Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Generosity”

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity: “Generosity”
A Message on Acts 20:32-35

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
October 15, 2017
By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

Acts 20:32-35

 

32 And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. 35 In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

 

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Once there was a little boy who attended church with his mother. She gave the boy a dollar bill and instructed him to put it in the offering plate when it came by. Later on in the service the plate came down the aisle and stopped in front of the boy. He was holding the dollar over the plate but the mom could tell that he didn’t want to let go of it. She leaned over to him and said, “Drop that dollar bill. It’s tainted.” The boy reluctantly obeyed and dropped the dollar in the plate.

 

Later the boy asked his mom, “Why was that money tainted? Did you mean it was dirty?”

 

“No,” the mother replied. “I said that because that dollar ‘taint yours and it ‘taint mine, it’s God’s.”

 

Today is commitment Sunday, where we are asked to turn in our pledge cards with an estimate of our giving for the coming year so that we can prepare a budget for the coming year.

 

When it comes to giving to the church we are sometimes like that little boy: we are reluctant to let go of the dollars. We forget to remind ourselves that our money really “‘taint” ours anyway, but God’s.

 

We are concluding our sermon series on Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, written by Adam Hamilton, and today we’re going to look at the subject of generosity.

 

In the scripture from Acts that we read today we find Paul talking to the elders in the city of Ephesus. He is saying his goodbyes to them because he knows that he will never see them again. And as part of his parting speech he gives them some advice: financially support those who are unable to support themselves, the weak in their society.

 

And then he quotes Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than receive.”

 

Now some critics of the Bible will point out that none of the gospels in the Bible quote Jesus as saying that. But we have to remember that the gospel writers didn’t write down every single word that Jesus said, so it is very likely that Jesus did say that but that the gospel writers just failed to write it down. Nonetheless, Paul says Jesus said it, and that’s good enough for me.

 

It really is more blessed to give than receive, isn’t it? Don’t we feel good when we give someone a gift that they appreciate. Sure, it’s great to get gifts, too, but if you really want to warm your heart give someone to someone else.

 

Adam Hamilton points out in his book an experience he had when he and his family celebrated his birthday by going camping in the Teton mountains near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The had arrived at their destination and went into the town of Jackson Hole. He gave each of his daughters $20 to spend and emphasized to them that was all they were going to receive and to spend it wisely.

 

Well it wasn’t long until one of his daughters, Rebecca, found a baseball cap she really liked. She asked her dad what he thought of it, and he said he liked it but tried to talk her into postponing the purchase until they looked in some other shops because she might find something she liked better. She said she didn’t care, that she wanted that cap and that she wouldn’t want anything else.

 

So she bought the cap. They finished their shopping, took a walk around a lake, and then sat down on a picnic bench to watch the sunset. It was at that moment that Rebecca took out the cap she had bought, gave it to her dad, and said, “Daddy, I bought this for you. I love you. Happy birthday.”

 

Rebecca had taken the money that her father had given her and used it not on herself, but to buy her dad a present.

 

That, folks, is generosity.

 

Let me give you another example, one that I know personally. Pat Morchat and her husband Art are friends of ours who live up near Kilgore. We attended church at St. Luke’s in Kilgore together before I went into the ministry.

 

Pat is always a joy. She taught art at the high school (she is retired now) and is quite the artist herself. She has a great sense of humor and is very charming.

 

This past year another member of that church, Wilbur Yates, had some serious health problems. His kidneys weren’t working properly and he became a candidate for a transplant.

 

Pat had heard of Wilbur’s situation during a couple of church services last fall and felt that she needed to do something, but she didn’t. After the second mention she turned to her husband Art and told him, “I KNOW I’m a match for him.” But still she was hesitant to do anything about it

 

After a few weeks the Christmas movies started playing, telling of the life of Jesus Christ. Pat found it very difficult to watch them. This is what she wrote in a letter:

 

“I told Art to turn them off, especially when ‘The Passion’ was played. I remember crying as I watched Jesus being tortured and beaten and just so horribly abused. I asked myself then, crying so hard, if God let this happen to his Son for us, how could I not give a kidney to another child of God who needed help.”

 

Pat started the donor process a few weeks later. It took until June of this year for it to be finalized.

 

Pat was a match. And so the day of surgery was set, and on Wednesday, July 5 of this year the doctors took one of Pat’s perfectly healthy kidneys and surgically implanted it into Wilbur. And it worked.

 

Her friends celebrated by having a “going away” party for her kidney,  complete with a “Hello Kidney” cake and cans of kidney beans.

 

Now I don’t know how much human anatomy you may know but the kidneys are deep in the middle of our bodies. There’s no easy way for doctors to get there. As a result, recovery is painful and takes quite a while.

 

And yet this woman was willing to go through all of that just to give someone else the possibility of leading a normal life. That, friends, is generosity.

 

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, knew about generosity. John made quite a bit of money in his day, often from the sales of his books. (One of his best sellers was Primitive Physic, a guide containing home remedies for physical ailments.)

 

And John gave almost all of it away. Not 10 percent, but almost all of it.

 

In his sermon on “The Use of Money,” he asks Christians to remember that God “placed you here not as a proprietor, but a steward.”

Wesley was very frugal. He didn’t believe in having a bunch of fancy furniture. He offered suggestions of how much meat to have a day, about six ounces if I remember correctly. (That’s per day, not per meal!) Simple meats, vegetables, and fruits were his preference for meals, and only water to drink.

 

When he’s talking about clothing, he doesn’t mean a trip to the mall with the charge card. He believed in plain, simple clothing, and later in his life even expressed regrets that he didn’t come up with a dress code for Methodists.

 

Some of you may not know this but Wesley believed it was healthy to take cold baths. Yep. Cold baths. He said it was for health reasons, and that may be true, but I believe that’s only part of the story. I think he took cold baths because by doing so it saved on the purchase of coal, which was burned to heat the water. And by saving money on coal, he had more he could give to the poor. Which he did.

 

The Bible is very clear that we are to generous. Listen to these words from 2 Corinthians: “The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us…” (2 Corinthians 9:6-11)

 

In Proverbs we read, “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)

In our culture we have a problem with possessions. We want them, and when we get them we hang on tightly to them. They are ours. We become like a two-year-old with a toy, gripping it tightly and screaming, “MINE!”

 

We forget that we are only passing through this world. We’re renters in this world. We can’t take it with us.

 

We are reminded of who the ultimate owner really is in this scripture from the Old Testament: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” (Leviticus 25:23)

Here are some other scriptures about generosity: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)

“…give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38)

Even outside the Bible we can find some good theology about generosity. There is even a bumper sticker that says, “Tithe if you love Jesus. Anyone can honk.”

When it comes to giving to God it often feels like we are swimming against the strong current of or society. Society wants us to focus on the “me,” while God wants us to focus on “Thee.” We think about being generous, but then we come up with excuses as to why we can’t just now. And what God gets are then whatever we might have left over, and usually that’s not very much if any at all.

 

In his book Adam Hamilton uses an illustration created by David Slagle, pastor of Veritas Church in Decatur, Georgia, that is a great way to look at this phenomenon.

 

Let’s imagine that God has given us ten apples, which represent our wealth or income. God tells us that nine of these apples are ours to enjoy. We are to use some to care for ourselves and for our families, some to save for retirement, and some to give away to others. But the tenth apple is holy to God. Giving this apple to God first, before we consume the other nine apples, is a way for us to express praise, love, obedience, faithfulness, worship, and devotion to God. This also serves to supply the resources for God’s purposes to be accomplished in the world through God’s church.

 

Slagle then notes that our lifestyles are such that, for many of us, nine apples are not enough anymore. We think, How can I pay the bills and have all the stuff I want with just nine apples? So we decide the Lord will not mind if we take just a little bit of his apple. After all, there’s that trip we want to take, and it’s really important. So we take a bite out of God’s apple—the one that is holy to God and meant to be used for God’s purposes. The Lord will understand, we think. Then Christmas comes and we don’t have enough money for all the presents we want to buy, so we take another bite out of God’s apple. One day a medical emergency catches us by surprise. Because we didn’t set aside money in an emergency fund, we must take another bite from God’s apple. Buying a new car, eating out, spending on this or that—each expense takes a bite out of the apple that belongs to God. Soon all that is left is the core. So we give the core to God and say, “Here’s your portion, Lord.” God receives not our first fruits or our best gifts, but our leftovers.

 

What we give to God should not be leftovers. When we think of God’s generosity toward us, that Jesus Christ, his only son, died on the cross as atonement for our sins and to give us eternity in heaven, then God deserves the best we have to give.

 

God looks at our offerings differently than we do. For God they “are not financial transactions or business deals. Your offerings are a way of saying, ‘God, I’m returning to you a portion of what I have and what I’ve earned to say thank you and I love you. I hope you’ll use this somehow to make a difference in the world.’”

In just a moment we are going to come down to the altar and turn in our pledge cards and ministry menus. My challenge to you this week is to prayerfully search your heart and soul before you place your envelope in the basket. Pledge what God leads you to pledge.

 

God wants you to give “as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

 

Sarah Hugghins, our financial secretary, will probably kill me for this, but I don’t want you to pledge anything that God is not guiding you to give. If you don’t believe Paul’s words that it is more blessed to give than receive then turn in a pledge sheet with $0 written on it. And I’m serious.

 

I am also confident that won’t be the case. Let us be generous givers, and let us receive a blessing for giving.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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