One of my favorite things at Good Samaritan is when we come together as a church family and offer our pledges for the coming year. The stream of households coming forward in one long line to offer their pledges at the altar is profoundly moving. It expresses something powerful about our common life and our common mission. Responding to God on the Sunday that follows Thanksgiving seems great timing to me. It’s in response to the knowledge that it all comes from Him that we gratefully respond with generosity to the generosity of God’s grace at work in us.
Over the next few weeks we will hear some personal stories of giving in the lives of three of our parishioners. It’s always an encouragement to me to learn from and be inspired by the example of others, and I’m grateful for those who are willing to share their stories so that I can be built up. It strikes me that every time I hear stories of generosity from people it reminds me that generous living is an attractive thing to hear about, and I long for God to deepen that ability to live generously in my own life.
Our generosity is a response to God’s generosity – or God’s grace – to us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (1 Corinthians 8:9) Grace is not a transaction but a free gift. Jesus’ incarnation and death on a cross were not conditional on human gratitude or response but were freely given. Grace received leads to grace given. And when we know and love the Giver, we know He is able to meet our needs. When you know that your father owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the prospect of giving becomes a lot easier.
Our financial generosity is first and foremost worship – it’s an acknowledgement of who God is and that He is the source of all we have in the first place. It’s why the people of Israel were instructed to bring the ‘first-fruits’ to God and not the ‘last-fruits’ (or ‘left-over-fruits’). It reminds me of my dependence on God and of God’s rule in my life. Such an expression is right at the heart of worship. When King David collects the offering for the construction of the temple, he expresses wonder that the people are able to offer such generosity: for ‘all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.’ (1 Chronicles 29:14)
Generosity is a key spiritual discipline. The three key aspects of healthy personal spirituality that Jesus describes in Matthew chapter 6 of giving, praying and fasting. The list begins and ends with giving. David Roseberry (in a good book: ‘Giving Up’) notes that the Ten Commandments get progressively harder to keep. Murder – doing okay, adultery – got a handle on that. But when we get to ‘don’t covet’ it suddenly impacts each one of us. Greed is ubiquitous. We’re programmed to want. His suggestion is that it’s easier to replace a vice with a virtue than to simply try and get rid of the vice. The appropriate virtue to get greed under control is generosity. And when God’s grace works generosity in us, our lives are transformed and our community begins to see the power of the gospel transforming us.
The apostle Paul warns us of the danger of always wanting more. The ‘love of money’, he says, ‘is a root of all kinds of evils’ – whereas ‘godliness with contentment is great gain – we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out.’ Those of us who have been given much in this present age, are ‘not to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.’ (1 Peter 6, excerpts from 6-19)
Take the opportunity of these few weeks to be thankful for what God has given you. Our daily bread, shelter and clothing. In that gratitude, I discover the secret of contentment, and I pray that God might give that grace to each one of us. And we will ask for the Holy Spirit to guide us in our response to God’s grace that works in our lives. Our ‘pledge Sunday’ on November 24th is only one small part of that – all of our life, work, family, time, wealth – all of it is God’s and we pray for the wisdom and grace to use all of it as living worship to Him.