This morning I’m filling in at Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Lake George, NY. Here’s the sermon:
“Give to everyone who begs from you.”
— Matthew 5:42
Last week, after I left here, I went home and packed my bags and headed off for New York City.
Our family has taken a three day trip to New York every Presidents Day for seven years. My wife, Brooke, takes a group of teenagers from churches across the state to the UN.
They meet at the Church Center and learn what life is like for kids in other parts of the world.
They’ve learned about child soldiers in Uganda. They’ve learned about children being bought and sold as slaves to work on Cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast for Hershey and Nestle. They’ve learned about education for girls in Afghanistan.
While Brooke and the teenagers are holed up at the UN, Silas and I go touring around the city.
Grand Central Station is three blocks from the hotel, so we can go anywhere. We have a good time.
This year, every time we went through Grand Central, I thought of Sasha Dichter.
You’ve probably never heard of Sasha Dichter.
Sasha Dichter is this guy. The first thing you probably noticed about him is he’s bald. He’s Michael Jordan bald. Only he’s a white guy.
What you can’t tell from the picture is that Sasha’s the Michael Jordan of the Non-Profit Charitable Fundraising world. He raises money the way Michael played basketball. He raises hundreds of millions of dollars every year for the Acumen Fund.
The Acumen Fund is a charitable fund that invests its money in third world business projects.
There’s a guy in India who figured out how to use empty soda bottles as solar light bulbs for those shanties you see all over the Indian hillsides. Acumen invests in his business installing soda-bottle light bulbs. He becomes a wild success. People in the shanties have light in their homes and their lives are exponentially improved. (Imagine having to live in a house with no windows and no light bulbs.)
Last year in Kenya, they used $600,000 to start a hospital. It’s the only hospital around that offers diagnostic care. Most people can’t pay the cost of hospital treatment. It’s Kenya. They offer low-cost treatment in the same location. You can’t even get that in the states.
Sasha raises millions of dollars for projects like this. He’s a great success. He could probably afford to live on Park Avenue and take a limo to work.
Instead, every day he takes the subway to Grand Central. Then he gets on a Citibike, one of those bicycles you can rent just outside the west balcony, and pedals to his office.
As Silas and I were jostling our way through the crowd on Tuesday morning, I found myself on the alert. Maybe I’d see him. Maybe I’d get the chance to tell him what a huge fan I am of his work.
But you’d be surprised how many bald men are walking through Grand Central during the Tuesday morning rush. I guess I missed him.
Last February, Sasha did a little experiment. Every day, several times on his way to and from work, there would be someone, some homeless guy, some wino, whoever. These people would be panhandling on the street somewhere. Or they’d get on the subway at one stop and hit up everyone in the car for spare change before getting off at the next stop.
Sasha was raising millions of dollars. Every time someone asked him for change, he’d say no. Because that’s what you do when you’re on the subway. You just say no. Like Nancy Reagan.
Saying no was wearing him down. He spent a lot of time thinking about giving away money. If anyone knew all the arguments why you say no to people asking for change on the subway, he knew them all.
“You’re just enabling them to buy more booze.”
“Your spare change isn’t going to get them what they really need, which is mental health care, treatment for addiction, and a roof over their heads.”
“If you give one bum a quarter, you’ll have a reputation among all of them for being an easy target.”
The list goes on. You know how it goes. Sasha knows that list better than anyone.
“I knew I was supposed to say no,” he wrote. “But constantly saying no started making me feel less human.”
So one day last February, he decided that he was going to try for a month just saying yes.
Whenever someone asked him for change, or even for a couple bucks, he just gave it to them. No questions asked. If he had whatever they were asking for on him at that moment, he gave it to them.
One day, as I recall the story, someone in the subway asked him for $30. He gave it to him.
At the end of his month long experiment, he reported that he felt much better. Not because he was gloating about having done something altruistic. It was because saying yes to another human being you’re face to face with is more life-affirming than saying no.
That’s the story. He didn’t do it because Jesus said, “Give to everyone who begs from you.” He did it because he said he felt more human.
He didn’t do it because of what Jesus said. But what he did confirms the truth of what Jesus said.
Over and over again, Jesus says, “Don’t the Gentiles do this?” Which is his way of asking, why would you settle for being just another cog in their machine when you can be human?
Why do you always have to ask, “What’s in it for me?” Don’t you already have enough? Why do you have to get something out of it?
Popular psychology has a lot to say about how we all carry baggage.
We carry the baggage of our parents mistakes. We carry the baggage of failed relationships. We carry baggage from the disappointments of life’s unfulfilled promises.
All around us, advertisements claim that we can fill the void with stuff. Work hard, get ahead, get rich. Every man for himself.
We’ve gone beyond the mere retaliation of Jesus’ time. Back then it was “an eye for an eye.” Now we have pre-emptive strikes and stand your ground.
We’ve collected not just psychological baggage, but plenty of real, physical baggage as well. So much stuff, we pay extra to rent self-storage units. Instead of owning our stuff, now our stuff owns us. Instead of sharing our blessing, we’re told to hoard it and defend it.
With all our stuff, all our saying no, like Sasha we’ve become less human. We need to start giving our stuff away.
Jesus offers us the ultimate guide to getting rid of our baggage.
“If anyone wants your coat, give them your cloak as well.” We should not shoot people who want to take our stuff. We should say, “Thank you for helping me get rid of all this stuff.”
“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go the second mile also.” Instead of cursing the inconvenience, we should be thankful because we need the exercise.
“Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” Because the value of a person is not measured by her credit rating. Of course, she’s not going to pay you back. She just needs to feed her kids tonight.
Oh, and just one more thing about that last line: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
A lot of people think this means we’re supposed to be like God. It doesn’t.
“Be perfect,” means “be perfectly you.” Be as perfectly the human being you’re supposed to be, the way God is perfectly as God is supposed to be. If you’re trying to be God, you’re doing it wrong. You can’t carry God’s baggage. If you’re trying to carry God’s load, you have Jesus’ permission to put it down now.