faith, God will put you behind the wheel of a large automobile or in a beautiful house. And those people are wrong.

What I am telling you—and what I believe Christ is telling us—is that we should make our wealth subservient to God. We should ask how we can use what we have to expand the kingdom of God… by feeding the hungry and giving something to drink to the thirsty; by welcoming the stranger and giving clothing to the naked; by caring for the sick and loving the prisoner.

And that…

Way back at the end of November, when we were decorating the church for Christmas, we got the Advent wreath and the Advent candles out.

I wanted to make sure that they were okay, so I lit them. Later, we finished decorating, turned out the lights, locked up the church, and left. And I was sure that I had blown out the candles… but there was a little itchy feeling in the back of my brain: what if I hadn’t blown them out? What if I burned down the church?

And I remembered that, as we were all leaving, Mark had said something about coming back to the church to pick something up or drop something off. So I pulled into a Casey’s parking lot in Eldridge, and I called Mark, and I asked him to make sure that the candles were out when he got back to the church.

And that might not seem like much. But I didn’t have to be worried about that anymore.

And the truth is that when we share what we have—when we share our time and our talent and those treasures that God has entrusted to us here on earth—there is more than enough. And no one needs to worry.

God feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field. And God has given humanity more than enough to go around. Our God is a God of extravagant generosity and infinite abundance. God has simply spread those gifts around in a way that gives us another gift: the chance to share, to give, and to accept gifts.

And when we do that—when a little bit of God’s kingdom has come and a little bit of God’s will is done—then everyone will have enough and more than enough, and debts will be wiped away, and we won’t face times of trial, and evil will shrink away to nothing, and no one will have to worry.

And that is good news.

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