9:30AM Sunday School
11AM & 7PM Worship

2203 San Antonio St.
Austin, TX 78705

The Practice of Generosity

San Williams

June 9, 2013
Matthew 6:19-21, Acts 2:44-46

06-09-2013 Sermon A couple weeks ago my wife Jan found a ten-dollar bill in the street.  Since there was no opportunity to return the money, she picked up the bill and decided immediately what she would do with it. That day just happened to be our son’s birthday, so she found a card, enclosed the ten-dollar bill, and sent it to Edward with a note.  So many parents’ first instinct is to give a gift to their child.  Why is that? Earlier this week, one of our members walked into the church office and wrote a large check covering the remaining expenses for the youth mission trip.  What was this person’s motivation?  Or consider the twenty or so volunteers who, every Tuesday morning, come to UPC early to get refreshments ready, put on the coffee, and prepare to welcome the hundred or so folks who come seeking help and solace.  What inspires people to be generous with their time and resources these ways?  The late and beloved UPC member, Helen Tackett, gave generously to the church during her lifetime and then, upon her death, she left a third of her resources to the church.  Generosity flows from this congregation in so many ways.  Here’s our question this morning:  What triggers generosity, and how can we as individuals and a congregation become even more generous? 

Perhaps the most obvious answer to that question is “love.”  We typically give to those causes and people dearest to our hearts.  It’s because parents love our children that we willingly give to them…and give…and give.  A church member writes a generous check for our youth mission trip because he has a heart for the children and youth of our church. Volunteers faithfully, generously give of their time every Tuesday because the plight of those in need has touched their hearts.  Helen Tackett loved this church and therefore she made sure we were included in her will.  Isn’t it true that generosity is how love is expressed?  Tell us who and what you love, and most likely those people and causes will be the beneficiaries of your generosity.

Come to think of it, we could say the same about God.  We worship God because, in the words of our hymn, God’s giving knows no end.  God’s love is unrestricted, and therefore God’s generosity is lavished on all creation and all people.  As the Psalmist declares:  “O Lord, how manifold are your works…They all look to you to give them their food in due season…When you open your hands, they are filled with good things.”  Jesus unfailingly disclosed God’s nature as unrestrained generosity.  “See how God clothes even the grass of the field,” declared Jesus, “how much more will God give good things to you…”  The best known verse of the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave…”   Grace is the name we give to God’s over-flowing generosity.  In The Meaning of Gifts Paul Tournier puts it this way:  “There comes a day when we understand that all is of grace, that the whole world is a gift of God, a completely generous gift.  We see each flower, each drop of water, each minute of our life as a gift of God.  He gives them to all, both to those who know him and to those who are ignorant of him.”  So from where does human generosity come?  It comes from God.  Thus the more nearly our lives conform to the image of God, the more generous we will become.

Apparently, that’s precisely what happed in the early church. Having experienced the love of God given in the person of Jesus, their fellowship was characterized by generosity. They sold possessions in order to help those in need.  They shared things in common.  They gathered to worship with—in Luke’s words—“glad and generous hearts.”    Such cheerful altruism echoes throughout the experience of the early church.  In 2 Corinthians Paul tells about the Macedonians who, though poor, “abounded in generosity.”  Time and again the followers of Jesus exhibited the quality of joyful giving. In fact, it was the very mark of their life together.

Possibly the most dramatic example of a person transformed into a generous giver is the story of Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus, you remember, was a tax collector, which to people in that day would signify that he was also a cheat, an extortionist, and a traitor to his own people.  But when Jesus called his name and offered God’s friendship and acceptance to him, he began expressing his gratitude through new-found generosity. He offered to give half his wealth to the poor, and to repay those whom he had defrauded four times what he owed. There’s no doubt that Jesus’ first disciples, and the early church in general, were known for their generosity.  They had been profoundly touched by God’s grace and, as a consequence, they opened their hearts and their resources to helping others. The witness of scripture and our own experience confirm that where our hearts reside, our wealth will follow.

But in typical fashion, Jesus gave this familiar bit of wisdom a surprising twist. Instead of parroting the common phrase, “where your heart is, there your treasure will be,” Jesus turned the phrase on its head and declared, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be.”  Perhaps Jesus knew that our hearts are not always in the right place.  For example, if our hearts are set on material gain, then we will put our treasure in pursuit of that goal.   If our heart’s desire is to travel all the time, our resources will go toward fulfilling that desire.  If our heart’s concern doesn’t extend beyond our own family, then our giving will be restricted to a small circle.  In his book about living a generous life, Mark Allan Powell expounded on Jesus’ puzzling turn of phrase.  He wrote: “’Give from the heart!’ people say.  But Jesus seemed to speak of something else: Give where you want your heart to be, and let your heart catch up. Don’t just give to things you care about.  Give to things you want to care about.  Don’t decide the amount of your giving by how much you care, but by how much you want to care.  Ask yourself, if I were the sort of person I would really like to be, then what would I do?  How would I spend my money (and my time, and everything else)? Then, do what you would do if you were that sort of person. Put your treasure where you want your heart to be and, Jesus promises, your heart will go there.”

 So according to Jesus, generosity is not only a matter of the heart, it’s also a matter of discipline and of practice.   Jesus calls us to extend our generosity beyond the things we most naturally care about to those things God cares about:  things like feeding the hungry, helping the poor, lifting up the downtrodden and caring for the creation.  Seek first the Kingdom of God, Jesus said, and all the other things we need will be taken care of. 

Friends, I mean it sincerely when I say that you are a generous congregation.  Open up this week’s e-mail update and you’ll read about a couple in the congregation who want to find a car to give to a single mother whom they met recently at Interfaith Hospitality Network.  There’s information about how the congregation is helping Manos de Cristo buy back-to-school clothes and supplies, and collecting funds for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to aid with tornado victims in Oklahoma.  There’s a note about the youth mission trip to the Dominican Republic, which you have generously supported.  You’ll see an invitation to a lunch after worship today about how we can extend our generosity through legacy giving. The examples go on and on. Let us, therefore, continue to be the people God has called us to be:  a congregation full of people who worship God and serve our neighbors with “glad and generous hearts.”