From Security to Generosity

Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness shows us how to resist the world’s false securities in power, privilege and possessions, which lead to holding onto what we have.  When we trust God as Jesus did for our security, it frees us to live with generosity and have what Henri Nouwen calls an “openhanded posture” toward life.  In such a posture, we can be generous in our prayers, in our work for peace, and have an attitude where we learn from people who are different from us.  As Anabaptists, we have a generous approach to our faith, which is confessional and growing rather than creedal and static.  

Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Luke 4:1-13


Our theme for the season of Lent is “Seeking God’s Ways”, based on Isaiah 55:8, For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Each week reveals a truth about God’s ways, as well as the many ways that we as God’s people get it wrong; how we think the world works versus how God actually works.

This week’s theme invites us to move from security to generosity.  But how can we move from security to generosity, given the state of the world and our country today?

The war and suffering in Ukraine has a ripple effect of insecurity and fear, with its epicenter at ground zero in Ukraine and the shockwaves that Russian dictator’s Putin’s invasion that are being felt around the world are causing so much insecurity.

There is the fear and insecurity of not knowing how long this war will last, how many more lives will be lost, and if the war will escalate to involve other countries.

There is the fear and insecurity that refugees fleeing the country live with; where they will end up, who will take them in and care for them, whether they will even be reunited with their loved ones who are back in Ukraine.

On a smaller scale but still something that we here in the US are concerned about is the inflation the war is causing, felt most immediately in the soaring price of gas at the fuel pump, which will mean higher prices on a lot of other things as well.

And if we think back a few years, it has just been one thing after another upsetting the things that we felt secure about and causing more and more insecurity in our lives.

The political landscape in our country in the past several years has been unsettling, polarizing, dividing families, school boards and even churches across the country.

And then COVID-19 hit us two years ago, which has taken a toll on us that we will be figuring out for a long time.  Thankfully it seems to be getting more under control, but then again we’ve learned that we can’t really control it completely.

And since our ability to control things makes us feel secure, our inability to control them naturally causes insecurity.

One way that we can look at the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness is seeing the three offers of Satan as a way for Jesus to gain control, power and security in a setting where he could easily feel out of control, powerless and insecure.

Jesus is in a barren wilderness, he’s hungry, thirsty, all alone, feeling weak and vulnerable, and maybe useless, and maybe even hopeless and insecure at times.  Maybe you know how Jesus felt, because you’ve had a wilderness experience of your own that has left you feeling that way.

Satan has Jesus right where he wants him, in a moment of weakness and desperation.  And he makes him these offers that can get him a ticket out of his lowly state and transform him into someone well-fed, powerful, famous, and influential, even invincible.

He could turn stones into bread.  He could have authority over the kingdoms of the world!  He could throw himself off of a cliff and he would come out unscathed.

Talk about security!  Jesus would feel large and in charge!

There’s just a little catch.  You know, the fine print.  If Jesus did all these things, he would have to sell his soul to the devil.

And he wasn’t about to do that. Jesus knew deep in his heart his security was not in these ways that the world measures security, but in God’s ways.

And by putting his trusting in God, Jesus would be provided with all that he needed, and not just what he needed for himself, but to be generous with others.

Just like Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, and had to choose where his true loyalties and securities were, in our world today, we often find ourselves in the same place as Jesus did.

It’s so easy to sucked into the things that the world tells us will make us secure, safe and strong.

There’s an image I saw not long ago that kind of captures in a striking way one expression of what this false security might look like in American society today.

It’s a picture of a woman holding a Bible in one hand, an assault rifle in the other hand, standing in front of a big American flag.

She said that this was all about protecting her freedoms, but I think we can say that these are things that give her a strong sense of power and security.  And they are all things that can and have been used as weapons against other people.

The assault rifle is an obvious symbol of power and security, a weapon that can be used to protect her, guard her possessions, and defend her “rights”.

To many people, the American flag is a symbol of yes, freedom, but it also conveys strength and power.  To some people the flag is a symbol of what’s known as American exceptionalism, that the United States is above all other countries in the world, that God has given us a special blessing and mission.

It goes beyond being proud to feeling superior.  And this attitude gives people a sense of security and sometimes arrogance in being American.

So what do we make of the Bible in the picture?  Well, some Christians who live in this country believe that the United States is a Christian nation, and they derive security in seeing Christianity as the predominant and most powerful religion in the country.

And they love to have influence and power in the political sphere.

And sometimes we use the Bible as a weapon to beat people over the heads with.

It’s easy to see how the picture with the assault rifle, the Bible and the American flag can be attractive to so many people, even Christians.  It’s what’s behind this idea of Christian nationalism, and it appeals to some basic aspects of human nature, just like Satan’s temptations to Jesus did.

But like Satan’s temptations to Jesus, these are false securities because they are not God’s ways—they put their trust in other things than in God, and as a result, they produce people who hold onto things for themselves rather than being generous with other people.

So how do we move from a false sense of security that causes us to hold tightly onto our power and our privilege and our possessions to being people who are generous with all that we have?

Well I believe that Jesus’ experience in the wilderness shows us that generosity grows out of a right relationship with God, a relationship where God is our ultimate source of security, a relationship where we trust God to provide for us and to lead us.

And trusting God to be our security invites us to release some things that we are holding on to tightly, and be willing to release them, so we can receive a new thing that God has for us, and then share it generously with others.

Our Lent materials put it this way:  God’s way is to release in order to receive.

Henri Nouwen calls it having an openhanded posture toward life.  In fact one of his first books was called “With Open Hands”, encouraging us to pray and to live with open hands rather than clenched fists.  It’s giving up control and trusting that God is in control.

Nouwen says, “Such an openhanded posture may mean releasing our hold on certain prejudices.  We are asked to surrender to a vision of God and God’s people greater than we now know.  We may have to release some boxes that can no longer hold the breadth of God’s truth.”

How can we grow into a vision of God and God’s people that is greater than what we now know, with open hands, and become more generous in the process?

Let me suggest a few things, and maybe it will spur you to think of some other things as well.

First, let us commit to be a people of prayer.  We learned a lot about prayer in the past several weeks through the book on prayer that we read together.  Now let’s open our hands and our hearts in a spirit of dependence on God and the confidence that God hears us and responds to us when we pray.

Next, as a people of peace, let’s put our trust and security in Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace, who showed us the way of peace.  Jerome gave us some practical ways to be interrupters of violence in his sermon a couple of weeks ago, ways to be generous with the gift of peace that Jesus modeled for us.

Another way we can grow in generosity as God’s people is by opening ourselves up to learning from people who are different from ourselves.  We can get so secure and set in our own ways, that we close ourselves off from others at the same time.

We are blessed here at DRPC to have people from so many different cultures and countries, and Christian traditions.  Let’s really make an effort to listen to each other’s perspectives and learn from one another.

Let’s also open ourselves up more to dialogue with people of other faiths.  I recently started a dialogue about faith with Rukhsar, one of our Afghan friends.  I had the opportunity to start a conversation about Christianity and Islam with her, exchanging books to read.

Let’s also have a generous attitude about our faith, about what we believe. Let’s give it permission to break out of the confined boxes we have put it in, and be willing to grow into new ways of understanding God and faithfulness in today’s world.

The latest issue of Anabaptist World came yesterday.  The cover article is about Ukraine, specifically Mennonite presence in Ukraine in the past and currently.  I encourage you to read it if you get a chance.

The magazine also has an article called “Confessional or Creedal” by Melissa Florer-Bixler, pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church.

Anabaptists and Mennonites have a Confession of Faith instead of Creeds.  Bixler says that “Creeds are binding and forever.  Confessions are living documents because the church is alive, growing in faithfulness to Jesus Christ.  In a changing world, it makes sense to revise it.”

She gives the example of the 1963 revision, written in the midst of the civil rights movement, added the commitment to “witness against racial discrimination, economic injustice and all forms of human slavery and moral degradation.”

When I was pastoring in San Antonio in the 90’s, there was a revision that came out in 1995.  I remember many Sunday School hours when we would work through the different articles of faith.

Then a committee in the Mennonite Church took all the comments from churches across the US and Canada and discerned where the HS was leading the Church at that point in time, and that led to the 1995 Confession of Faith.

Now this coming Memorial Day Weekend there will be a special delegate session in Kansas City that I will attend as our congregation’s representative to discern some issues that might lead to a new revision of the C of F.

It seems to me that a confessional approach to faith is a generous approach.  To use Henri Nouwen’s words, it is an openhanded posture toward the Bible instead of seeing the Bible as a weapon.

Instead of using what we believe as a litmus test,  Florer-Bixler says, it is a description of a living church.  Our confession of faith provides “guidelines, guidance, a foundation for unity, and an outline for instructing new members, and an updated interpretation of belief and practice in the midst of changing times.”

We can gather for the holy work of asking what the Holy Spirit says to us and where God is leading is as we read the Bible together.

Since I’ve come to Daniels Run Peace Church, I’ve been impressed with the   generosity of this congregation in so many ways.  People are generous with their time, their financial resources, and with this building.

This church also shows hospitality to people outside of our circle, as we have been doing with our new Afghan neighbors.

And I also see a generous approach to faith as well.  This church meets people where they are at and doesn’t try to coerce or shame or guilt people into adopting a long list of beliefs.  Rather, it gives people room to question, to wonder, and to wrestle with who Jesus is and what it means to follow him.  Let’s keep doing this.

With everything going on in the world right now, it feels like we are in a wilderness, grasping for things that give us security, control and hope.

Like Jesus did, let’s put our trust in God, with the confidence that He will provide all that we need not only for ourselves but to open our hands, hearts and our lives to share generously with those around us.  AMEN.