Giving to God’s Kingdom

June 11, 2017

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Our Vision

Trinity Sunday

Giving to God’s Kingdom

2 Corinthians 9:6-11

          Today, we continue to look at our shared church vision. We have talked about Knowing God, Sharing Our Love with Others, and Growing in Discipleship. We now look deeper into Giving to God’s Kingdom. At some point in our following of Christ, we realize all that we are comes from God and belongs to God; this leads us to the practice of giving and generosity.

It is in the practice of generosity that we learn that giving helps us become what God wants us to be. After all, living fruitfully is not merely a matter of having something to live on, but something to live for.

Years ago, Burt Reynolds starred in an old film entitled “The End.” In this black comedy film, Burt’s character does not have too many more months to live and decides to commit suicide by swimming out as far as he can until he is exhausted and then just go under. But after going under, he looks at the surface of the water from the underside with the sun shining through and decides not to go through with it.

As he breaks the surface of the water he screams: “I want to live! I want to live!” He then begins to try to swim to shore, but it is a very long way off. As he begins to swim, he talks to God. He promises to obey all of the Ten Commandments, and then realizes he doesn’t know what all of them are so he promises to learn them. Then, in his panic, he says, “Lord, if you get me out of this, I will give you 80% of everything I have.”

But time passes and he is still going strong, and besides he can just begin to see the shoreline. But as he continues to swim, he feels his strength holding out and says, “Lord, if you help me to get to shore alive I will give you 10% of all my earnings.” And finally, he struggles to the place where he sees that he is just going to be able to make it to land and says, “Well, Lord, let’s just forget about what I said before. I think I can make it from here on my own.”

Reynold’s character is reflective of the attitude of many people today. They struggle through hard times and think that they are the ones that brought them through those struggles. They think God didn’t have anything to do with it. They only want God when life’s situations get desperate. But God’s constant loving acts are extravagant generosity, and he wants us to be just as extravagant. Giving back to God in hospitality, worship, faith development, and mission and service should be a response of gratitude. We give to God because he is Lord of the universe and he is worthy of our praise. We should worship God with our lips, our gifts, and our lives. Extravagant generosity is a lifetime of giving back to God what is rightfully his. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

Without a doubt, the root of generosity is God’s love. And so whenever we give out of love, the givers are enriched, the receivers’ needs are met, and God, the Source of all blessing, is praised. This was the message that Paul was trying to convey to the Christians in Corinth in our scripture reading today. In other words, where God’s Spirit is present, people give.

Paul told the Corinthians, whenever and wherever you give, your lives will be enriched. Paul then gave them two reasons to give generously. First, he said, the size of a harvest corresponds to the scope of the sowing. All farmers would know this. A farmer can part with some of the grain he has now in order to sow it, so that later he will reap an even greater bounty. This holds true in the natural world as well as the spiritual world. As bearers of God’s Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world, we sometimes have to sow the seeds of faith and wait, sometimes for many years, before we gather the harvest of saved souls. “Remember this,” Paul said, “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

          The second reason Paul gave for giving generously is that God loves generosity. God prizes not the size of the gift, but the giver’s sincerity, that is, not giving reluctantly; the giver’s spontaneity, that is, not under compulsion; and the giver’s joyful willingness to give, that is, being a cheerful giver. Extravagant generosity means that as Christians, we will give freely and joyfully all that we can despite our circumstances, because God, in his generosity, will give us the means to do so.

Notice what Paul says: God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. Our giving is dependent on God’s blessings of abundance to us. The more that we give, the more God will give us to give because he will supply our every need. The problem is many of us want more than we need or want to keep more than we need.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism had a great saying that he lived by religiously. He said,

Do all the good you can,

          By all the means you can

          In all the ways you can,

          In all the places you can,

          At all the times you can,

          To all the people you can,

          As long as ever you can.

Wesley knew how to live in extravagant generosity.

First, givers are enriched through giving, and then second, Paul said, the receivers’ needs are met. Paul was asking the Corinthians to give generously to the poorer church in Jerusalem. By their giving, Paul assured the Corinthians that their lives as well as the lives of the people in Jerusalem would be the better for it. Listen: You [meaning the Corinthians] will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us [meaning Paul and his companions] your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.

Giving matters. It matters to the givers, to the recipients of the gift, and to God. Giving matters for us today. First, it helps congregations thrive. Churches with generous members offer more ministry, work with greater confidence, have less conflict, and make a greater impact on their communities and on the world. Responsibility and hope for the church motivate the giver. People support the church so that others can receive what they have received. This is why Paul wanted the Corinthians to help those in Jerusalem.

Second, giving aligns us with God’s purposes. People give because their contribution aligns with the purposes God wants them to fulfill in the world. Helping people, relieving suffering, teaching the spiritual life, reaching young people – when we sense God’s call to make a difference, we can contribute our time or become personally involved in the day-to-day ministry. We please God by making the difference God wants us to make.

Third, giving changes us inside. People give because generosity helps them achieve God’s purposes in themselves. By giving, we develop the inner qualities of generosity. Generosity is not a spiritual attribute someone acquires apart from the practice of giving. It becomes discernable only through visible behavior.

Bishop Schnase of the Missouri Conference says that we cannot become generous and cling to everything we have without letting go. The opposite of generosity is greediness, selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-absorption. These are not the qualities that lead to life, and so by our giving we cultivate a different nature inside ourselves. Paul said it this way in verse 10: Now [God] who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.

Fourth, giving mirrors God’s nature. 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.

And that brings us to our fifth reason for extravagant generosity, giving fosters a healthier relationship to money. We love the material things of this world and making money, but we also have to put it in perspective and balance with the other things we love in this world: the love of family; belonging to community; a sense of meaning, accomplishment, contribution, and service. We should enjoy making a positive difference in the lives of other people.

But many of us pursue a never-ending goal of unhappiness and that is, “If I only had a little more money, I could be happy.” When asked how much money they would need to earn to be happy, people of all different incomes answer the same. If they could only earn about twenty percent more than they presently do, they would finally arrive at a satisfying happiness. Persons earning $10,000 dream of reaching $12,000; those earning $100,000 believe that with just $20,000 more per year they will be happy; and people earning $500,000 believe that when they earn $100,000 more they will finally arrive. We have to learn to be happy with what we have and what we need and not with what we want.

Every time we spend money, we make a statement about what we value. Giving provides a spiritually healthy detachment from the most harmful influences of a materialist society, an emotional distance that is otherwise unattainable. Giving protects us from the pangs of greed.

Whenever we give, givers are enriched, the receivers’ needs are met, and lastly, God, the Source of all blessing, is praised. The last two reasons giving matters, comes from Paul’s belief that through giving, God, the Source of all blessing, is praised. In verse 13 of Second Corinthians 9, Paul said this: Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.

You see, giving deepens our relationship with God. Giving assists us in our quest for God. Bishop Schnase writes that “our clinging and coveting and hungering for wealth can obstruct our pathway to God and to the life God would have us enjoy. When unrestrained desire for material riches occupies the soul, there is little room left for God…On the other hand, by giving generously, our beliefs and trust in God rise to tangible form. We become doers of the word and not hearers only. Giving makes following God real…When we seek to do the things God would have us do, including giving, our practice intensifies our love for the things God loves. Then the material possessions that can serve as a distraction or impediment to following Christ become an instrument for our serving Christ…Our material goods, consecrated to God, nourish our desire to serve God. Generosity feeds our love for God.”

And lastly, giving honors Christ’s sacrifice. People practice generosity to honor the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. By giving extravagantly, we participate in the ultimate self-giving nature we perceive in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Christian transformation involves dying partially to the things we love, because God gives us life. Our return gift is the giving of our whole selves to God. We give because we have received.

Let me end with this thought. First-century Christian communities, like the one Paul is writing to in our scripture today, and the Methodists of the 1700s, like John Wesley led in England and America, had discovered a truth as sure as gravity, that generosity enlarges the soul, realigns priorities, connects people to the Body of Christ, and strengthens congregations to fulfill Christ’s ministries. Giving, reflects the nature of God. Growing in the grace of giving is part of the Christian journey of faith, a response Christian disciples offer to God’s call to make a difference in the world. This week and in the weeks to come, I urge you to reflect on your patterns of generosity. Are you truly fulfilling the Christian model and The United Methodist members’ oath to faithfully participate in Christian ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?

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