A preacher at a small church would sometimes take his two small sons with him to an early morning Bible study. An elderly gentleman would, sometimes, split his donut with the two brothers. One Sunday, the smallest son came to church with a sandwich bag full of Cheerios. The elderly man leaned over and asked the young boy if he could have some. The boy reached in his bag, pulled out a Cheerio, and split it in half, giving him half a Cheerio! (1) We learn to emulate God in exactly the same way. God gives us so much, and we give Him back half a Cheerio!
One reason, we do NOT give is to receive. At the turn of the 20th century, with the rise of Pentecostalism, New Thought, and “an American gospel of pragmatism, individualism, and upward mobility” led to the rise of the prosperity gospel . (2) Popularized with healing revivals of the 1950s and radio and televangelists starting in the 1950s, this nonbiblical theology says that if you have faith, give to religious causes, and think positively, God will bless you with wealth and resources. Pentecostals and Charismatics today, along with others, have critiqued this theology as irresponsible, an incomplete reading of the scriptures, and exploitation of the poor.
So, if we are not motivated to giving because of receiving, why do we give? There are three primary reasons to why we give.
The first reason we give is not because we are obliged to or indebted to, but rather because, we want to give. We give financially of our tithes, our gifts, and our offerings as worship. In the days of the kings and prophets, the Israelites offered their worship through sacrifice. In the last days of Jesus’ life, a woman with an alabaster jar poured costly ointment and nard in preparation for his death. Today, we bring a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving with our tithes.
At our Wiggly Giggly services, we invite the children to take the offering. If you have ever seen soccer for 5-year old’s, you can picture how a group of young children take the offering. As they swarm from chair to chair, and section to section, nothing excites them as much as something being placed in the offering plate. They cheer and encourage the givers with clapping, smiles, and thank yous. The joy of giving is contagious. When we give out of worship with generous hearts and excitement, we make God the focus of our devotion.
Oswald Golter was a missionary in northern China during the 1940’s. After ten years’ service he was returning home. His ship stopped in India, and while waiting for a boat home he found a group of refugees living in a warehouse on the pier. Unwanted by anyone else the refugees were stranded there. Golter went to visit them. As it was Christmastime, he wished them a merry Christmas and asked them what they would like for Christmas.
“We’re not Christians,” they said. “We don’t believe in Christmas.”
“I know,” said the missionary, “but what do you want for Christmas?” They described some German pastries they were particularly fond of, and so Oswald Golter cashed in his ticket, used the money to buy baskets and baskets of the pastries, took them to the refugees, and wished them a merry Christmas.
When he later repeated the incident to a class, a student said, “But sir, why did you do that for them? They weren’t Christians. They don’t even believe in Jesus.”
“I know,” he replied, “but I do!” (3)
The second reason we give is to participate in God’s Reign here on earth. We pray God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, and then we begin to act as if Jesus already here by making disciples, taking up our crosses and following the way of God, offering forgiveness and reconciliation, worshipping God, loving one another, and proclaiming the nearness of the Reign of God. All of this participation requires funding.
Jesus’ ministries were financed by Galilean women, who provided food, shelter, and other necessities for the movement. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and other female traveling evangelists made up the
band of female workers who surrendered and sacrificed everything to follow Jesus….between teaching, they did the cooking; beyond recruiting, they did the mending; in excess of donating their funds, they donated their time. “To his ministry, they had given everything they had: their gifts, talents, time, money…their very substance. Anything to keep his dream going. In short, the women had ministered to Jesus out of the abundance of their hearts.” (4)
They will know we are Christians by our love. One of the defining characteristics of the earliest Christian communities was their generosity. Throughout the book of Acts, we find recorded the formation of early Christianity of when the Christians came together everything was shared, possessions were held in common and no one was in need. These behaviors caused observers of the community to exclaim in amazement: “Who are these people?”
At West Grove, we have been blessed by the abundant generosity of those who support and finance our faith community as we all open our hearts to Jesus, grow in faith, and serve God and God’s world. In the last year, we have received 15 new members, had 30 small group opportunities, and fed those who are hungry with 260 bags of groceries and shared over $3300 in emergency assistance funds with our neighbors. Even as we sat in scarcity projecting a deficit earlier in the year, it has been the generosity of our congregation and community that overwhelms me with delight. We continue to seek more sustainable right-sizing solutions. In response to an overwhelming request from our sustainability survey, we paused for a season to develop a sound strategic plan, before taking additional steps. Our strategic planning team has diligently been developing a 3-year rolling plan to take us into the future as we seek to be the hands and feet of Christ. This plan will soon be fully shared, so that we might all live out our call to discipleship, reflecting God’s abundance.
The final reason to give is to grow in grace. We are followers of Jesus, who desire to be more like God. God, who is abundantly generous leads us on this journey. When we focus on giving as an act of charity, we split the Greatest Commandment into two. We may focus on our love of neighbor while forgetting that our giving is one of the necessary ways that show how we love God. In 2 Corinthians 6:7, we are reminded that ‘God loves a cheerful giver.’ Because if our giving is an act of worship, it has to be done out of joy, not compulsion.
Giving shapes us. When we watch others give, we are moved to give. When we see where God’s mercy and grace have been ample, we strive to be merciful, grace-filled people.
John Wesley preached approximately 40,000 sermons in his lifetime – about 15/ a week his journal suggests. One of the best-known Wesley teachings comes from a sermon entitled, “The Law Established through Faith where he says: “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.”(5)
Methodists and well-meaning people everywhere have sought to live that out for generations. Wesley included this concept in many sermons, and explicated further on money. He said: “‘Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can’ which may sound like a modern philanthropic adage; however, John Wesley preached these words in 1760. (6) As he preached to coal workers in the mines, factory workers at the pubs, and the swath of English society most impacted by the Industrial Revolution at the preaching houses, Wesley stood on a strong prophetic tradition for equality in work wages. He urged those who would drink or gamble their earnings to care for the needs of their family and save funds. Then, he pointed to God who warmed his heart and called Christians to care for one another by giving to churches, mutual aid societies and those in need.
Where is God calling you to abundant generosity? God gives us life, breath, and eternity – the whole donut! May you worship God abundantly, immerse yourself in the ushering in the reign of God, and grow in God’s grace as you emulate God’s abundant generosity with joy and broken cheerios.
This is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; thanks be to God.
(2) Bowler, Kate (2013). Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. Oxford University Press, 11.
(4) Weems, Renita J. Just a Sister Away: Understanding the Timeless Connection between Women of Today and Women in the Bible. Warner Books, 2005, 95.
(5) Wesley, John. The Law Established Through Faith, 1750 in Outler, Albert’s John Wesley Sermons: An Anthology. Abingdon Press, 1991.
(6) Wesley, John. The Use of Money: Parts 1 and 2., 1760 in Outler, Albert’s John Wesley Sermons: An Anthology. Abingdon Press, 1991.
Old Testament Lesson: Proverbs 11:24-31
Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.
A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.
The people curse those who hold back grain, but a blessing is on the head of those who sell it.
Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to the one who searches for it.
Those who trust in their riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like green leaves.
Those who trouble their households will inherit wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise.
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, but violence takes lives away.
If the righteous are repaid on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22:34-46
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Meditations For Your Week Sunday, October 27 ~ Saturday, November 2
Sunday: “Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.” Proverbs 11: 24. What acts of abundant generosity is God calling you to plan today?
Monday: “A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.” Proverbs 11:25. Consider that the abundance of God is poured out to you and through you. Tithing and generosity are a response to God’s abundance and goodness in your life.
Tuesday: “The people curse those who hold back grain, but a blessing is on the head of those who sell it.” Proverbs 11: 26. Sharing our abundance with those most in need is a vital way to bless our neighbors. Pray for those who are privileged to have much, that they may learn to share.
Wednesday: “Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to the one who searches for it.” Proverbs 11: 27 How is generosity an agent of change and transformation? Where have you seen this occur?
Thursday: “Those who trust in their riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like green leaves.” Proverbs 11: 28. What acts of righteousness is God calling you to today? Righteousness may bring abundance and flourishing.
Friday: “Those who trouble their households will inherit wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise.” Proverbs 11: 29. Consider that generosity is unexpected, generous gifts from faithful disciples who are committed to God’s peaceable kingdom. It is always found on the pathway to abundant generosity.
Saturday: “the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, but violence takes lives away.” Proverbs 11: 30. Pray for the generosity of the community to care for the full needs of the community, so that all may have life abundantly.