November 10, 2013
“Joy Through Generosity”
The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray
6 For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. 7 Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return? Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. 11 I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
2 Corinthians 8:1-9
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5 and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6 so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you.
7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. 8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Imagine you are packing for a trip. You have your empty bag laid out before. You know how many days you will need clothes for, the weather, the activities you will be doing.
How do you know when you have enough stuff?
If you get everything in that you think you need, but there is still a little extra room, will you fill up the empty space with something you just might need?
Maybe you all are great packers, but this process stresses me out. How do I know that I’ve packed enough? What if it snows, what if it rains, what if there is a freak heat wave?
Dear God, help me not spends hours worrying about this, because I realize in the big picture it doesn’t really matter all that much.
I came across this phrase “the enough point” – I think it is a back-packing term – it is the point when you know that you have everything you need to survive, and your back-pack isn’t so heavy that it will make you fall over (that’s a rough definition I just made up). The enough point – I wish I just knew when I reached it.
Thanks to the stewardship team we’ve been living with this idea of generosity for over a month, and I knew this sermon was coming, so I’ve been contemplating for a while what makes a person generous – it isn’t something we are born with.
Children are born with almost no impulse control; everything they see belongs to them, and God help you if you try to take it away from them.
But then we learn generosity. Our parents and teachers tell us that we must share – we are not a big fan of that but everyone seems to be in on this. And then we fall in love with Jesus and discover a generosity growing within us that has nothing to do with people telling us it is the right thing to do – let them try and stop us from being generous – which is what Paul is witnessing in the Macedonian church:
“We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints”
And that kind of generosity happens because we discover exactly what Paul is talking about when he is writing this letter to the Corinthian church – we discover that Jesus, who had everything, poured himself out for us, so that we might have everything. And so we learn generosity from our Maker who did not withhold even his son, but gave him for us. We are generous because God has already out-given us. And that must be our starting place when we approach generosity – we are responding not out of guilt but out of love and gratitude.
And that is also the point of the Malachi passage – God is telling his people, in essence, “We are in this relationship and I have not changed, you are the ones who have been unfaithful – and this is how you have been unfaithful: I have given you everything and you have stopped giving back. Come back, I am waiting for you.”
There are lots of barriers to generosity.
Fear – we talked about that a couple weeks ago – we listen the narrative our minds create about what would happen if we tithed or we made a financial commitment to be generous and there wasn’t enough – to buy food, or pay the bills – and we don’t listen to the narrative that tells us what happens to our faith when we are unwilling to give. Donald Miller, the author of “Blue Like Jazz” shares about what it felt like when he learned how to tithe. This is what he writes, “Before, I felt like I was always going to God with my fingers crossed, the way a child feels around his father when he knows he has told terrible lies. God knew where I was, He didn’t love me any different when I was holding out on him, it’s just that I didn’t feel clean around Him, and you know how that can affect things . . . It is possible not to let possessions own me, to rest happily in the security that God, not money, can give. I have been feeling that a little lately.”
We fear not having enough. I think in order to awaken joyful generosity in our hearts we need to rediscover a theology of enough. In the book, The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne says, “We need neither the gospel of prosperity, nor the poverty gospel, but the gospel of abundance rooted in a theology of enough.”
When God was taking care of the Israelites in the desert God tells them to gather only what they will need for today – gather enough for one day. And when the Israelites were greedy and gathered too much maggots devoured the manna. And those who had much did not have too much. And those who had little did not have too little. Everyone had enough. “Give us this day our daily bread” – and that will be enough for us.
When we looked at Sabbath keeping a couple months ago, there are two reasons given for why we should keep the Sabbath – these are found in Exodus and Deuteronomy.
One reason is because we were slaves and now we are free people, and we honor the God who freed us by stopping – free people can choose to stop, slaves cannot.
The other reason is that God spent six days making the heavens and the earth and sea and all that is in them, and then he rested on the seventh day – not because he was tired, but because it was complete – it was enough.
Our faith tells us that our world, our lives are not meant to be endlessly productive – at some point, it is enough.
Sabbath keeping accomplishes a lot in our lives but I think one of the most crucial things is that it gives us a regular, desperately needed opportunity to look around us and for one day say, it is enough – do I, do we, really need more than this?
I’ve been paying attention to commercials ever since we talked about Sabbath keeping – because I can see how often commercials are selling me Sabbath, they are selling us “stopped” – the woman who gently sips a cup of coffee (from a fantastic new coffee maker) while resting in the sunlight – who does that? Nobody has time for that! A family sharing a relaxed meal of hamburger helper at the dinner table, smiling and enjoying each other’s company. Realistically how often does that happen? Thanksgiving, that’s when that happens.
Another thing I am profoundly aware of is that they are trying to sell me the idea that I do not have enough – you absolutely need “fill in the blank” – a better washer and dryer, one that gets out wrinkles (because heaven help us if there are wrinkles)– and a better coffee machine that makes a fancy drink like a barista – a car that will park and break for me.
We are fed a lie by the world that we do not have enough – you can’t truly be generous if you have no idea what your enough point is.
This is why I believe that tithing is so good for us – God intended generosity to be good for us. Because it causes us to look deeply at our lives and say, “this is enough” – and then give the rest away with joy.