We LOVE justice. At least when it happens to other people. The idea, “What goes around comes around,” allows us to take comfort there is justice in the world. The Japanese have a more crude way of saying the same thing: “Bachigatata” or “Bachi” for short. Even Christians echo these thoughts: “A man reaps what he sows.” which comes from our passage this morning. We love justice. But what Paul is talking about isn’t about retribution, it’s about making the most out of life. Whatever effort we put into something, the effort we make, is what we can expect to get out of it. If we pour ourselves into something it’s more likely we’ll get good returns. But if we put little effort, or bad effort or no effort at all, we can only expect what we put into it. So here’s the passage from the Bible.
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
“Doing good” is part of what it means to be a Methodist.
We don’t believe people go to Heaven because they do good stuff. But we do believe doing good is evidence of God in your life, and we believe that doing good draws us closer to Christ. There’s a famous quote often attributed to John Wesley that says, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” While no one can find this to be a literal quote from John, it certainly reflects his beliefs. In his sermon “The Use of Money” he said, “employ whatever God has entrusted you with, in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree to the household of faith, to all men!” And when he wrote up the three General Rules that formed the Methodist classes and later all of us, he included it there, too. Do no harm, do good, stay in love with God. “Do no harm” (the first rule) is preventative. It encourages us to be thoughtful, to take time out to ponder our words, to think through a situation. But it’s a rule that is meant to prevent us from doing something hurtful. If “do no harm” is preventative, “do good” is proactive. More than just making sure we aren’t hurting people, we’re supposed to make the world a better place. As Paul wrote, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
But how do we “do good?”
It seems like an obvious question. You just DO GOOD. But if you’re like Dan in the TV show SportsNight, you want to try to figure out how to do the MOST good. Dan gets flooded with a stack of solicitation letters and doesn’t know what to do. He tells his friend and co-anchor, Casey, “I’m on a mailing list to end all mailing lists…I’d love to give money to all these people, but then I’d have no money and I’d need somebody’s mailing list just to pay rent.” You’ve probably felt like this before. Too many worthwhile causes and not enough money or time to go around. We feel that personally and as a church. It can be overwhelming when you think of how many worthy causes are out there. Dan and Casey go back and forth until Casey finally says, “You know, while we’ve been having this conversation, a couple people have probably died from something you could have cured.”
Dan starts to ask around.
He goes up to his friend Natalie and asks what she would do and she says she gives what she can to an AIDS group. Dan thinks that’s great, but asks her what about breast cancer and diabetes and leukemia? Don’t they deserve funding also? Dan is struggling to figure out who is the MOST deserving. Where should he invest his money? So he asks his boss, Isaac. Isaac will know. Isaac is smart, respected, and Dan looks up to him like a father. Isaac tells him, “Danny, every morning I leave an acre and a half of the most beautiful property in New Canaan, get on a train and come to work in a 54-story glass hi-rise. In between, I step over bodies to get here – 20, 30, 50 of them a day. So as I’m stepping over them, I reach into my pocket and give them whatever I’ve got.” Dan asks, “You’re not afraid they’re going to spend it on booze?” And that’s the heart of Dan’s problem, and ours a lot of the time. We worry so much about what might happen with what we give, whether it’s money or time or talent, that we end up holding back giving at all, or we give cautiously when we could be giving more. But that’s not how Jesus envisioned us helping one another. Remember the story of the rich young man who asked Jesus how he could have eternal life? Jesus told him to give his wealth to the poor. He didn’t put conditions on it. He didn’t warn him what the poor would do with his money. Because it’s really about our heart for giving. It’s about being abundantly generous and not worrying where it goes once we give it. That doesn’t mean God wants us to be foolish with our time or money or talent, but he wants us to be more actively engaged in the world. If we spend more time worrying about what other people are going to do with “our” money, we’re missing the point. God wants us to have a heart for giving – giving money, giving time, giving talents, giving a kind word, giving our sympathy, giving our love. He wants us to have a giving attitude. Let God worry about where it goes.
At the end of the show, Dan and Casey wrap things up.
Casey asks him if he’s solved the problem of who to give to, and Dan says, “It’s easier being a miser.” And Casey responds, “Can I say something? You’re not going to solve everybody’s problems. In fact, you’re not going to solve anybody’s problems, so you know what you should do? Anything. As much of it and as often as you can.” Anything. As much of it and as often as you can. Casey was echoing exactly what John Wesley and Paul have been trying to tell us. Give anything, as much of it and as often as you can. God wants us to be proactive. He wants us to get into the habit of being giving people, trying to make a difference in the world. Sure, we want to try to do the most good for the most people, but if we worry so much about where it’s going or if it will be put to good use we might end up like the guy in Jesus’ story about the bags of gold where the one guy ends up burying it in the ground instead of doing something with it. We don’t want to be THAT guy. We want to be responsible. We want to be good stewards. But we don’t want to get to the point where we are paralyzed from doing ANYTHING! Along the way, we might make some missteps, but the important thing is the state of our heart. Are we operating out of fear or out of love? Which one will rule our heart?
Our faith is empty without good deeds.
James, the brother of Jesus wrote about this extensively in his letter. He said, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26).” That’s because a person who says he believes in Jesus but does nothing to help his fellow human being does not really have faith. They have faith in themselves or faith in their money, but not faith in Christ to do what is needed. James also wrote (James 2:15-17), “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” And while I think James intended for that to be a statement against Christians who call themselves believers and do nothing to help others, it’s also a prescription for ourselves. Our faith is brought to life, both in other people AND in ourselves, when we live it out.
Have you heard of the term GIGO?
It’s a computing term, but you might be familiar with it anyway. GIGO. GIGO. It stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out and refers to the idea that bad programming will lead to bad results. Basically, you get out what you put in. And that’s true for every aspect of our lives. Our friendships, our family, our marriages, our jobs, our hobbies, our passions and our relationship with God. You get out what you put in. So if you spend your life trying to put in good to the world, there might be some garbage from time-to-time, but overall you’ll get even more out of life. Better relationships with others. Better relationship with God. A better world to live in. And after all, isn’t that what we all want? If it’s true that “A man reaps what he sows” and “What goes around comes around” then we need to put as much good out there in the world as we can. Let go of our fears. Trust in God. Devote yourself to doing good and not worry about what they do with our gifts, but instead be dedicated to a heart for generosity. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.