When I was a much younger man I went to a older widow’s apartment nearby the church for a visit. She made the best cookies and was always so welcoming and interesting. Aunt Marie we called her. I took her communion every month and stayed to visit. She didn’t have a pension and lived on her meager Social Security. We were in the midst of a fund drive and everyone was asked to make a three year pledge toward the building. I didn’t bring it up during our visit, I knew she didn’t have much. Her son was paying the rent for her apartment and what was left went for groceries. Before I left she told me to wait a moment. She took her walker and shuffled to the bedroom. A few moments later she returned with three rolls of quarters she had been saving for just this moment. She said, “I don’t have much to give but I would like to help with the Family Life Center.”
I walked down the stairs and out to the porch and said goodbye before I let the tears come to my eyes. I learned a lesson of generosity that day. This was truly the “widows mite.” Jesus said,
“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” Luke 6:30
A generous spirit is a marvelous thing to behold. It inspires gratitude, love, and thanks. It is a mark of discipleship. We’ve been talking about disciples this week. Disciples are generous people. They may not always have much in the way of money but they have generous hearts and lives. They may have many resources and then they are generous with their resources. There is an old saying that goes,
Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.
The radical promise of Jesus is that we give a good measure and receive not just what we give but much more than we expect. One old pastor said to me, “The weakness of the Church in American today is, in part, due to the lack of consistent generosity. We have learned to spend, we have learned to take, and we have learned that pleasures are their for the right price. What we have forgotten is that true joy comes in giving away what God has given us.”
One Holy Week I got a call from the local funeral director. He said that one of my friends had asked me to be in charge of disposing of her and her husbands remains – they had both been cremated and asked me to be in charge of this sacred responsibility. I led a Sunrise service every Easter morning at a little country Chapel where there is a church cemetery. We took the remains – the words were spoken on that Easter sunrise following the service, “…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” We took a short walk to the edge of the green grass past the stones and scattered the ashes. No grand tombstone, no graveside service, and no family to gather. She and her husband had no children.
I had met them a few years earlier. Her husband, Karl, was introduced to me by another friend. Karl had refinished my great grandfathers chest of drawers. What a fine woodworker he was. He had a lot of religious questions. He had not been a part of the Church for many years. We had many conversations. During that time he found out he had cancer. His timetable changed quite a bit. He wanted to know more and share more of his life. What a joy to know these two. Tears well up in my eyes even now as I remember them.
It was months after that Easter morning that I found out that they had left their entire estate to the mission of their spiritual home. Generous – yes. This has become a lasting legacy of mission. Again I learned another lesson of generosity.
One afternoon a middle aged business man I knew asked to talk to me in the sanctuary. He wanted to tell me something. He was so glad he had become active in the Church and he felt he was growing so much as a disciple. He said he had a confession to make, though. I braced myself for some dark secret. He took out his wallet and walked up to the altar and put it there. He said that he had been converted to following Jesus two years earlier but his wallet had not been converted until this day. He told me things were going to change.
I’ve taught about the 10/10/80 rule for years. I have not lived without struggling with obedience to it but it simply goes like this: 10% give of the “first fruits” to God through the community of faith that you are called to be a part of; 10% you pay yourself by saving and investing; 80% you have left to live on. You may not be able to start there but it can become a motivational goal for your life. It is a truth that God knows we need to understand. We don’t give because God needs it. God knows we need to give to teach us how to be generous. He also understand that We don’t do well without goals.
The Apostle Peter, who really chose a life of poverty in order to share the Gospel once said,
” ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up.” Acts 3:6-7
You have time – you have talents – you have ideas – you have the ability to be generous with what you have. Generosity is the the very life blood of the disciple. As Michael Foss said, “The human heart is the playground of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit is constantly at work trying to show us where God is at work and how to join in that work. It is really all about investing your life in forever.
Take stock of what you have. Have you given your best to God? I’m not talking about your bank account or spending your vacations working in a third world country – but then again it might be that. What I am asking you is: have you given your best? The best is your heart. When you give your heart you also give your commitment, your growth, your willingness, your spiritual gifts, and most of all your love.
Be Well….Be Generous