“Delight in Giving”

September 16, 2012

 

Isaiah 55:1-13

II Corinthians 9:6-15

 

On many of the upcoming Sundays we’ll be hearing from the chairmen and chairwomen of our church boards, letting us know what we’re up to and what our hopes and plans for the next year are as we move toward our annual pledge campaign. There was no such presentation this morning—only this flyer in the bulletin, encouraging us to “Delight in Giving.”

That’s another translation of those words from Paul that we heard this morning: “God loves a cheerful giver.” In other words, “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”

How do we delight in giving? How do we become cheerful givers?

Many among us already know how—but let me suggest a few answers out of the scripture lessons that we heard this morning.

Following the devastating drought of this summer, when we still see the effects of those dry months, at a time when rain comes as a welcome surprise, we hear those words from Isaiah as a gentle reminder of the providence of God:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall…accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the think for which I sent it.

With these words Isaiah proclaims that we are the recipients of God’s great love and generosity. The prophet uses that image of rain and snow coming down from heaven, watering the earth, bringing seed and bread. And all of this hints at God’s ability to accomplish God’s purposes.

Sometimes in the middle of things it’s hard to see God’s care. When we make our way through a downpour, when we need to get out and shovel the snow, we should recall the end product—the care of all creation and our own well-being.

The rain comes down from heaven…and makes the earth bring forth and sprout.

The great 20th century activist and UCC minister, William Sloane Coffin, famously spoke about water and life. “In the Holy Land,” he said, “are two ancient bodies of water. Both are fed by the Jordan River. In one, fish play and roots find sustenance. In the other, there is no splash of fish, no sound of bird, no leaf around. The difference is not in the Jordan, for it empties into both, but in the Sea of Galilee: for every drop taken in one goes out. It gives and lives. The other gives nothing. And it is called the Dead Sea.”

Or as we sing each Sunday during the offering: “all blessings flow.” When receiving leads to giving, life flourishes.

And so we delight in giving.

It’s strange how other Christians act, isn’t it.

Lillian Daniel told about the offering at the Church of the Redeemer, a United Church of Christ Congregation that she once served out in New Haven, Connecticut. She said that in that congregation “the choir saves its biggest anthem for the collection of the weekly offering,” adding that she “sometimes suspects that the anthem is there not to draw attention to the offering but to distract us from it. The offering plates are passed apologetically, as people try not to see what others have put in. When the plates are brought to the altar, the prayers of thanksgiving praise God for many things but seldom for the dollars and cents in the plates, which are then carried to a tiny shelf behind the organ, out of sight.”[1]

I don’t know. We need to understand the delicate sensibilities of people in New England.

Here in Iowa City we line up the ushers and send them out among the rest of us. Often one or two children get in on the action—which is a wonderful, spontaneous addition to our worship in recent years. Yes, you’re probably not rubbernecking to see what your neighbor dropped in the plate, but when the ushers reach the back, all of us start singing. We bring those filled plates up here and with a pretty strong prayer that often as not includes the word “money,” we place them on the table in full view of everyone and then just leave that cash up here for the rest of the service for the whole congregation to see.

Maybe we’re just a little more robust. God loves a cheerful giver, and, really, we seem to be blessed with so many.

In the last two or three years, we’ve started to acknowledge as a congregation what most of us have known as individuals for some time—the spiritual side of giving. That is, we’re recognizing the surprising reality that each of us has a need to give, a need to respond to the free gifts of God by giving ourselves. We’ve come to acknowledge that we give for all sorts of reason, but, in general, people in this congregation don’t give to meet a budget. I mean, how inspiring are numbers on a piece of paper?

We give because people inspire us: theological students in South Africa, people rebuilding after the tornado in Joplin, men, women, and children looking for a meal at the Free Lunch Program or a place to sleep at Shelter House. We look for opportunities to show our compassion by giving.

We give because developing our congregation inspires us: nurturing our children in faith, feeding our own hungry hearts—as well as those of the rest of Iowa City—with music through the Sundays at Four program, providing a spiritual home for students while they are here. We want to develop our community by giving.

And yes, we give because this old building inspires us—not just the bricks and wood and glass, but the community it represents. This is a beloved place of worship, a spiritual home, a still point in the turning world. We have committed ourselves to this place and because of our generous giving we were able to start some of much needed work around here this past week. In future years we will hand our building on to a new generation of this congregation in great shape for a great future.

Budget figures alone generally don’t inspire our giving.

We are inspired by the compassion, caring, and community that we find here. Blessings flow from this place into a larger world and lives flourish—and we delight in giving.

Whenever I get into a serious discussion with a member about generous giving, they always want to know, “Why?” Why give so much?

The answer people seem to expect is that needs are increasing and our costs are going up.

But rather than beginning with our own needs, I begin my answer to this “why” question by affirming clearly that our Christian faith puts giving at a central point in our relationship with God. The biblical story is about receiving, using, and giving back, always following what we discover from the living God.

God gives to us so that we might give to others. We are not only receivers. We are all givers as well. And so stewardship is not an elective for people of faith; giving is not an optional activity.

We give because we have received—and often we have received more than we are ready to admit. God has given each of us time, potential, and opportunities so that our lives can fulfill a purpose, and at the same time, strengthen the work of Christ. God’s giving is not determined by our giving. God is the continual giver who waits for our response to those gifts.

We remember Paul’s words: “The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Paul is recommending a way of generosity in response to the generosity of God toward us. It is up to us, the members and friends of this congregation to give so that we might “share abundantly in every good work.”

Are you beginning to see that stewardship is more than a matter of how much we’re giving to the church each week? It's about how we are living each day. It’s part of how we learn to do good and seek justice.

Stewardship is a joyful response to the God who gives generously.

Certainly, be a steward of your finances.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, put it simply: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”  Good stewardship of our money requires that we make it and save it. It also requires that we give it away. As one person put it: “Giving should make some difference in how we as religious people experience life from day to day. If giving to your congregation is similar to writing a check at the end of the month to pay the phone or electric bill, and then forgetting about it until the end of the next month, you are not giving enough. Similarly, if you take spare change or a dollar or two from your pocket or purse for the weekly collection and never notice the difference, your giving has too little meaning either for you or your church.”[2]

Earn. Save. And give honestly, give generously, give regularly. Be a steward of your finances.

Be a steward of your time.

Examine how you use your time. Check your calendar—along with your checkbook, your calendar speaks volumes about what you think is important. Time is the great equalizer. Rich or poor, young or old, we all receive the same amount of time to use as we choose. We can’t earn it. We can’t save it. But we can give our time. Where do your values challenge you to change your calendar? Be a steward of your time.

Be a steward of your health.

 God has given us minds to be used to their fullest capacity and bodies in which to accomplish God’s work. Both mind and body are to be treated with respect. Take care of yourself. Be a steward of your health.

Be a steward of relationships.

Our relationships with others are also a gift—and a measure of our stewardship for God. Stewardship at home means living and growing together as a family. Stewardship at work involves us in showing coworkers an example of Christian behavior in the best sense of that phrase. Be a steward of your relationships.

Being a steward—wisely using the resources that we have—leads us to generous giving as an expression of God’s love for us and our love for God.

As your minister, I am concerned about your capacity to grow spiritually in personal faith and to grow in character as human beings. So let me suggest three things that you might do to continue on that path.

·        Manage your resources wisely—your time, your talent, your income and possessions. Remember, the question isn’t “How much should I give?” The question is “Am I giving all that I can?”

·        Focus on serving God and others. John Wesley put it this way: “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

·        And take an active role in the life of this church. In joining this congregation you covenanted walk together in the ways of Jesus Christ, made known and to be made known to us. Perhaps now is the time to renew those vows.

We glorify God, Paul tells us, we glorify God by the generosity of our sharing.


[1] Page: 3
Lillian Daniel, “Affluent Christians,” Christian Century, 2/8/03

[2]Page: 7
Congregations of Generous People, pg. 38.