I am incredibly lucky.

There’s a quote from the writer and theologian Frederick Buechner: “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide.” It’s a quote that I heard a lot in seminary and continuing ed. Someone would bring it up almost any time that we started talking about being called by God.

God is calling you to the place where your passions line up with the world’s needs.

And I firmly believe that God is calling everyone to something. God is calling me… and you. God is calling everyone in this sanctuary… and everyone out there in the world. God is calling all of us to something. God is calling all of us to some place where our passions and the world’s needs line up.

And the world needs so much. The world needs medicine and gardens. The world needs music and education. The world needs the preaching of the word… and the administration of the sacraments… and cupcakes.

And I am incredibly lucky that you all pay me to live in that place where God is calling me, where some of my deep gladnesses and the some of the world’s deep hungers coincide. And I am incredibly lucky that I have time and energy and resources left over to indulge in other deep gladnesses and line up with the world’s deep hungers.

And you know what they say: Do what you love, and you’ll work super hard all the time with no separation or boundaries and also take everything extremely personally.

I know that I’m lucky because I haven’t always been lucky. There have been times when my job—sorting products in a warehouse, or tracking down debtors for an insurance company, or answering-phones-but-mostly-just-reading in a law office—was just the thing I did so that I could live indoors and eat food every day.

And I know that there are a lot of people—people in this sanctuary and people out there in the world—who have that kind of job.

Paul was one of them.

Today is the second Sunday in a short summer sermon series on generosity. This morning’s reading is from Acts. Luke—the author of Acts, the same guy who wrote the Gospel According to Luke—is telling us about the time that Paul said goodbye to the believers in Ephesus for the last time. You see, Paul is about to get on a ship and go to Jerusalem. And he doesn’t know this, but while he has a few adventures left, he is starting his journey to Rome and to his death.

And as part of his goodbyes, Paul says this: “When I was working among you, I didn’t covet your money or your stuff. I worked to support myself and I worked to support my companions. And I meant that to be an example to you. I meant that to show you why we work: so that we can support those who are weak. As Jesus himself said, ‘It is better to give than to receive.’”

You see, Paul was a tent-maker and an evangelist. He had a job and he had a calling. He had the thing he did so that he could live indoors and eat food every day and he had the place where his deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincided.

Don’t. Get. Any. Ideas.

You see, the amazing thing about Paul isn’t that he made tents from nine to five and then when out and spread the gospel. The amazing thing about Paul is how he looked at work

He didn’t make tents so that he could have a big house, or a fancy chariot, or fashionable clothes. He did not covet silver or gold. He didn’t work to build up treasures on earth.

He worked so that he could support the weak. He worked so that he could serve others. He worked so that he could give.

And that is a revolutionary way of looking at work.

I used to have a boss who said, “The one who dies with the most toys, wins.”

Now, he was a restauranteur, so he was in no danger of dying with the most toys. He also used to say that it would have made just as much sense to put a pile of money in the backyard and light it on fire.

But he was echoing an idea—a question—that is very popular in our world: How can I get the most money? How can I get the most stuff? How can I be the most powerful and the most popular? How can I get the most toys?

It even shows up in our churches: How can we raise the most money, and have the nicest building, and have the biggest programs, and be the church that everyone wants to come to?

It even shows up in our personal spiritualities: How can I get into the heaven that I most assuredly deserve.

But we are Christians. We know better. We worship the God who saw this world and loved it. We follow the God who emptied himself out and set aside glory and came into this world to save us. Not because we are powerful and awesome and amazing, but because we were in trouble, and we needed help.

And because God is love. And love isn’t about getting the most for me. Love is about spreading my good fortune around. It’s about being satisfied that I have enough and making sure that other people have enough.

And here is Paul, saying goodbye to the believers in Ephesus, talking about how he has tried to do just that: “I never coveted your silver or gold or clothing. I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. And I did that work so that I could support the weak.”

He didn’t work so that he could have the most money. He didn’t work so that he could have the biggest house or the fanciest chariot or the most fashionable clothes. He didn’t work to build up treasures on earth. He didn’t work so that he could die with the most toys.

He worked so that he could serve. He received so that he could give. He got stuff so that he could share. He lived out a little piece of the Kingdom of God.

And can you imagine a world where we all did that? Can you imagine a world where even a critical mass of us did that?

Can you imagine a world where all of us—or even where just most of us—looked at what we do, and what we have, and what our passion is, and asked, “How can I use this to serve? How can I use this to love?”

Can you imagine a world where everyone could go to that place where God is calling them, where their deep passion and the world’s deep hunger coincide? This world that needs so much: medicine and gardens, music and education, the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments, and cupcakes.

And, while we’re at it, can you imagine a world where everyone could live indoors and eat food every day?

A world where we work so that we can serve, where we receive so that we can give, where we get stuff so that we can share. A world where we each live out a little piece of the Kingdom of God.

I am incredibly lucky.

I get to live out my deep passions and work to meet the world’s deep needs. And you pay me to do that. And even when I’m not at work, i have the time and energy to indulge in other passions and meet other needs.

And I know that not everyone is that lucky. I know that because I haven’t always been so lucky. 

And I am not about to dismiss the fact that work can be hard and soul-sucking and oppressive. I am not about to dismiss the fact that there are people who are just trying to get through the day and keep a roof over their heads and food on their plate. 

I am not about to dismiss the fact that there are people who are just trying to get through the day and who still will not have a roof over their head or food on their plate.

I’m not about to say that we just need to have a good attitude about work.

But i will say that some of us are lucky; some of us our blessed. We love what we do; we never work a day in our lives. We have enough and more than enough.

And because we are so lucky—because God has blessed us with so much—we have the responsibility to use what has been given to us for the sake of our neighbor and for the sake of our stranger.

And by serving through our work, by giving what we have received, by sharing what we have, to roll up our sleeves and work with God to make a world of greater justice, and greater mercy, and greater love.

Amen.

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

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