Zoom Meeting Sermon March 26 2023

 Topic: Giving Money to Broke People

I am, by nature, a very generous person. Some of you already know this. Not only do I give and lend money to my friends and family, I also donate to charities and even give money to people begging on the sidewalk. Now, there is a school of thought that you should never give money to broke people, because they might spend it on something you disapprove of. I have been advised instead to go buy them food. Let me explain the problems with that, and why I will continue to give money to poor people.

First of all, there are very few things of which I genuinely disapprove, and then only mildly. I would never judge or condemn somebody for doing those things, even though I personally find them distasteful and would prefer not to do them myself. Opiate painkillers are a good example: I know they are addictive and can be dangerous, so I turn to other pain relief methods. But if others are suffering such pain that they need those drugs, it is not my place to tell them otherwise. So I do not care what the broke man on the sidewalk needs the money for. I am not going to ask, and I am certainly not going to assume anything. If he just needs money for cigarettes, if he wants to buy food, or if he wants to buy wine and spray paint and have a little party, even if he is trying to buy heroin, it is nothing to me. I am not qualified to judge another’s suffering, nor am I qualified to decide for him what will alleviate his suffering.

Secondly, it is not my responsibility to purchase food for a stranger. I do not know what kind of food he likes or needs, I do not know if he has any allergies or sensitivities, and I do not know if he is a vegetarian or vegan. I do not know his dental situation or if he could even eat something crunchy like an apple. What if I buy him a ham sandwich and he is Jewish? There is no such thing as a "universal food." Much easier just to trust that, if he wants to buy food, he can buy it for himself. He is an adult, not a little kid who will only blow it on candy, and I am not his caretaker. He did not ask me to go grocery shopping for him, he asked me for money. To determine what kind of help you think somebody deserves is a violation of the third Core Tenet of the Path regarding bodily autonomy; it takes away their self-determination.

I also will not make assumptions about why a person is broke. I have been broke, through no fault of my own and certainly not because of a substance abuse disorder. Although I was lucky enough never to have to beg, it has been a very near thing a few times in my life. I have also been homeless before, so I remember the struggle. I remember the loss of dignity. I will not demean another human being by judging them unworthy of my help or by presuming to know what they need better than they do.

Last of all, my generosity does not come with conditions. Those of you in the congregation to whom I have loaned or given money may have noticed that I have never asked you what you needed the money for, nor will I. Because that is none of my concern. I barely care whether or not I am even paid back. Various people currently owe me over two thousand dollars. I may or may not see that money, but I am not going to hound anyone about it. My sole concern is that there is a human being who is suffering, and I can help. So I do. This is one of the ways in which I practice Compassion.

Do you often see people begging for money on the sidewalk? Have you made assumptions about them that may or may not be true?

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