Sermon for November 17, 2013 ||Proper 28; Year C || Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21: 5-19 || Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
This morning I’d like to talk about generosity.
Now, if your body just tensed up involuntarily, your brain clicked into the “off” position, or the chatter in your head said something like, “Dang, I knew I shoulda’ skipped church this morning,” then this sermon is for you. Because I’m guessing that the involuntary, but decidedly negative response you just had, comes from an assumption that I’m about to talk about money, and that I’m about to tell you how you should be financially generous with the church.
But I’m not.
In fact, this sermon has been incubating in me for a while now, and I’ve held off on hatching it for fear it would be heard (and dismissed) as a sermon about stewardship–which it’s certainly not meant to be.
What it is meant to be is a kind of personal reflection on a recent revelation that’s still very much unfolding for me. And it began with a pretty simple, but profound realization: That our God is a generous God; that we were created in God’s image; and so that has to mean we were created to be a generous people, that it is our very nature to be a generous people. And I don’t mean monetarily. I mean that at our core, God created us to be generous-hearted, and that generosity is a part of our divine DNA.
Now, I always got that like the God in whose image we were created, we’re meant to be loving, compassionate, merciful, and forgiving — but it honestly never dawned on me before that we’re meant, by our very nature, to be generous! To have generous hearts, and approach life with a spirit of generosity.
So I want to invite you to explore this idea with me: this idea of generosity as identity, generosity as a virtue that embraces far more than what we do with our money or material goods, generosity as a grace that goes to the very core of who we are meant to be, and what God’s dream for us looks like. Because sometimes it seem the whole world is in desperate need of more generous-hearted people.
We hear a lot these days about the lack of civility in public discourse. But what if what we’re really witnessing is not so much a lack of civility but a lack of generosity— a stingy refusal by some to give others the freedom to think or believe differently than they do? We need only look at our Congress, where neither party is willing to be intellectually, ideologically, or politically generous with the other. None of them have the heart for it.
We can look at the number of churches that exclude from Christ’s saving embrace all but those they decide are worthy, because they’re incapable of being theologically or spiritually generous. They haven’t got the heart for it either.
And of course we can look at our own lives and our own personal relationships, when we’re too emotionally and spiritually stingy to give someone we love the space to grow and change into who they want to be, instead of who we want them to be; or when we refuse to forgive a family member who has hurt or wronged us; or when we assume a friend is guilty until proven innocent, instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt when they’ve done or said something we don’t understand.
How often do we listen to others generously, thank others generously, praise others generously, accept others generously, judge others generously, differ with others generously, or share ourselves with others generously?
When I ask myself questions like this, I get pretty mixed reviews. And then when I contemplate the amazing, extravagant, generosity of God—a God who created me out of generosity, loves me out of generosity, and gives himself to me and for me, all out of generosity—well, I fall so short that I’m reminded of Paul when he cried out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
I wonder if you what I mean? I suspect we all have areas in our lives where we lack generosity; places inside of us where we don’t possess the interior freedom we need to be generous; times in our lives when we feel those open hearts of ours– that are by nature generous— suddenly slam shut.
Because we’re afraid. Yes, afraid.
Fear, that age-old enemy of all spiritual, emotional, and intellectual progress, is surely the culprit. Fear is what tells us we shouldn’t be generous of heart with this person, or in that situation, or else! Fear is what sounds a seductive “No,” where freedom would sing a glorious “Yes!” Fear is what blocks us from being the generous people God created us in His image to be: Fear in politics and in religion; in our homes and in our workplaces; in our friendships and our famlies– all of this is a manifestation of the fear that is in our hearts.
Fear that is not of God. Let me say that again: Fear is not of God. And it stands to reason that if fear is not of God, then surely we can be freed from it by God.
You know, next week is our last week of reading from Luke’s gospel. In two weeks it will be the first Sunday of Advent, and we’ll move into the Gospel according to Matthew. And if there one point that Luke has made exceedingly clear from the beginning, it’s that in the person of Jesus Christ God broke into human history to free us from all that enslaves us—-whether that be the kind of spiritual, psychological, or emotional disorders the biblical writers called “demons,” or the kind of religious, economic, and political oppression the ruling order imposed on first century Jews.
Perhaps more than anything else, what Jesus comes to free us from in Luke’s gospel is fear. “Do not be afraid,” we hear repeatedly. “Fear not…” Even in this morning’s apocalyptic warning of the end of time, Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not be terrified…”
“I will give you words and wisdom,” Jesus tells them, “that none of your opponents will be able to withstand.” Rely on me, instead of yourself, and I will give you all you need; follow me, instead of the ways of the world, and you will know new life; listen to my voice, instead of the voice of fear, and I will set you free. Do not be afraid, have faith!
Yes, faith! How often in Luke’s gospel faith is rewarded with freedom from whatever diminishes, deforms or enslaves!
And what this tells me about the fear I sometimes experience around being a more generous-hearted person, is that I can remind myself of the faith I have in God in Christ, and I can ask him to cast out that fear—to free me from it so I have the interior freedom to be the generous-hearted person God created me to be.
I can’t will myself there overnight, but I certainly can apply my will to reading Jesus’ words and his wisdom—to marking, learning and inwardly digesting them. And I can apply my will to relying on him, following him, and listening to him. I can apply my will to choosing the way of faith. These are choices I can make. And so can you.
So your homework this week is to think about the multitude of ways you are, in fact, living into your divine DNA by being a generous-hearted person. Give yourself credit where credit is due. Then challenge yourself to confront the ways in which it is difficult—if not impossible—for you to be as generous-hearted as God might be calling you to be. Consider what fear is behind that inability to be generous. And join me in beginning what I hope will become a daily practice of asking God to free you from your fear, so you will be free to be the even more generous person He has created you, in His image, to be. Amen.