Extravagant Generosity is an Expression of Your Heart
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
October 29, 2017
Scriptures: John 3:16 CEB and 2 Corinthians 8:24 – 9:7 CEB
My heart has been encouraged as we have journeyed together through the program Extravagant Generosity: The Heart of Giving. Some people have been gracious enough to share their matters of the heart in our bulletin inserts and newsletters. I do hope you are reading what your friends are saying as they share their testimonies.
This week the latest issue of National Geographic arrived and the cover story is entitled “The Search for Happiness.” As I read the story it became abundantly clear that God was once again speaking truth into life. Costa Rica, Denmark and Singapore were measured to be the most joyful places on the planet. It is the story of a man from Costa Rica that moved my heart.
Alejandro Zuniga, a 57-year-old produce vendor in Cartago, a city just east of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose’, was found to be one of its happiest people. He’s happy despite growing up in tough circumstances and not being wealthy. He’s happy because of something inside his spirit. Just when his life was in the pits, Alejandro had a stroke of good fortune and won the equivalent of $93,000. Rather than take the money and move to a nicer neighborhood or find a different job, he quietly began sharing his fortune. He shared it with the people around him, family and friends, including the beggar at the market where Zuniga sells his produce. He shared to the point that within a year, he was broke again, but he stated that he had never been happier.
National Geographic writes, “To understand Zuniga’s resilience, you need to know more about Costa Rica, where an alchemy of geography and social policies has created a powerful blend of family bonds, universal healthcare, faith, lasting peace, equality, and – a quality that Zuniga possesses in spades – generosity.”
Generosity is one of the marks of the Fruit of the Spirit. Generous people often have much less in the way of material possessions. No fancy cars, jewelry, expensive clothing, or second home. They have no need for the things that advertisers tell them will make them happy. They have happiness already through a sense of just how loved they are, just as they are. Happy people are secure in themselves and want to share what they have so that others around them will have what they need – including faith.
Have you ever given up something for someone you loved? This idea has deep, biblical roots. John 3:16 tells us that out of love for the world, God gave God’s one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him won’t perish, but will have eternal life. The first few words of this well-known passage from John’s Gospel clearly state that the way God shows love for the world is by giving. Giving is part of the character of God. Bishop Schnase puts it this way in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Living:
We give because we are made in the image of God, whose essential nature is giving. We are created with God’s nature imprinted on our souls; we are hard-wired to be social, compassionate, connected, loving, and generous. God’s extravagant generosity is part of our essential nature as well. But we are anxious and fearful, influenced by a culture that makes us believe we never have enough. And we are scared by habits that turn us inward with a corrosive self-interest. God sent Jesus Christ to bring us back to ourselves, and back to God. As we “have in us the mind that was in Christ Jesus,” we become free.
The entire teaching of the 2 Corinthians passage is about giving. Paul concludes that giving is proof (or evidence) of our love of God. God doesn’t require our generosity. When we truly accept the generous gift of God’s love, our only possible response is to live and give generously. Is it possible to love God without giving?
As we have read the stewardship testimonials written this year by members of this church we have seen evidence of how God has been at work in their lives, supplying everything they needed, giving a great sense of fulfillment as they supported God’s work through this church. They delighted in being a part of something larger than themselves. Doubt and fear of lack were replaced by trust and gratitude as they gradually worked toward a tithe – giving a full ten percent of their income, as the Bible directs God’s people to give. They were honest about the process, telling us that at first, they couldn’t do the full 10%, but as they organized their finances, paid off debt, and became good stewards of all that God had given them, they eventually made it and felt a great sense of joy.
When Tom and I first started out, we couldn’t tithe. Debt from school loans and credit cards weighed us down. It felt oppressive. But as we lived frugally and paid off those debts, we gained great joy by giving what we could each week, financially, and giving more of our time and energy, volunteering at the church doing whatever we could. There were lots of things and as we gave of our time, it provided opportunities to get to know other people. We developed friendships and made memories together. God blessed us as we served, and now we have both the satisfaction of being able to tithe and having decades worth of memories of shared experiences with other faithful people. As God has blessed us, we have always tried to be a blessing to others.
Despite challenges and struggles in life, when we seek to live generously, God opens doors and points the way. Being a Christian in today’s world is becoming counter-cultural. To believe in a higher power is still quite common, but to take time out of your life each week to worship God and to give generously of one’s money and time is becoming more and more unusual. The ways of the world are erasing faithfulness and teaching practices that are not scriptural. Many people only give on the days they come to church, as if it were the price of admission to the “show.” Fortunately, God never ceases to love and shower us with grace and mercy every day; even on the days we have forgotten to pray or even give a thought to God.
My hope is that those days of taking God’s grace for granted will become few to non-existent. My hope is that everyone will dig deep and give generously on a regular basis, pledging an amount that we can count on and build a healthy budget to work with as we seek to grow God’s kingdom in this place. A pledge is not a binding contract. We understand that sometimes life throws us a curve and we cannot do what we had hoped to do. But if we don’t have the intention to do all the good we can, at all the times we can, in all the places we can, then we usually end up doing very little for anyone but ourselves.
May God bless you with a spirit of generosity, living grateful to God for all the blessings in your life. May God bless you with a happy life, like Alejandro, who trusts that as he has been generous, others will be as well, and in the end, everyone will have what they need to live a long and happy life.