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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sermon (October 26) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Living Generously: Sowing Seeds"

     Over the past several weeks, we have been thinking and praying about what it means to live generously.  Our theme today is sowing seeds of hope and love.
     Last Sunday, I told you about a time when I was in the fast food drive thru and paid for the car that was behind me. What I didn’t tell you was why I think God nudged me to do something nice in that moment.
      I think it was this past Spring when I pulled into a fast food drive for lunch. And no, it’s not like I eat fast food every single day. It’s more like every other day. Anyway, when I made it to the window, the worker told me that the person ahead of me paid for my order. This fast food employee was really impressed by this person’s generosity. She was so excited to tell me what this person had done for me.
      That person’s generosity not only made my day, but it also left a positive impression with this fast food worker. It also was one of the reasons why I felt nudged by God to do the same for somebody a couple of weeks ago. We take notice of when people are generous, don’t we? Living generously has a positive ripple effect.    

     Often times when Jesus healed someone or performed some miracle, we are told that the people were amazed and in awe. We are drawn to generosity.     Whenever somebody does something generous for us, it makes us want to do something kind for somebody else.
     Many years ago, I served as an Associate Pastor. Following one of the worship services, a woman gave Penny and me an envelope that was filled with cash. She said, “I heard that you will both be leading a retreat next weekend. This is to help pay your baby sitter while you’re away.”
     When we saw all of the twenty dollar bills in the envelope, we politely told her, “Oh my, we can’t accept this. This is a lot of money.” And she said, “Oh no. Please keep it. You’ll need it to pay your sitter and to buy meals for them. We know how expensive it can be.”
     We again thanked her and told her that this was just too much money for us to accept. I will never forget what this woman then said to us. She said, “Just take it. We’ve already prayed over this money. It’s not our money. It belongs to God. It’s part of our tithe offering to the church.”
     Now, how was I supposed to argue with God? And so, wee accepted the money and thanked her for her generosity.
     She later told me that she and her husband give ten percent of their money to the church and they set aside about two percent to be a blessing to help people whenever they see a need. They always have money to help others because they follow the biblical principle of tithing, giving ten percent to the work of Christ and his church.

     That act of generosity motived us to begin tithing and setting aside money to help people in the name of Christ. I share this story in my pre-marital counseling sessions with couples. We talk about the importance of not only saving money but also setting aside money to be a blessing to others.

     In our DVD story that we have been watching over the last four weeks, Frank Donovan and his family have embarked upon a spiritual journey learning about generosity. They have been learning about giving God their best and not just their leftovers.
     Though Frank did give to charitable groups, he realized through a crazy dream in a court room, that he was not putting God first. He was guilty of loving the bread more than the baker. And then, as his family helped out at a local soup kitchen, we all learned that a spoon is for feeding ourselves, while a ladle is for serving others.
          Frank was learning that people are valuable, and serving others in Jesus’ name is more than just writing a check. After Frank’s wife, Cassie, was mugged and hospitalized, Frank understood for the first time that his money he counted on for security, was only an imaginary wall. His gardener, Rea taught him that God is our strong tower and where we should place our trust.
     In today’s final episode, Frank is going to take some risks with his time, his talents, and his treasure. He is going to involve his entire family in making some decisions regarding their future generosity. Frank is going to sow some seeds and trust that God will grow them.
     Let’s watch the fifth and final episode of the Donovan family.
[Watch this video which is the concluding video telling the story of the  Frank Donovan family. Use the password, rhemedia to access the video.]
     If you have been watching these episodes in church each Sunday morning, you have probably noticed a significant change in Frank’s view of generosity. When he saw how others were experiencing joy in their lives by being generous, he wanted to become more generous as well.

     Sowing seeds of generosity is contagious. When you see someone being generous, it makes you want to become more generous.
     I think this is what the Apostle Paul was talking about in our Galatians scripture reading. Paul says that if we sow seeds to the God, we will reap eternal life. And if we’re patient, we will enjoy a wonderful harvest.
     After he says that, Paul goes on to encourage the Galatians by saying, “Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”
     Paul is telling us to do good whenever we have an opportunity. Our acts of generosity add up and are making an eternal difference. You might not have realized it at the time, but that one thing you did or said to help someone along in their faith was what they needed to not give up.
     Paul is telling us to keep sowing seeds of our faith. They will take root and they will grow and there will be a wonderful harvest.
     It is often said that there will be two questions that will be asked of us in heaven. The first question will be how did we respond to the invitation to receive the good news of Jesus Christ?
     In Matthew, chapter 13, Jesus shares a number of parables regarding the Kingdom of heaven. He talks about the kingdom of heaven like treasure hidden in a field and someone sells everything he has in order to buy that field. He also compares the Kingdom of Heaven to someone who comes across a fine pearl and is willing to sell everything in order to buy that pearl.
     The Kingdom of Heaven is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is the treasure in the field. It is the pearl that is priceless.
     How have we responded to the good news of Jesus Christ?
     But it’s also been said that there’s a second question we will be asked in heaven. That question is, what did we do with the gifts that God gave us? Did we share them with the people around us or did we keep them to ourselves?
     Jesus tells us that even if we sow a tiny mustard seed into the ground, the smallest of all the seeds, it will grow to became a tree where even the birds of the air will be able to make their nests.
     Many of us are aware of the incredible stories of faith about Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity who have worked with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India.
     Mother Teresa was 36 years old when she was riding a train in India and experienced a call within a call to help the poorest of the poor. Just think of how many people the Sisters of Charity have helped in the 133 countries where they are now located?
     Mother Teresa had very little resources when she began her ministry but in 1979, she won the Nobel Peace Prize and has spoken with dignitaries from around the world. The world takes notice when we sow the seeds of the good news of Jesus Christ. It just goes to show that you don’t have to have a lot of resources to make an impact on the people around you. All you need is a little faith, even the size of a mustard seed.
     In a few moments, we are going to be invited to bring our completed 2015 Living Generously cards forward to the nearest station and place in the basket. These were sent out to our congregation this past week. We have extra forms in the pew pockets if you need one. If you are a guest this morning, we certainly do not expect you to complete one of these cards. This is a commitment that our church makes around this time every year as we prepare for a new year of ministry.
     As we come forward to hand in your Living Generously card, I want you to use your imagination a little bit. I want you to imagine that your 2015 Living Generously card is really a handful of seeds that you are planting to help grow God’s kingdom.
     We are all called to sow a variety of seeds. Seeds like serving in a new ministry to help people know that God loves them. Seeds like making a financial estimate of giving to help our many ministries grow and flourish.  For some of us, these seeds will represent our desire to give 10% or more of our income or what the bible refers to as the “tithe” to the work of Christ and his church. For others it might mean growing closer to tithing this year. All of us have seeds to plant for this coming year of ministry at First United Methodist Church.
     Just think what a difference it will make in our community as we the sow the seeds that God has given us. That’s a powerful thought. Just think of the harvest that we will enjoy a year from now or maybe two years from now or even farther down the road as we intentionally sows seeds of love and hope, right here in church this morning.

     Let’s think of 2015 as a year for sowing seeds, a year of living generously.

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