Sermon for 6th Easter, May 9, 2021: What do you share? (The Rev. Dr. Deborah White)
Updated: Jul 31, 2021
There is a commercial for a certain chocolate bar that you can break into pieces. (I won’t name the brand because even though we have a budget deficit we are not so desperate as to stoop to sermon commercials yet!) Two little girls play a game with an unseen adult telling them to take a piece of chocolate every time he makes a statement that applies to them. “Take a piece of chocolate if you’re the tallest,” he says – and each grabs a piece. “Take a piece of you’re better at eating your vegetables,” he tries next – and they each snatch up a section. Finally, they are asked who is best at sharing. Both girls pause for what seems like a very long second until one of them picks up a piece of chocolate – and promptly hands it over to her sister.
When I looked up this ad on the internet to share with you, I was amazed at the number of people who offered hostile comments about it, describing it as “shaming.” Since I had experienced the little film as adorable and uplifting, I was puzzled, so I went on to read more of these criticisms. Apparently, some folks felt that the commercial was a poor example to children because it showed that people don’t want to share. Well, today is Mother’s Day, but you certainly do not have to be a mother to know that no toddler wants to share. In fact, if you have ever spent any time at all in a grocery store you are probably aware that while “mama” may be most infants’ first “M” word, their second is almost inevitably “MINE.” While I truly and emphatically believe that we were all created in the image of God, I also think that early in the history of humanity – whether you call it original sin or not, we very quickly went wildly off the rails and the result is that we may start life innocent, but we do not really start it “sweet.”
That doesn’t mean that our hesitance to share makes us bad people. I suspect that those who felt that the little girl who didn’t immediately self-identify as the “best sharer” was somehow being shamed were applying their own labels to her behavior – words like “greedy” – because they assumed that she didn’t share because she wanted all that luscious chocolate for herself. But what if she had other reasons for not sharing? What if she was afraid that if she gave her piece to her sister, it would be rejected? What if she was worried that she would find out that her sister didn’t like the same things she did, and they would get into a fight and it would create a lasting rift between them? What if she was afraid that if she opened her heart to her sister that her sister, in a voice dripping with sarcasm would say, “Gee, thanks for sharing” and walk away?
Okay, so maybe I’m projecting – and maybe we’re not talking about chocolate anymore. Maybe we’re actually talking about sharing bigger things – things like love, and God. Over the past several weeks I have been attending the Episcopal Evangelism Matters Conference. One of the sessions was entitled simply, “I love Jesus.” In it, several leaders of the Episcopal Church, including our Presiding Bishop, talked about when they first discovered their love of Jesus. Their stories were both simple and profound. It wasn’t fancy theology or hard sell marketing. It was just folks sharing what mattered to them and other people responding from the depths of the own hearts. It was vulnerable, truthful, and wonderful.
We often think about sharing as giving, but sharing is reciprocal. Sharing may come at a cost, but it is never without reward. I would wager that all of us have experienced the sense of pleasure that comes from contributing to a cause, or (in pre-COVID days) splitting an ice-cream soda, but as Christians we also share our troubles, our prayers, and, most importantly, the body and blood of our savior Jesus Christ.
It still might surprise some of us to know, however, that it makes people equally happy to share their everyday experiences with others. Several studies have determined that we feel better when we talk things over with other people. Not only that, but even watching the same movie – in different rooms and at different times – and experiencing the same emotions – helps us form emotional bonds with each other. When people tell me they think that our Holy Scriptures have no value for people today because their contexts are so far removed from our current issues, I tell them to think again, because people are people – and if the Bible is about anything, it’s about people. Think about today’s psalm, which encourages us to shout with joy, to rejoice and sing. This desire to share our experience of the beauty of nature and the marvelous creation that God has made is no different than the photo of the sunrise over Mt. Diablo you may have posted on Instagram this morning. We see beauty and we feel joy and we want to share it because sharing is a simple act of love.
It seems so easy, just as easy as cooing over an infant or feeling the thump-thump of our heartbeat when we experience our first romance – and yet, as we well know, sometimes loving is not so easy. That’s why this is the third week in a row that our lectionary has presented us with texts reminding us that Jesus’s primary commandment to his followers is to love one another – not like in insta posts or music videos, but as God does. God’s love that is not based on expecting to be thanked or fulfilled, or to be loved back. It is not transactional. It is loving not just those who are part of our social circle or our religious denomination or our culture or race. Most importantly, it is not just loving those who are deserving of love. It is loving everyone. It is loving for the sake of love itself.
This is, of course, easier said than done. I am certainly not able to do it – but I have learned to try, gritting my teeth and following the Holy Spirit whether it appears as a gentle zephyr of wisdom or as a hurricane wind of change, despite my terror of being spiritually tossed around like the cow in “Twister.” That is what Peter was doing when he preached to the uncircumcised believers on a day sometimes called “The Gentile’s Pentecost.” Remember, in his time there was still debate as to whether non-Jews should even be part of the Jesus movement without first being converted to Judaism and circumcised, so it was a shock to Peter that even these outsiders seemed to be touched by the Holy Spirit – and he took a big risk by following his heart and baptizing them, knowing that he would probably take a lot of flak from his fellow apostles for doing so.
I always ask people why they are willing to share the latest diet or hair product or cat photo with their friends and social media followers but are afraid to talk about their faith. I have come to realize that the answer is that the more you care about something the harder it is when someone rejects it – and there is nothing more painful than the rejection of love. Yet this is what God has subjected himself to over and over and over again on our behalf since the beginning of creation. God repeatedly offers to share love, fulfillment, and perfection with us, and we reject them in favor of what we think are better things, earthly things. Still, God refuses to give up, loving us anyway, saying “yes” to our “no,” choosing us even when we do not choose her.
People confuse what it means to share God’s power, to be God’s friends. When we become one with God, we are not given the ability to share in God’s power to create and to destroy. We are instead blessed with God’s capacity to love the unlovable – among which we are the very first. Which of you can bear the exquisite pain and experience the excruciating joy of that? Which of you is the best at sharing? AMEN.
Summer Allen, (November 24, 2014), “The Sharing Effect: A new study explores why sharing emotional experiences—even negative ones—makes us feel better,” Greater Good Magazine, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_sharing_effect
Eshin Jolly, Bethany Burum, Jason Mitchell, (April 18, 2019), “Wanting without enjoying: The social value of sharing experiences,” Published online 2019 Apr 18. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0215318