Here’s a civics test for you. Can anyone tell me how many states there are in the US? And be careful, you should know it is a trick question!
So there are four states that are technically commonwealths: MA, PA, WV, KY. It’s such a lovely and powerful word, isn’t it, commonwealth? The wealth that we share in common. It makes me think of our national parks as an example—Mount Rainier, Zion, Yosemite—these places of wonder, these priceless treasures that we enjoy together. Our commonwealth. The roads and bridges and rail lines that we have together built to allow us to move from one place to another. A value to all of us even if I never drive on Interstate 75 through Dayton, OH or drink the water that has rained down from the heavens in Flint, MI or sub-Saharan Africa. The future that we and our great-grandchildren share together is an ecosystem that has little use for the arbitrary borders we have imposed on our common wealth.
Here’s the thing about giving and sharing. Research has consistently shown that generosity is contagious.[i] Peer reviewed academic studies have shown that our giving behavior spreads to our closest friendships and family members and into our broader social networks.[ii] When we receive or witness generosity, it inspires us to give as well. Your giving creates a culture of generosity.
Are you a parent? Research demonstrates that you can positively influence your kids not only by giving, but by directly talking about your giving behaviors with your children.[iii] I suspect that may be true as well with your grandchildren. Research has also demonstrated that parents whose discipline takes into account the feelings of others have more empathetic children.[iv] Of course the reverse is also true.
You see, giving creates its own ecosystem. Studies show giving is associated with fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.[v] Giving can even help those with PTSD or social anxiety to manage their symptoms.[vi]
Here is why this is important. In John, Jesus, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life, leads the sheep in and out—no doubt to green pastures and drinkable waters and valleys where death’s shadows are long. He leads them in and out. Now some churches need to hear more about the leading out part—that we are sent out from this place to love and serve those for whom Jesus laid down his life. But we’re pretty good about that here at St. Andrew. This kind of generosity is in our DNA.
I think the leading in part maybe good for us to think about—especially with all these beautifully remodeled new rooms on display around us—paid for by the generosity of others who have come before you making these renovations possible without money out of our pockets and without adding any debt.
We are a privileged people by most measurements. And one of the things about privilege is that its like a fish swimming unaware of the water in which you swim. You tend not to consider the ways you are privileged compared to others. You take it for granted. You just have the luxury of not thinking about it. Until you are awakened to the bigger picture.
I think about this especially when it comes to the privilege of ownership and the ownership of this place. I mean, who owns this building? What do you really believe about that? Because it makes a difference for our well-being and our future—according to peer reviewed studies and the gospel. Who is in charge when it comes to the leading into and out of this building? What standards and what values and what authority guides us to make the decisions that we make if it is the Good Shepherd who leads us out and leads us in, who is the gate itself?
We have many other groups that use our building. Are we the owners and everyone else lenders and borrowers—or worse—thieves coming in to take and steal? Are we the owners or are we something else—caretakers perhaps? Stewards maybe. Our understanding has profound implications not just for others but for ourselves, for the legacy we leave, for the shaping of those that come after us, for our very souls. What we believe is contagious.
If we understand ourselves to be the gatekeepers then we miss the point of this one who does the leading in and out, who lays down his life for the sheep. If we consider this space ours to regulate, and defend, and control, and allow ownership to be the primary concept that shapes us, then we might want to consider the consequences—both intended and unintended. “What have they done to my kitchen?” leads us down very different paths than “How can we make this space a blessing to all who need it?” If we let this gospel and this way shape our priorities and our patterns of behavior, then we have the power to model a generosity and a commonality that is contagious and life-giving, and sustainable—that even generates happiness and joy and belonging for everyone, including ourselves.
If we are stewards sharing in the gifts we have received, we at least introduce a few more guiding questions into our decisions and our practices no matter where we are. What is God up to? What values and activities best reflect the priorities of the gospel that shapes us? Who is the Good Shepherd that lays down his life for us leading into this place? How can we hold these gifts in common?
Our answer makes all the difference in the world. Amen.
[i] These findings are summarized in Tempel, Eugene R.; Seiler, Timothy L.; Burlingame, Dwight F.. Achieving Excellence in Fundraising (Essential Texts for Nonprofit and Public Leadership and Management) (p. 15). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
[ii] Tsvetkova, Milena and Michael W. Macy. 2014. “The Social Contagion of Generosity.” PLoS ONE, 9( 2): e87275. doi: 10.1371/ journal.pone. 0087275.
[iii] Wilhelm, Mark O., Eleanor Brown, Patrick M. Rooney, and Richard Steinberg. 2008. “The Intergenerational Transmission of Generosity.” Journal of Public Economics, 92: 2146– 2156.
[iv] Koestner, Richard, Carol Franz, and Joel Weinberger. 1990. “The Family Origins of Empathic Concern: A 26-Year Longitudinal Study.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58( 4): 709– 717.
[v] Hunter, K. I. and Margaret W. Linn. 1981. “Psychosocial Differences Between Elderly Volunteers and Non-Volunteers.” The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 12( 3): 205– 213 and Musick, Marc A. and John Wilson. 2003. “Volunteering and Depression: The Role of Psychological and Social Resources in Different Age Groups.” Social Science and Medicine, 56( 2): 259– 269.
[vi] Alden, Lynn E. and Jennifer L. Trew. 2013. “If it Makes You Happy: Engaging in Kind Acts Increases Positive Affect in Socially Anxious Individuals.” Emotion, 13( 1): 64– 75.