Generosity. That age old church conversation killer, isn’t it? Because somehow generosity is always tied to money and stewardship. And money and stewardship always seem to land on the idea that you need to give more money to the church so that you can be a better steward. Or something like that.
Let’s take a poll. Think of all the church conversations you’ve had about generosity in your life. How many of those conversations left you with a negative feeling like guilt? Or maybe just annoyance? Because you don’t give enough or exasperation because you’re talking about money again. How many left you with a positive feeling? A positive feeling of any sort? What’s the ratio, do you think?
Let’s take a couple of minutes today and try to shift those numbers by 1. And to set the stage for further conversations about generosity that swing the feeling around from negative to positive.
Okay, let’s start with the 800 gorilla in the room. Yes, it is true that the church does operate using money people give as their offerings. We do use part of the offerings you give to pay the light bills, pay the rent and to pay the staff. We will not be getting around that little bit of reality any more than getting around anyone else having to pay for the lights and a place to live.
But that isn’t why we give and that is a key thing for each of us to remember.
Many of us, perhaps most of us, grew up in churches that used programs and guilt, occasionally bordering on begging to get people to give their offerings so that the church can continue to exist. Because that is the purpose of the church, to continue to exist, right? That’s why we come every week, right?
No, no, no, no, no
The church as an institution is not an existential reality that continues into the future forever and ever and ever. It is not our responsibility to ensure that it exists forever and ever and ever. God will ensure the church as an institution exists for as long as God needs the church to exist. And then it won’t.
What WILL exist forever and ever, or at until Christ returns and lets us know what is next, is the BODY OF CHRIST. That’s us. That’s us that follow Christ and join together to do the things God needs us to do in the world. That’s us that follow Christ bringing Christ’s love to life on earth, not because we get together once a week, twice during Advent and Lent, in a building.
So if the body of Christ will exist until the end of days when Christ returns, why do we need to be generous?
First, sometimes it really is about us so let’s talk about us, shall we? We have an inherent need to be generous. We’re not required to be generous. There are no rules that say we have to be generous. We can’t buy our way into heaven or into God’s love by being generous. So what, pray tell, is the point of being generous?
Because we need to. If we’re not generous with ourselves, we get all turned inward. If we hold onto our money and hold onto our time then we turn into the kind of people we don’t actually like very much. If you’ve ever played Monopoly you know what I mean.
There are no graciously generous people in the game of Monopoly, are there? If you’ve never played Monopoly you really must!
Martin Luther’s description of sin hits it pretty accurately. He defined sin in Latin as incurvatus in se or the curving in on oneself. Ungenerous people tend to hoard what they have and become more focused on themselves and whatever it is that they’re hoarding. This isn’t good. It isn’t good for our mental health to have our attention so turned inward. That’s no secret.
We have an inward need to be outwardly generous.
The second reason to be generous is that the world needs us to be generous. All in all the world is a better place to live in than 50 years ago. I know the news outlets don’t want us to believe that but by any measure of health and safety, the world is a safer and healthier place to live today than it was in the 20th century. Worldwide hunger is lower than it has been, for one example and part of the reason for that is the generosity, and advocacy, of people who Bring Christ’s Love to Life. The institutional church has its problems but for all that the institutional church has made a massive difference in feeding and housing people who wouldn’t have a chance without us. This week Lutheran Disaster Relief is working in West Virginia to help flood victims and your offerings help make that happen.
Even so, there are still hungry people and people without a place to live. We still have work to do and we’re still doing it. Week by week, month by month with our generosity that goes into our community and into the world.
I get to see generosity in this place all the time. Just last week someone demanded to know where the coffee can for cash donations to support Matt Talbott was located. Another approach would have been to blow it off and just forget about it. But not here. Recognizing the importance of what we do with and for Matt Talbott Kitchen & Outreach, the coffee can had to be located. Because of your generosity.
And we had to get a new drum kit this past week, too. We tried this and that to keep the old one working but it had virtually given up. You never knew when the beats were going to be there and when they weren’t. Fortunately we have a worship equipment fund that allowed us to get a new kit without having a bake sale and donating plasma. Because of your generosity.
Not to mention the man that called for some help on Wednesday. He originally called for some groceries from the grocery store at 11th/Cornhusker but after he checked into the Oak Park Motel and found out he didn’t have a microwave or fridge in his room he asked for a gift card to McDonalds. He said they were happy to eat off the dollar menu.
Happy to eat off the dollar menu? I was pretty humbled by that. I’m generally pretty annoyed at the prospect of eating at McDonalds in general and this couple is happy to eat from the dollar menu? I don’t know their situation but you gave them some help and they’ll be able to eat for a couple of days. Because of your generosity.
It comes down to this. We need to be generous for our own well being and the world needs us to be generous for its well being. That seems like a pretty good combination. It’s almost like God was up to something with this whole generosity bit, isn’t it?