For the last four weeks we have been talking about what it means to be a vital congregation - a congregation that is growing deeper in love with God and serving their neighbor in love. So far we have found that vital congregations have passionate worship, are radical in their hospitality, are intentional about faith development and engage in risk-taking mission and service. This week we conclude our sermon series by focusing on how vital congregations are extravagant in their generosity.
The Apostle Paul told the church in Corinth that they will be “enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” There are times of year that people naturally count their blessings and as a result are generous - we just celebrated two of them Thanksgiving and Christmas. But now, in the season following these holidays, we sometimes are not as intentional in our generosity.
A few months ago, well before the holidays, the ministerium (a group of local pastors representing congregations in the area) met with four wonderful groups in our area doing good mission work. Places like Interfaith Human Services and Community Action. When asked what the biggest need for us to take back to our congregations was, one of the service agencies said we need to remember that people are in need all year round. Her point was clear - while it is wonderful to be generous around the holidays, people need to be served the rest of the year as well. In my mind questions started to form as to to how we can cultivate a spirit of generosity amongst us.
I believe that one of the ways we honor God is to give of our resources. When we give, we live into the great commandment to love God with all we are and all we have and love our neighbor as ourselves in a tangible way. We practice being generous because it reflect the very nature of God, who was generous to us in every way - rich in mercy and making a way even to the cross for us to be richly blessed with the gift of salvation.
Think about some of the stories in scripture of how generous God has been to us. Abram, before he became Abraham, was able to rescue his nephew Lot from not one, not two, but four area kings who had banded together to plunder Sodom and Gomorrah, where Lot was living. He was able to recover all of the goods that had been plundered as well as Lot and his family. King Melchizedek was so grateful for what Abram had done that he gave him a tenth of all that was retrieved. But Abram would not accept any of the riches, because he had sworn that he would not take it so that the King would be able to say that he made Abram rich instead of God.
God gave Abram strength and courage to retrieve Lot. God gave the people of Israel the gift of the Sabbath, a complete day of rest and worship, after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. God made the earth and everything upon it for people to be stewards of. God gave the words of the priests and the prophets when the people of Israel strayed and God gave us the gift of the cross when we continued to go our own way. I have one lady who every time I ask her what she is joyful for she has a sizable list, starting with getting out of bed today. She truly sees and understands that everything we have been given is a good gift from God - a sign of God’s generosity towards us.
Yet, generosity can also make us uncomfortable at times. We worry that if we give out of the riches God has blessed us with that we will not have enough. Not enough to put into savings or retirement. Not enough for the things we want an d need. We worry about the present moment and the future. We worry that people aren’t worthy enough to be recipients of our generosity. Worried that people will mis-use our hard earned resources so we become hesitant in our giving.
We don't mean to be hesitant in our generosity - it just happens from time to time. John Wesley was concerned that the people called Methodists could become so frugal in their saving that it would distract them from being able to give in the present. Certainly there is nothing wrong with saving, but Wesley did not want people to be able to look back and have regrets that they were not living faithfully in the present.
The truth is we give because we believe that our gifts, together, can make a difference and proclaim Christ’s name in a mighty way. In the gospel of Luke we find Jesus and his disciples in the temple. They notice a poor widow putting in a few small coins. He taught his disciples that she gave a true gift, because she literally gave her all. God isn’t asking us to give everything we have in order to be generous, but lets be honest, how many of us struggle just to give ten percent because we think its too much? And here is the widow giving her last coins. She didn’t believe that her coins alone could do much, but coupled with the gifts of others giving their all, they truly could change the world. This is also why I appreciate shares of ministry as United Methodists - our gifts join United Methodists around the world to change lives in ways we may not be able to or may not have even though of as local congregations.
The generosity of the church is counter cultural. It stands up against the idea that happiness is to be found in accumulation and instead proclaims that sacrificial giving changes hearts and changes lives - which can be a source of true joy. It is not so much about what you have as what you do with what you have in order to bless others.
In a study between resources and happiness, it was found that people, no matter what their income said that they would need 20 percent more in order to be happy. So for the person making 25,000$ a year they said they needed 5,000$ more to be happy. And the person making $50,000 a year said they needed $10,000 more to be happy and so on and so forth. We have ether ability to tell people that money is not the root of happiness, and instead we called to not ask how much more we need but rather, how much more we are called to give. Its a spiritual issue folks.
We are told that the early disciples “sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Why did they do that? Well first, they believed that Jesus was coming back soon. Very soon. As in any day now - so they didn’t need a savings plan. Second, they believed that being generous could change lives. Do we still believe that today, brothers and sisters? Do we still uplift the power of generosity?
We are invited to not only be generous but to be extravagantly generous! To practice giving that exceeds all expectations. When we give we and give extravagantly we given blessed opportunities to share with others the love of Jesus Christ. To tell others that we give because God has already given us the greatest gift imaginable. To share about the power of God.
Friends, we have much to give - not just money, but our very lives. Stories of how God has touched us. Service we can give in the name of Jesus. We have the life changing power of God inside of us, and that should propel us to be generous! Let us go forth from this place, in the power of Jesus name, to use what we have to touch hearts and lives! Amen.