A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sermon (October 14) - "Extravagant Generosity: Declarations of the Heart"

    I’ve been enjoying our four week church-wide journey as we’ve been focusing on the theme, Extravagant Generosity.  So many of you have been sharing personal examples of where you have experienced sacrificial giving thanks to someone who was generous on your behalf.
    I’d like to share a personal story as well.  My dad loved to go deer hunting in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.  He even bought a little hunting cabin in that area of the state when I was still in school.
     It was an annual ritual to head up to the mountains on the Sunday after Thanksgiving so that we would be ready for the opening morning of the new deer season.  I always enjoyed going up to the mountains.  But what I didn’t like was getting up at 4 on that early Monday morning which was always bitterly cold.
     It didn’t matter how many layers of clothing and coats I wore.  I knew that in less than two hours, I would be freezing there at my deer hunting post.  But this one year was the worst!
     We had been walking a long time on the frosty ground, wading across small creeks, and going against the chilly mountain wind.  When I finally made it to my spot to watch for deer, I noticed that my feet were already really cold, bitterly cold.  I was probably wearing three pairs of insulated socks so I knew there was a problem.
     When I found dad, I told him that my feet were freezing.  He could see that my one of my boots had a hole in it.  I took it off and discovered that my socks were soaking wet from walking through the little streams of water during the cold morning hours.
    My dad then switched boots with me.  He gave me his good ones and he wore my pair with holes in them.  I knew that dad was cold too, but he sacrificed so that I would be warm.
     This story always brings a smile to my face because that’s who dad was.  He was always thinking of others first.  To help me remember dad and this hunting story from my child hood, I have kept those hunting boots that he gave to me that day.
      These boots are a symbol for me of God’s extravagant giving.
      These kinds of examples help us to see that giving is in our nature.  It’s a God given quality from our birth.
     Probably the most well known verse in the bible is a verse about giving.  John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
     The whole mission of Jesus was that he gave himself totally for the sake of the world.  He died on a cross to offer salvation and redemption to the world.  Jesus was always giving.  As the embodiment of God, Jesus was showing us that God is a giving God.  And as the perfect human being, Jesus was showing that we too have been created in God’s image to be a people who are giving and generous.
     Giving is part of the character of God. Bishop Schnase puts it this way in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Living:
We give because we are made in the image of God, whose essential nature is giving. We are created with God’s nature imprinted on our souls; we are hard-wired to be social, compassionate, connected, loving, and generous.
     The entire teaching of the 2 Corinthians passage leading to verse 24 is about giving. Paul concludes that giving is proof or evidence of our love of God. God doesn’t force us to be generous. When we truly accept the generous gift of God’s love, our only possible response is to live and to give generously.
     Rev. George Cooper, the Council on Development Director of our West Ohio Conference shared this story of extravagant generosity with me back in April.  When he was a pastor in the East Ohio conference, he and his wife would eat lunch out after church on Sundays.  They chose a restaurant that was a little out of the way, but it was quiet and they had good food.
     The person who waited on them was really nice, so George and his wife left a really nice tip of $10 for a $14 meal.  When George and his wife returned to the same restaurant the next Sunday, this same waiter gave them a coupon for a free meal.
     When George asked why, the waiter said, “Well, you gave me such a nice tip the last time that my manager wanted to do something nice for you and that’s why I’m giving you this free lunch coupon.”
     So this time, George and his wife gave the waiter a $20 tip.
     Next Sunday, they return to the restaurant and the waiter offers them another free meal coupon.  And George said, “You don’t have to keep doing this.  We just appreciate your service so much.”  And the waiter said, “But my manager wants to keep being nice to you with these free lunch coupons.”
     Here’s the point that George was making in telling this story.  Extravagant generosity is contagious.  When you share generously with others, it has a ripple effect.  Generosity becomes a lifestyle, a way of life.
     This past summer when we had the really bad storm and so many people lost power, I saw example after example of people who offered to help others. 
     A neighbor across the street who isn’t a member of our church brought his chain saw to help with a tree that had fallen on the street.  An eight year old girl and dad who attend our church stopped by to see if they could help.  They wanted to clean up around our church even though they didn’t have any electricity in their own home.  Deep down inside each of us is this desire to give back.  I am convinced that a big part of being human is a desire to be extravagant givers and to be a blessing to others.
     We’re going to conclude our church wide focus today with an invitation to declare our hearts for this coming year.  During these past four weeks, we have been giving all of our focus to how giving flows from the heart.
     Many of us have received our 2013 Estimate of Giving forms in the mail this past week.  These commitment forms are more than accounting reports.  Each form represents a declaration of our heart as we offer all that we are to Christ and his church.
     A little later in the service, we’re going to invite you to place your completed commitment form in one of the special baskets nearest you.  Just think of how our declarations of the heart will lead our church into greater fruitfulness in ministry this coming year.
     As we prepare to make our 2013 church commitments, I’m reminded of a story told by famous radio personality, Garrison Keillor. A letter was sent from a church to those members who were not present on Pledge Dedication Sunday and therefore did not fill out their pledge cards: "Dear Ann and Joe: We missed you last Sunday which was Pledge Sunday. Since you were not present to fill out your pledge card and to make it easy for you, we have completed a pledge card for you. Thank you for being so generous. Signed, Your Finance Committee"
     Giving generously is part of who we are as people who are created in God’s image.  We give because Christ has given so generously to us.  Giving really is a matter of the heart.

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