Sunday, April 6, 2014

April 6, 2014

Rev. John Watts

Nampa First UMC

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: GENEROSITY

I Timothy 6:17-19

 

I’m going to start this morning by rolling back the clock a few years in terms of our technology.  We’ll be using the screen and video projector as usual, but I want to start with this old-fashioned flip chart.  We can make things way too complicated.  I just want to make it real simple.  Here’s one way to illustrate what we’ve been talking about these last few weeks.

Here is where we are right now in our lives.  (A big black dot is used to illustrate this.)   And here is where God wants us to be.  (A second big black dot is added, to the right and above the first one.)   We are under construction in the sense that we are moving from here to there.  (Line is drawn from the first to the second dot.)  So maybe we actually aren’t here any more (first dot), but we aren’t there yet either (second dot).  We are somewhere in between.

God loves us and accepts us wherever we are on this continuum.   God doesn’t love us any less if we are here (first dot) and God doesn’t love us any more when we get there (second dot).  It’s been said that God is easy to please but hard to satisfy.  And God wants us to be moving, not standing still.  Moving in a positive direction, not slipping back.  Not “backsliding”, which I think is the proper technical term.  God is working on us and in us and through us, on a long-term construction project.  That’s what this series of sermons has been all about.

So we’ve been talking about character and faith and love the last three weeks.  Last week we said that love matters most of all.

The week before we said that faith is really the foundation.  And

the week before that we said that character is the main thing.

Actually all these qualities are very important in becoming the person God wants us to be.  Certainly generosity is very important, too.  In fact, our scripture uses that same word, “foundation”, in talking about generosity.  “They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation”

(I Timothy 6:19).  If we are not growing in generosity, we are not growing as Christians.  If we are not growing in generosity, we are not moving along this line from where we are to where we might be.

There’s a stereotype about generosity that I don’t like.  The stereotype is that people who have little are more generous than people who have a lot.  I don’t like that stereotype because I have a lot.  Relative to the average person on this planet certainly, I am very, very wealthy.  And so are you.  So what Paul says in today’s scripture offends me.  And it probably offends you.  Because Paul employs that stereotype that rich people are greedy.  “As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty” (6:17).

Everyone wants to be known as generous.  No one wants to be known as haughty.  You might want to be a “hottie”, but that’s a different spelling.  That’s a different meaning.  To be haughty means to be proud, arrogant, full of yourself, to look down on others, to actually despise those who aren’t as wonderful as you.

Paul says, “as for the rich in this world”, don’t be haughty.  Because rich people often are.  They think they are better than others because they are rich.  But you don’t have to be rich to be haughty.  Poor people can have contempt for other people, too.  Poor people can be haughty.  And I know a lot of rich people who are anything but haughty.  Haughtiness is to be avoided, whatever tax bracket you happen to be in.  Because haughtiness is found in selfish people and selfish people are not generous people.

Paul continues:  “As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty and not to set their hopes on uncertain riches.”  Again, this can apply to rich and poor alike.  Money can be our God.  Money that we dream of having some day, or money that we already have and are scared to death of losing.  Either way, we are setting our hopes “on uncertain riches.”

There’s a radio ad I keep hearing.  It is selling safes.  You know, a place to keep all your gold and all your guns.  The pitch is that you should buy their safe because we live in “uncertain times”.  And I got to thinking.  Has there ever been a time when people didn’t live in uncertain times?  Some of you who are old enough to remember “the good old days” I’m sure could tell us those weren’t necessarily the best of times either.  There was a lot of uncertainty in the air.  A lot of fear.  A lot of struggle.  It’s always been that way.  It always will be that way.

The only certainty in this world is God.  As we said two weeks ago, God is the rock that doesn’t change.  There’s an old hymn that keeps coming back to me.

In times like these, we need a Savior.

In times like these, we need an anchor.

Be very sure, be very sure,

Your anchor holds and grips the solid rock.

That rock is Jesus, yes he’s the one.

That rock is Jesus, the only one.

 

That hymn was written in the worst days of World War II.  It was published in 1944.  Those were uncertain times.  And so are ours.

All times are uncertain.  So be certain you know who is your God.  Be certain your God isn’t money.  There is one God.  There is one Savior.  There is one rock that is solid and dependable and a suitable foundation on which to build our lives.

Money worshipers are selfish people and selfish people are not generous people.  So Paul has warned us not to be haughty and not to set our hopes on uncertain riches.  Paul has warned us not to be selfish.  So if we aren’t to be selfish, what’s left to be?  We are to be selfless.  And the surest measure that we are selfless is that we are generous.  We do good, we are rich in good deeds, we are liberal and generous.

Some of you probably are hung up on that word “liberal”.  Even liberals don’t like to use that word these days.  But liberal, the way Paul is using it, is just another word for generous.  We’ll take a quick detour for political commentary, but I promise, it will be quick.  Here is a cartoon that captures the conservative critique of liberalism.

          If you are giving away money that doesn’t belong to you, you can’t say you are being generous.  I can see some of you are getting nervous about the direction this is going.  But here is the point.  Nothing we have belongs to us.  If we believe in God, we believe it all comes from God.  It all is owned by God.  So I guess that means we can be generous with money that doesn’t belong to us after all!  In fact, generosity with what God has entrusted to us is a sign of spiritual maturity.

Generosity with money.  Yes.  But not just generosity with money.  God has entrusted us with a lot more than money.  Our “40 Days of Community” groups are practicing generosity this Lent with service projects.  They each have come up with their own idea.  Some great ideas!  And they are putting love into action by giving generously of their time and their talent.  The selfish side of us says, “Why bother?  I have other things I want to do.”  Just as the selfish side of us says, “Why give money?  Perfectly good money that could have been spent on me!”  But growing spiritually means the selfish side of us is no longer in control.  As we grow in God’s love, sharing God’s love and sharing it generously starts to become second nature.

I think generosity is kind of like a muscle.  Use a muscle you haven’t used in a long time, and the muscle will rebel.  It is weak.  It can’t do much.  It hurts to use it.  Especially the next day.  But the more you use the muscle of generosity the more that muscle will grow.  The more it will be able to do.  The less it will hurt.  It will start feeling good to use that muscle and it will feel even better the day after.  No regrets.  Because generosity is as much fun for the one who gives as it is for the one who gets.

Adam Hamilton, pastor at Church of the Resurrection near Kansas City tell the story of his family’s camping trip to the Grand Tetons.  They arrived in Jackson Hole on his birthday.  Each of his daughters was given a $20 bill.  They were told this would be their spending money for the three days they would be there.  They would have to make it last.  So of course, the first gift shop they were in his daughter, Rebecca spent her entire $20.  She found a baseball cap.  She tried it on.  She asked her dad if he liked it.  He said he did, but he reminded her that $20 was all she was going to get.  She was really being foolish to spend it all at once.  But he didn’t stop her.

That night Rebecca gave her father his birthday gift.  It was that same baseball cap.  And Adam Hamilton when he tell this story says that hat is still among his most prized possessions.  His daughter did without so that he could she express her love for him in that way.  That costly way for a little girl who now was broke.  It meant a lot to him to be the recipient of such generosity.  It may have meant even more to her.

Jesus was probably the most generous person who ever lived.  He was always giving.  Always thinking of others.  Never worrying about the least he could get by with.  He gave the most he possibly could.  In the end, he gave it all.  He gave his life on that cross.  His was an extravagant generosity.

Really Jesus is what this whole series has been about.  We’ve been talking about moving from here to there (referring to flip chart).  We’ve been talking about character and faith and love and generosity.  But really what we’ve been talking about is growing up to become more like Jesus.

It really is very simple.  We can make things way too complicated.  We can study scriptures and compare this one with that one and develop a theology for it all with lots of big words and deep concepts.  I’m kind of into that.  Maybe you’ve noticed.  But one thing I’m discovering.  The older I get, my theology may be getting more complicated but my faith is getting more simple.  It’s all about Jesus.  I want to know Jesus and love Jesus and be like Jesus.  That’s all that really matters.  When I die, I’m not going to care if I got my theology right.  When I die, it’s going to all be about Jesus.

We’re going to play a video.  It has one of my favorite recording artists, Fernando Ortega, singing one of my favorite songs, “Give Me Jesus.”  And this particular video was made as a tribute to Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham’s wife.  It includes words and images from her funeral.

(YouTube video:  “Give Me Jesus — Fernando Ortega,

Ruth Graham Tribute”)

One day, long before her final illness, Ruth and Billy Graham were driving down a highway and they came to a section that was under construction.  There was sign after sign warning drivers to slow down and be cautious.  Finally they got to the last sign.  It said, “End of Construction. Thank You for Your Patience.”  They got home that evening and she asked if he remembered that sign.  He did.  And she said that when she died, she wanted those words on her gravestone.  They laughed at that.  But she made sure he knew she was serious.

So if you visit the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina you will find her grave where one day her husband will lie beside her.  And, just as promised, you will read these words:  “End of Construction.  Thank You for Your Patience.”

 

Thank you God for your patience with us, for we are not the easiest creatures to work with. But what a blessing to know that you love us and you accept us just as we are. And every step along the way, again and again, as we fail to cooperate with your master plan for us, that love and acceptance is still there.  Chance after chance after chance to repent and try again. You are so gracious!  But our prayer in this season of Lent 2014, that we might stop just spinning our wheels and start getting some traction. You are easy to please. You are hard to satisfy.  And what satisfies you is that we keep growing unto the likeness of Jesus. In character, in faith, in love, in generosity.  Give us Jesus. Make us more like Jesus. In His name.  Amen.