Sermon: “What we get, and what we give.”
Miss Ellie was an old lady in her nineties. She was living in the poor neighborhood of South Bronx and her neighborhood was overwhelmed with poverty, crime, violence and homelessness. A place of fear, hopelessness and poverty.
Miss Ellie was often seen walking the streets of South Bronx – and she often walked extra miles to visit a dear friend, only because of a stream in her way.
When her congregation enlisted help to build a bridge as a shortcut, Miss Ellie said that she made the long trek to spend time with others on her route: “Shortcuts don’t mix with love.”
Shortcuts don’t mix with love.
In today’s beautiful gospel, Mary far from cutting corners, goes to great lengths and expense to show her love for her teacher, her master and her friend. Mary’s generosity is a response to the compassion Jesus showed her in her life.
Mary shows compassion, but she also shows courage. Her actions take courage and compassion. She opens and shows her true self, which also makes her vulnerable. Her actions were not forgotten in the centuries to come. Her actions were not forgotten as the stories of Jesus were told and written down. Her actions were remembered and revered.
“Mary anointed Jesus feet and wiped them with her hair.” This act of kindness, this act of love, this act of compassion and of generosity left a fragrance in the room of the expensive perfume, but it even more left a more eternal fragrance in our faith of abundant generosity and extravagant compassion.
Generosity is at the core of humanity.
Generosity is at the core of Christianity.
Generosity is the never-ending human story about what we get, how we are blessed and fortunate – and how we give, how we share and how we care.
In Christianity to we talk about the seven virtues and the seven sins: the seven virtues became identified as chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. Practicing them is said to protect one against temptation from the seven deadly sins.
So, charity or generosity is one of these fundamental Christian virtues.
We do believe in an extravagant generous God, who clothes the lilies of the field and dresses them so superbly that they outdo King Salomon in all his glory: the super bloom of this Spring truly has shown us the abundance and the generosity of our creator. What a waste of color, what a waste of fragrance, what a waste of flowers just for a short time…. Such would be the thought of a Judas mind, trying to fit creation, flowers, love and compassion into our narrow human mind of business and fairness manuals.
But then the fragrance of faith lingers on….
Because we do believe in an extravagant generous God who turns the other cheek, who walks the second mile, who turns water into the best wine, who brings healing with his very touch and who welcomes a woman’s sincere love, as she fills the house and the story with an unforgettable fragrance.
We believe in an extravagant generous God who welcomes the children, the smallest and the weakest, to bless then, keep them safe and shower them in love and grace.
We believe in an extravagant generous God who welcomes us at his table of grace and forgiveness, as he knows that our lives are build on grace, forgiveness, love and compassion.
Like the scent or aroma of perfume filled the room and the spaces between Jesus, Mary and the disciples, - so the scent and the touch of kindness, joy and compassion spread their effects to everyone close by. In the wonderful story of Mary anointing Jesus feet, the line about the fragrance filling the house always should strike a deep chord with us. Love, beauty, devotion, compassion and generosity – the impact of these things can not be hoarded or kept to yourself, they spread.
Miss Ellie walking the extra miles in South Bronx knew of that fragrance of compassion and that “Shortcuts don’t mix with love.” Compassion and generosity are about walking the extra mile, spending your time, your money, your skills and your faith among those who need to smell the fragrance of faith and love.
This week Nipsey Hussle, Rapper and Activist, was Shot Dead in South Los Angeles. Nipsey Hussle was a Grammy-nominated rapper, entrepreneur and advocate for his native South Los Angeles, and he was fatally shot outside his clothing store in that city’s Hyde Park neighborhood on Sunday afternoon. I must admit that I am not into RAP music, but our sons are. They knew who he was. Not only as rapper with the notorious attitude, golden necklaces and tattoos – but as a generous, inspirational man who gave back to his Community. He stayed in South LA even when he could afford to live somewhere else, he invested in business, he was dedicated to connecting underrepresented groups with technology companies, and he spoke against the very gun violence that killed him. Growing up he often was on the wrong side of law, but he changed and made a change.
“Growing up as a kid, I was looking for somebody — not to give me anything — but somebody that cared,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “Someone that was creating the potential for change and that had an agenda outside of their own self interests.”
He became that someone to many in his neighborhood. He did walk the extra mile. And the scent of his compassion, inspiration and presence lingers on in the Street of South LA.
This week I once again went to His House – a transitional shelter in Placentia that we support. One of our old members makes patchwork blankets to give to the Shelter. Her generosity and compassion spreads like the warm sun, when children receive her beautiful blankets.
Generosity is at the core of humanity and Christianity. Generosity is one of the fundamental virtues.
Winston Churchill once said: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Giving the perfume to anoint her beloved teacher, walking the extra mile to visit her friend and stop for a talk on her way, giving back to his community of his success or spending hours with yarn, needle and fabric to give families a warm blanket.
Oh, and then the voices of business, bitterness and coldness might sound in and claim that it is a waste of time, of energy, of money, of effort and of hope.
But the voice of generosity speaks a different language. It speaks of compassion and care. It speaks of chances and commitment. It speaks about responsibility and resilience. It speaks of never giving up or giving in. It speaks about the fragrance of generosity and compassion that spreads and infuses us with even more faith that the power of good can be so much greater than the power of evil, - if we choose it.
We make a living by what we get, by what we earn, by what we accumulate and gather, - but we make our lives by what we give, by how we try to let the fragrance of compassion and generosity fill the room and the world. Amen.