Saturday, March 20, 2010

LENT 4 - C

5 Practices: Extravagant Generosity

“Extravagant Generosity describes practices of sharing and giving that exceed all expectations and extend to unexpected measures. It describes lavish sharing, sacrifice, and giving in service to God and neighbour. Every scriptural example of giving is extravagant, and churches that practice Extravagant Generosity teach, preach, and practice the tithe. This is a focus on the Christian's need to give because of giving nature of God whom we worship.” – Robert Schnase

What’s wrong with the prodigal son’s brother?

Think about it, he has the father’s love every day, he has a roof over his head, he has never wanted for anything, and yet – he is complaining about one welcome home party...

You know, I have a theory, it is a theory that a lot of country singers subscribe to; and that is, you don’t know what you have until you have lost it.

Still, you can understand the feeling of jealousy, I suppose, here he is slaving day in and day out on the farm, doing what is expected of him, not partying with his friends because he is too tired at the end of the day; when his little “bother” gets to go off to the big city, spend his money one wine and women, and then come home with his tale tucked between his legs and start all over?

Does that seem fair?

Of course not; but then, like it or not, we have developed too touchy a sense of Justice. It starts, I have noticed, when we are two... and everything that Billy has, Sally has to have too. As we get older we expect that everyone will treat us equally, or we get mad about the way people won’t listen to us, don’t value us, and aren’t like us - I like to call this ‘teenagers.’

And I don’t think we grow out of it; we want to be able to look around and be doing “as good as” the people we see next door, we want life to be fair to us, and treat us well, and so we hate it when we see irresponsible people prosper... or bad people get ahead....

Ah, but then there is that pesky Bible thing... and the one bit of advice we somehow cannot do at all, even a little bit... can you guess what it is? Do you remember the line “judge not, lest you be judged!”

Of course, there must be some specific application that God had in mind, right? It can’t really be saying that we are never supposed to judge people – after all, some people deserve to be judged right?

But not according to the Bible, and not according to Jesus... Who tells this story about the wayward son really to force us to look at the character of the father; you see, all that matters to the father is that “what was lost is now found, what was dead is now alive” and simply to show up and ask for help is cause for generosity beyond expectation.

So what sort of generosity should we expect from each other?

I want to go with Bishop Schnase and say we should be looking towards the most extravagant generosity we can manage.

This might mean we give money to the church, it might mean we build a habitat house, it might mean we spend the whole day listening to a friend when we have other things that need our attention... but generosity of spirit, openness to sharing all we have, willingness to pour out love without counting the cost, that is the type of thing Jesus wanted for us.

I want to read a short snippet from The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, and I want you to listen closely and ask yourself, “Does this sound like my church?” Bishop Schnase writes, “Vibrant, fruitful, growing congregations practice Extravagant Generosity. These churches teach, preach, and practice proportional giving with a goal toward tithing. They encourage their church members to grow in the grace of giving as an essential practice of Christian discipleship, and as a congregation they practice generosity by their extraordinary support for missions, connectional ministries, and organizations that change people’s lives. They thrive with the joy of abundance rather than starve with a fear of scarcity. They give joyously, generously, and consistently in ways that enrich the souls of members and strengthen the ministries of the church.” Do you think that sounds like us?

They thrive with the joy of abundance rather than starve with a fear of scarcity...

Hmmm. That seems to me like quite an indictment... It seems that every time you turn on the radio, or the television, open a newspaper or scan the news on-line, there is nothing but doom and gloom about the economy. When I pay attention to the news south of the border I think it is a little worse... If you watch CNN all they seem to do is paint a bleak picture of scarcity. They run stories that scare us into believing we won’t have enough to retire or even meet our current financial obligations. Everywhere you look we are bombarded with the spectre of economic recession.

Which makes it all the much more difficult to see how rich we really are. When we consider that people in Haiti eat ONE meal a day around 3pm, primarily rice and beans, are we living in scarcity or abundance?

When we consider that every day, 16,000 children around the globe perish from hunger-related causes, that is one child dies every five seconds from lack of food, are those of us gathered here this morning living in scarcity or abundance?

When we consider that somewhere around a billion and a half people, or 1/5th of the world’s population, live on less than $1.25 per day, ask yourself, are we living in scarcity or abundance?

Craig Blomberg, a distinguished New Testament seminary professor at Denver Seminary co-authored a book entitled the Revolution in Generosity in which he makes this point incredibly clear to us. Dr. Blomberg writes, “If every North American Christian simply tithed, the additional amount of money that would be raised above and beyond current giving levels, would be enough to eradicate world poverty in our lifetime.”

Can you imagine that? If we all tithed, that is gave 10% of our income, we could eliminate poverty everywhere. All could eat, all could have adequate shelter, all could truly live. With this knowledge, who WOULDN’T want to help? Who WOULDN’T want to give merely a tenth of what we have, so that others might have the bare necessities to live?

But life isn’t always that simple, is it?. We’ve all made choices about how we spend our money. Many of us have overextended ourselves with credit cards, car payments, mortgages, we are leveraged beyond reason.

So what do we do?

I think we cultivate that spirit of generosity that could lead to bigger and better things.

Take a look around this sanctuary. The pews we are sitting in; the pulpit, the altar, the piano, the organ, this building. These are all examples of a previous generation’s extravagant generosity. 50 years ago people believed that it was worth raising tons of money to build a church here – I bet this church cost the people who dreamed it up dearly; and I bet none of them had more money than we do...

We have to get back to that sense of generosity that comes from knowing that God wants us to be here; that comes from realizing that God is generous beyond measure and we have to live up to that example. We have to become like the father, being open to expressing love without reservation, even when we have good reason not to.

It is not easy to live like that – but Jesus never said it would be easy...

Let us pray:

God, open our hearts, allow our spirits to catch fire; well up within us so that your love pours out into the world. And then, when we are there, remind us of your never ending love and patience, so that we can be free to love. Amen.

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