The Generous Community
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We’ve come to an end at our look at the church to start the year. We’ve looked at our call to be a peculiar community, to be hopeful, serving, reconciling, encouraging. This morning we’re looking at generosity.
You may be thinking “Here we go with the money talk.” It can make us uncomfortable for sure, and I’ve said before I can’t see me ever standing up here and demanding money. Things can get weird when money is involved for sure. Of course when we’re talking about generosity and giving of things and of ourselves, we’re not just talking about money. We’re talking about our time. “Time is money” goes the saying. This is just a wrong way of looking at time. We’re talking about our gifts, our talents. In his book, James Bryant Smith talks about being generous with our souls – our ability to create, to encourage to uplift.
As we’ve been going through these weeks we’ve been talking about what we’re not called to be. There are attitudes that work directly against generosity. There is the attitude that says “God helps those who help themselves.” Some people think that this is in the Bible. It’s not. The quote is attributed to Benjamin Franklin. It says basically that people need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
The second is a zero sum way of looking at our time, our gifts, our money. It’s a way of looking at things in terms of “If I give some away then I have less, and I need to hang onto as much as I can.” Tied into this is the attitude that says “I earned this – this is mine.”
We always need to start with God. With who God is, with what God has done. This is what Paul does in his letter to the Corinthians. In chapters 8 and 9 he’s talking about a collection of money for the Jerusalem church. They were in dire straits financially. It’s interesting that in making this appeal Paul does not describe their situation or tell stories about it – which he was probably able to do. This is how we make appeals for money often isn’t it? We lay out the reason for the need, accompanied by photos and stories. This is not the way that Paul starts.
He starts with grace. The grace of God was granted to the churches of Macedonia. The same grace that the church in Corinth has known. The same grace that we have known. Paul puts it like this in v 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.” For sure there was an element of poverty to Jesus’ life on earth, living as an itinerant teacher as he did. But there’s something else going on here. In coming to meet us, in coming among us as God with us in his life and death and resurrection, Jesus has done something for us that we could not do for ourselves.
This is the generous act of God. We see Jesus going about his time on earth helping people who could not help themselves – the blind, the lame, the diseased, the despised, the outcast. This is the generosity of God. God did this not because anyone was deserving. He makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. The Psalmist writes “You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.” We say “Teach us to live as people with open hands.” It’s in opening our hands that we let go of things for sure. It’s also by living with open hands that we are able to receive things – that the riches of God’s grace and mercy and love and generosity may infuse our very beings. That we may be transformed. Note that Paul does not set out any rules about giving here. We read that the people of Macedonia gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, and counted it as a privilege to share in this ministry because that’s what giving is – a ministry. A reflection of the work of God in Christ.
Paul used the example of the Macedonian churches in his letter. I’ve asked a couple of people to talk about their own experiences with the generosity of God and how this has changed them. While it’s hard to talk about oneself in this way, remember that we don’t boast in our own efforts, but what God does in us.
In the book that we’ve been looking at throughout these weeks, James Bryant Smith talks about a very practical way to leave ourselves open to the generous nature of God working in us and through us. He talks about creating margins. Normally we think of margins in terms of profit – maximizing revenue and minimizing expenditure to create maximum margins. Smith talks about creating margins with our resources. Being frugal in the sense of being prudent about how and where we are spending our time, our money, our talents. In order to be able to give of these things, we must have the margin which will enable us to give.
To consider on what we are spending our time. Is there something we could cut back on? Screen time perhaps? Use the time to bless others, being present with them. To consider on what we’re spending our talents, our gifts. What we’re good at. Sometimes being frugal might mean saying “No” to things. As Smith puts it, “You cannot be on every committee, help every friend, sing in every praise group.” I remember a young friend once asking me if I could be his mentor, meet regularly. I was in the middle of school, work, things I was involved with at church. I had to tell him that I didn’t have time. I felt awful! What a thing to tell someone. He understood though, and a couple of years later we did start getting together. You can’t do everything and you don’t have to.
Look to create margins with our spending. Are there things we could cut out? Some people have undertaken to go a year without buying anything non-perishable. Tough! Maybe try a month, or start with a week, see what happens. It’s all about making room to be generous.
In order that the generosity of God might be made known in us and through us. Friends as we go on from here into Lent and through the year, may we be a people who know ever more deeply in our hearts what it means to be set apart by God. To be a group of living stones being built into a spiritual house. May our eyes always be on the hope that is ours. May we be a people whose service reflects that of their Servant King. May we grasp ever more fully and completely that in Christ God was reconciling all things to himself, and be made agents of reconciliation. May we continue to encourage one another, and may the generous heart of our God inspire and fill each one of us. May these things be true for all of us.