Two weeks ago I asked – Where’s your joy? This week I want to know – are you a giver or a taker? I don’t mean financially, although that could be part of it, I mean in your spirit. Do you have a spirit that gives or a spirit that takes? Think about it. We all know people who have a way of sucking the air right out of a room. They are self referential, self absorbed, seemingly with something always to complain about. They are more interested in letting you know what is going on with them and far less interested in really knowing what is going on with you. These are people who take. They take energy from others, care from other, attention from others and they rarely give back any of what they take. On the other hand, hopefully, we also know those folks who seem to brighten a room every time then enter it. Not because they are particularly handsome or beautiful but because they bring with them a lightness, a peace, a compassion that is infectious. They are always open and attentive when you meet them. They seem genuinely interested in what is going on with you, and while they certainly have problems and struggles of their own which they are honest about, these struggles do not dominate them, and they have no interest in always foisting them onto you. These are the givers – they give energy to others, love to others, attention to others, and they make the world a better place because of it.
Hopefully you are not naive enough to think that you are a giver all the time or depressed enough to think that you do nothing by take. The truth for most of us is more complicated. Sometimes we give and sometimes we take. Sometimes our spirit is light and sometimes it is quite heavy. The point is to be self aware enough to know which you are at any given moment, which you are most of the time.
When I was in Savannah there was a woman in my parish who became a very dear friend. She was in her eighties and I was in my early thirties. We first me on a pastoral call; I stopped by for a brief visit when she was quite ill. I thought I would minister to her. I left that day realizing that she had in fact ministered to me. It wasn’t anything she did or said, it was who she was. In spite of how poorly she felt, she was open and easy to talk to, warm and friendly. She was a giver – even when her physical condition required large amounts of attention – she was focused on what she might give to others. I was deeply impressed. Eventually she recovered and over the years we would go to lunch on a regular basis. We would talk and laugh and share the everydayness of life. On more than one occasion I can remember dropping her off at her home after one of our lunches and shouting after her as she slowly made her way up her front door – “Hey, thanks for your ministry to the minister.” To which she would always turn and smile and blow me a kiss.
In our lesson this morning, we read about Isaiah’s calling to be God’s agent in the world. In a grand vision Isaiah sees God and all the heavenly host. Feeling unworthy to stand in the divine presence Isaiah says, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” But God makes him worthy and when the Lord cries out for a prophet saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah responds, “Here am I; send me.”
“Here am I; send me.” If God called, could you respond as Isaiah did? Could you be God’s agent in the world? Now, I am not a prophet and I don’t know many who are, but in our baptisms we have been made worthy just as Isaiah was made worthy. And, as a result of our baptisms you and I are, in fact, God’s agents in the world.
Friday I received word that our mission team to the Sudan arrived safely and they are hard at work. These good people are giving large amounts of their time and a significant amount of money to go and be God’s agents in a country where there is so much need. I am proud of them for this service and for their willingness to be givers. But not all of us can make trips overseas to care for the sick and needy. Not all of us have significant amounts of money to give or lots of time to spare on a mission trip to the Sudan or Honduras. Many of us don’t even have as much time as we would like outside of our work and our families to take part in a Habitat for Humanity project or to volunteer at a homeless shelter or the food bank. But all of us are still called. We are still expected to be God’s agents in the world. And this is where it matters whether you are a giver or a taker.
Maybe you are not a prophet, or a missionary, or a social service volunteer, but as part of the body of Christ you are responsible to God for your ministry in the world. Right now, you may not be able to give in large ways but you can and ought to give in all the small ways that fill your daily life. You are called to be God’s agent in the world, God’s minister in the way you treat the cashier at Target, the teller at the bank, the mailman who stops by your door. You are called to be kind and gracious, patient and understanding, positive and supportive. In effect, you are called to be a giver and not a taker. That means you have to set the right tone in the office, you have to take the time to genuinely listen to your neighbor, you have to be patient enough and gracious enough to come home after a long day and still have energy to give to your spouse, your children, or your parents. You may not be inoculating thousands in Africa but you are still called, marked, chosen – to make a difference, to be a giver.
Believe me, I am preaching to myself this morning as much as I am preaching to all of you. Whether I am wearing this collar or not, whether I am making visits in the hospital or buying new running shoes at Payless, how I treat every single person who crosses my path says something important about whether or not I am living up to my baptism, whether or not I am following Christ.
In the days and weeks ahead I want you to be more self-aware. I want you to pay attention to the spirit you carry with you into the world. I want you to remember that you can make the world a better place, a more joyful place, just by how you treat the person standing in front of you. You don’t necessarily have to do great things to be a good Christian; you only have to do small things with great love. In the end, I know, even these little things make all the difference. Amen.