Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Mark of Generosity Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9; James 2:14-17

Old Testament Lesson                                                       Proverbs 22:1-2, 8, 9

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
    and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
    the Lord is the maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
    and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
    for they share their bread with the poor.

New Testament Lesson                                                                James 2:14-17
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters,[a] if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

        You can tell that it is time for the presidential campaigns.  There are polls in every issue of every paper, every day.

        I thought I’d start this morning’s sermon with a poll.

        Just a simple show of hands will do.

        How many of you here today would like to be remembered as a skin flint who was selfish and greedy -- raise your hands.

        OK, how many would like to be remembered as generous?

        Most people would rather be remembered as a generous person than a selfish person.

        A good definition of the character of generosity is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  In that letter, Paul tells his readers, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

        The story is told of a mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake; I can wait.”

        Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you should be like Jesus!  Give me that first pancake!”

        Well, we should all be like Jesus.  We should all learn to become more generous. 

On the front of our bulletin each week there is a list of the seven marks of discipleship that all of our church members should embrace and demonstrate in our lives.  One of these is giving our time, talent and money.  Put another way, we should all be generous. 

We need to be generous to one another.  Neighbors need to be generous to people in their community.  Family members need to be generous to relatives.  Strangers need to be generous to one another.

        In a recent telephone survey, a question was asked “Do you consider yourself to be a generous person?”  An overwhelming number -- over 90% -- said yes.  This was followed up by a second question.  “Describe the last time you did something that was generous.”

        Now surveyors did not consider the details of the answer important.  Instead, they had a stop watch in hand and they were timing the respondents to see how long it took them to begin to remember their last generous act.

        The average time?  Twenty seconds.

        Twenty seconds.

        A long time.  They would have a few seconds of silence.  Then they would hem and haw for a moment with slowly saying, “Welllllll, let me seeeee.”

        If it takes us that long to remember the last time we were generous, then we can’t be a TRULY generous people.

        We want to be generous.

        God’s Word tells us to be generous.

        How, then, can we become generous?


        First, we put actions behind our words.
        James is a book that has little patience with a faith that does not put actions into our words.  Our New Testament lesson says, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
        One of the key complaints non-Christians have about Christians is that we are so hypocritical.  We say one thing, we do something else. 
        We talk about love, but we don’t show it.
        Christians quote the Bible when it says, “Judge not,” but nonChristians see us as very judgmental. 
        We talk about helping the poor, but we don’t. 
        It is not enough to talk about being generous.  We have to BE generous.  And if it takes 20 seconds for us to remember when we were generous, we probably aren’t being nearly as generous as Christ would to have us to be.
        What’s wrong with us?
        Why can’t put these words into action?

        I think that one reason is that when we look at our money we don’t do what the money says.  Two years after I was born, the words, “In God we trust” became the official motto of America.  That phrase appeared on some American money starting in 1864, but since 1957 it has appeared on all paper currency printed by the US Mint. 
        But do we abide by that motto, “In God we trust,” or do we trust the money those words are printed upon?

generous people don’t put their trust in money. 

        St. Paul says in the New Testament letter of First Timoty, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain.”

        And yet – this is where we put our trust.

        You’ve probably have seen the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? “ 

        I don’t need another show of hands.  I know if asked, most if not all of us would raise our hands and say “yes”  I want to be a millionaire.

        Why?  We dream of winning the lottery.  We dream of striking it rich.  Why?

        Because we think that money will solve all of our problems.  Money gives us happiness.  Money gives us security.

        The car breaks down -- if we had enough money, we’d just buy a new one.

        The kids aren’t happy -- if we had enough money, we’d just take them to Disney World for a month.

        The house is a mess -- if we had enough money, we’d just hire a maid.

        Money makes us secure -- or at least, that is the common way of thinking.

        From time to time I get a letter from the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.  The letter always says the same thing, “Congratulations Maynard Pittendreigh,” and of course they almost always spell my name incorrectly.   “You may already have won a million dollars.”  Most of the time, these letters are thrown into the trash without even being opened, but once in a while I’ll take a look at it.  Somewhere in the letter there is the phrase, “Imagine having security for the rest of your life.”

        But money doesn’t add up to security.

        Ecclesiastes chapter 5 verse 10 says this: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”

        Trusting money is trusting in something that doesn’t have the power to make us secure and happy.

        Not long ago I read an article in the newspaper about a hospital in a Midwestern city where officials discovered that the firefighting equipment had never been connected.  For 35 years it had been relied upon for the safety of the patients in case of emergency.  But it had never been attached to the city's water main.  The pipe that led from the building extended 4 feet underground -- and there it stopped!  The medical staff and the patients had felt complete confidence in the system. They thought that if a blaze broke out, they could depend on a nearby hose to extinguish it. But theirs was a false security.  Although the costly equipment with its polished valves and well-placed outlets was adequate for the building, it lacked the most important thing -- a source of water!

        And that is the way it is with many of us.  We trust in something that looks like it can do the job, but it is absolutely useless.  Money has no power to give us happiness and security, and yet, we trust in it all too easily.

        And this trusting in money keeps us from becoming a generous people.  We cling to money thinking it will give us the things we need in life.

        If we are to become a generous people, we have to learn to stop trusting in money as our source of happiness and security so we can be able to let go of it and give it away.

        Instead of money, we have to trust something, or someone, else.

        Generous people don’t trust money, but they trust God. 

        Remember what St. Paul told Timothy: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.“

        If you trust in money for happiness and security, of course you aren’t going to become generous.  You can’t let go of those things that you think will fulfill your life.  But if you trust God to provide for you, then you can begin to become generous and be able to share with others.

        Now strangely, it is easy to put our trust in money.  It is not easy for us to put our trust in God.

        A man falls off a cliff.

        As he is falling he miraculously grabs onto a twig -- a small tree growing out of the side of the canyon wall.

        For just a brief moment he thinks he is safe, but then he notices the plant is being pulled out of the ground because of his weight.

        Knowing he has just moments to live, he yells up to heaven.  “God almighty.  If you’re up there, save me.”

        Much to the man’s surprise, he hears a voice.

        “This is the Lord God.  Let go of the tree.  I’ll catch you.”

        The man looks down -- it is a long, long way down.

        Then he looks up and yells out, “Thanks a lot God, but is there anyone ELSE up there who can help?”

        It is hard to trust in God.

        James would probably tell us that we learn by doing.  The word for this is PRACTICE.

        It is not in our nature to be generous.  Generosity is a skill.  It has to be developed.  And most of us have not developed this skill.

        Singing is a skill.  Typing is a skill.  Driving.  Speaking in public.  Teaching.  All of these are skills.  We all have skills.  If you stop and think about something that you are good at, you are good at it because you take the time and energy to develop that skill.

        Golf is a skill.  I used to play golf when I was in high school and college, but I haven’t played much in the past several years. 

I remember when I first started playing, I went out with some friends and none of us did well.  We would take a swing, look down, and see the ball was still on the tee.  We’d land in a sand trap, hit the ball, go over the green and land in another sand trap.  But we were well matched for each other, because all of us were so equally bad, equally unskilled. 

        But we practiced every day and we became more skillful at it.  Then we stopped practicing, and now it has been so many years since I’ve played I know I would do very poorly on the golf course. 

        Generosity is the same thing.

        It isn’t something that comes naturally.  It is something that you have to work at and develop.  James said it – faith that you do not put into practice is dead. 

        The Bible constantly offers us the challenge to be generous and giving --

        Giving to the church,

        Giving to our neighbors,

        Giving to strangers.

        Giving our time, our talents, and our money.

        Generosity should become the way of life for the Christian.

        In Hebrews 13:16, the Bible says, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

        Practice your generosity.

        Be generous to your church, to your neighbors, to strangers.

        OK, it’s test time.  No need to get out your number 2 pencils or sheets of paper.   I’m going to time you.  I’ve got my stopwatch in hand.  I’m going to give you 20 seconds.

        Can you remember the last time you showed someone generosity?

        “20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1”

        Did you come up with anything?

        Are we generous enough?

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.