Declarations of Your Heart: Extravagant Generosity Is an Expression of Your Heart

November 24, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Extravagant Generosity: The Heart of Giving

Christ the King Sunday

Declarations of Your Heart: Extravagant Generosity Is an Expression of Your Heart

John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 8:24

            My heart has been encouraged as we have journeyed together through this message series, “Extravagant Generosity: The Heart of Giving.” People created in the image of God like to give. They like to make others feel appreciated. They like to give from the heart for things that are special to them. Giving does as much for the giver as for the person receiving the gift.

         Years ago, a story was circulated about Arnold Palmer being invited by the king of Saudi Arabia to play in a golf tournament. He accepted the invitation, and the king flew his private jet over to the United States to pick up the pro. They played golf for several days, and enjoyed a good time. As Palmer was getting on the plane to return to the United States, the king stopped him and said, “I want to give you a gift for coming all this way and making this time so special. Anything you want. What could I get you?”

         Ever the gentleman, Arnold replied, “Oh, please, don’t get me anything. You’ve been a gracious host. I’ve had a wonderful time. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

         The king, impressed with Arnold’s golf record, was adamant. He said, “No, I insist on giving you something so you will always remember your journey to our country.”

         When the golfer realized that the king was resolute, he said, “Okay, fine. I collect golf clubs. Why don’t you give me a golf club?”

         Arnold boarded the plane, and on his flight back home, he couldn’t help wondering what kind of golf club the king might give him. He imagined that it might be a solid gold putter with his name engraved on it. Or maybe it would be a sand wedge studded with diamonds and jewels. After all, this would be a gift from the oil-rich king of Saudi Arabia.

         When Arnold got home, he watched the mail and the delivery services every day to see if his golf club had come yet. Finally, several weeks later, he received a certified letter from the king of Saudi Arabia. The U.S. professional thought that rather strange. Where’s my golf club he wondered. He opened the envelope, and to his surprise, inside he discovered a deed to a five-hundred-acre golf club in America, complete with clubhouse, pool, and several 18-hole courses. Folks, that is extravagant generosity!

         But when I think about the most elaborate and extravagant gift I’ve ever heard of, it stands far above any you and I can imagine. It too, is the gift of a king. It is a gift for every one of us. For God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. Now that is extravagant generosity! Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

         The first few words of that well-known passage from John’s Gospel clearly states 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 scarred by habits that draw us away from God and 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. (p. 120)

         The entire teaching of the 2 Corinthians passage in chapter 8 leading to verse 24 is about giving. Paul concludes that giving is proof (or evidence) of our love of God. God doesn’t require our generosity. But 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?

         Personally, I think it is impossible to love God without giving. All that is loving and generous in all moral beings is from one Source, and that is God. After all, it was God’s love that prompted him to give his son to die on our behalf. In order to love, one must give something away. Paul was making this perfectly clear to the Corinthian church.

         On his journeys abroad, Paul had been taking up a collection for the church in Jerusalem. Having been under Roman rule and some persecution, it was not able to flourish and provide for its Christian followers and especially for the widows and orphans. Paul was relying on the more wealthy churches in Macedonia and Corinth and other parts of Greece and Turkey to provide help for the Jerusalem church.

         Paul had appealed once before to the Corinthian church for finances and they were willing to commit. And so Paul had bragged on the Corinthian church to the Macedonian church of the generosity of the Corinthians. However, the Corinthians had yet to come through and now Paul was sending Titus and other representatives back to Corinth to collect, all the while bragging on the generosity of the Macedonian church to spur the Corinthian church to activity.

         If we look at the first nine verses of Chapter 8 of 2 Corinthians, Paul gives us a glimpse of how strongly developed giving was in the Macedonian church. Verse 2: Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. It seems that the Macedonians could ill afford to give any help and yet their contributions to the Jerusalem church “welled up in rich generosity.” We find that they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability. Their giving was self-sacrificing.

         If we read on, we discover that their giving was also spontaneous. They were not pressed into giving by outside appeals but were only pressured from the great love they had from within to do the work of the Lord. They gave entirely on their own, our scripture says.

         The Macedonians giving was self-sacrificing, it was spontaneous, and thirdly, it was earnest. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. Did you hear that? They pleaded with Paul and his representatives to give. They might have presented plausible reasons for withholding their contributions, like “Jerusalem is a long way off, and charity begins at home.” Or they might have pleaded a lack of personal knowledge with the church in Jerusalem, or they could have pleaded their own poverty and their own inability to give. But they didn’t. They seized on the opportunity to give what help they could and to be a part of God’s work in the world.

         And lastly, the Macedonians were religious about what they were doing. Verse 5: And [the Macedonians] did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. These people did what was far beyond Paul’s expectations. They didn’t give only their money, but they gave themselves, their time, their thoughts, their energy, first to Christ and then to Paul as Christ’s minister. They did all of this because they had allowed the will of God to work upon their own wills. You see, we first have to give ourselves to God or else all our gifts to people are morally worthless.

         The highest example of total giving is in the life of Jesus Christ. Paul writes in verse 9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. Christ’s philanthropy was self-sacrificing. Christ was rich beyond measure when he was still dwelling with his Father in heaven. But for your sake and mine he came to earth in the flesh, to a life of material poverty. And yet he did this voluntarily for you and me. He was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor. Christ became one of us so that we could become like him, rich in the grace of eternal life with God. Christ’s philanthropy aimed supremely at the promotion of spiritual wealth.

         There is a great difference between spiritual wealth and material wealth. Spiritual wealth is absolutely valuable, the other is not. Spiritual wealth is essential to happiness, the other is not. Spiritual wealth is within reach of all who profess faith in Jesus Christ, the other is not.

         Over these past four weeks, I hope you have been a little more observant about where this church’s spiritual wealth lies. Our spiritual wealth lies in the things you love about this church.

         Our spiritual wealth lies in the people who have made a difference in your spiritual life and my spiritual life. Our wealth lies in our prayers, our concerns, and our words of encouragement. Our spiritual wealth lies in the hopes and dreams and visions we have for this church.

         When we give to God’s kingdom work, it enables this church to spread spiritual wealth throughout the community and the world. For this final week of our stewardship focus on Extravagant Generosity, I would like to highlight a reading from Robert Schnase’s devotional guide, Practicing Extravagant Generosity. The author begins by reminding us of the Gospel story of the poor widow giving her last two coins for God’s work through the Temple.

         Some people perceive the tithe to be nothing more than a left-over from an Old Testament law-based theology. They think it is an arbitrary rule with little relevance today. And yet Jesus commended the practice, even among the Pharisees whom he criticized for making a show of their self-righteousness. The early church practiced the tithe, and so have Christians in every generation since…

         …Name one person you admire and respect because of all they keep for themselves…Largeness of spirit leads to an eagerness to give our utmost and highest.

         Despite the outward challenges and inner struggles, and the countercultural nature of generosity, where there is a desire to give, there is a way. The two coins dropped in the treasury from the hand of the poor widow, noticed by Jesus and recorded for all time as a model of Extravagant Generosity, forever reminds us that there is always a way. Giving helps us become what God wants us to be. (pp. 71-72)

         We have spent this month looking at matters of the heart and giving is a matter of the heart. God’s ministry flows from the heart. It comes from within. Our relationships are matters of the heart, once again flowing from the love of God that is within us. And our vision and hope are inspirations of the heart as we share our innermost dreams for doing the will of God and joining God in his kingdom work.

         Now comes the time to express what is in our hearts through our extravagant generosity. I am a tither as I hope you are or will be, too. I didn’t start out that way, but gradually over the years I added 1% more to my giving every year. Tithing is about giving back our first fruits to God. I could not stand before you and preach on extravagant generosity if I did not practice it myself. Many of you practice sacrificial giving and tithing and I want to commend you and thank you for that.

         During our offering time today, your Commitment Sheet is an expression of your heart toward the work of God’s kingdom through our church for 2020. Make it a special offering to God. If you do not have your Commitment Sheet, you can put it in the offering next week or drop it off at the office. I would like every person to complete a Commitment Sheet. There are one or more things on the sheet to which you can commit. After all, Norwalk First United Methodist needs your dedication and heart for God through your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness. We each have something to give back to God. Extravagant Generosity is an expression of your heart.

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