You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill will not be hidden; … So let your light shine before others. -Jesus of Nazareth
You ever notice when reading the Gospel that Jesus seems to actually believe his followers can change the world? Not only that, but these same followers are to live in such an odd way that the culture witnessing their oddly generous joyful behavior will see the commotion as some great light shining in their midst.
To follow Jesus, we are called to be different from the culture around us, even though we are immersed in and formed by our culture. Culture says that looks & prestige and position are what matter most. But followers of Jesus work to see the God-given value in each person, regardless of where they come from. Culture says the point of life is to gather all the money and toys you can in this life. Followers of Jesus are industrious as well, but manage to bring others along with them, sharing what they have, even creating means for others to also cultivate enough.
One clear mark of following Jesus’ teachings in this life is that we be generous. Early Methodist John Wesley captured the idea in his turn of phrase –
“Earn all you can, and
Save all you can, so you can
Give away all you can.”
In our membership vows, we say we will support the Church by our Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service, and Witness. I appreciate that the mention of money (gifts) comes only after the praying and showing-up are named. But no way around it – it’s to be a big deal that we consistently give a regular portion of our income to what God is doing through the Church.
For most of us, generosity is regarded as private, which is a fine thing, mostly. Jesus even said a thing or two about keeping it that way so we don’t make our giving about ourselves. Jesus-the-rabbi said to not even let your left hand know what your right hand is giving, when it comes to acts of generosity.
But we need to talk about the beautiful spiritual practice of our generosity, and not keep it under a bushel basket all the time. Our generosity inspires and challenges and spurs one another on to good deeds. Remember a few months back, the overflowing donations toward the Haiti Birthing Center that resulted from our appeal to honor Chuck Ellinwood’s 90th birthday? Well over $10,000 came in. Many of us were so moved to see our incomes as tools for underwriting mission in the world. No bushel basket over out light that day!
My family, growing up, did not talk much about generosity as a value in general, or underwriting the Church’s mission in specific. But people kept showing up in my path who were generous, and that was a powerful witness to me. When I was a junior in high school I saw my friend Gary regularly give his allowance money, in a no-show-off way, to personally underwrite refreshments for an ongoing Christian youth group that met in people’s homes. Do you think that made an impact on me? Well, here I am 45 years talking about it! Even voices beyond the grave witness to me on the power of keeping our promises to God to be generous. I can still hear Chuck Judson, past church Board Chair now seated at the “heavenly board”, saying how his tithes and offerings made to Central Church are, for him, the most important money transactions he makes each month.
Our children and grandchildren need to see the ways we are generous to causes larger than ourselves. I want the next generation to witness our underwriting mission projects and putting checks in the offering plate, don’t you? I want my daughters to know Jane and I tithe 10% of our income to the work of Central Church. We would do well to all be talking about the commitments in our lives that actually cost us something. Of course, not in some bragging way. But this is one way we let others know what we stand for, apart from the culture. Celebrating our covenants & commitments is a way we are a city on a hill.
I was intrigued by an online article, “What Motivates Donors” , by Linda Lombardi, where she names what stirs people, religious or not, to give.
Her list includes –
-Desire to make a difference;
-Family & upbringing;
-Personal stories that impact us emotionally;
-Social networks make it easier;
And only at the end does she list “Religious Beliefs” as motivation to give our income for impacting change in the world. From the article: “Every major religion teaches good will, caring for others, and charitable giving. Donors practice what they preach. Giving USA’s 2017 Special Report on Giving to Religion discovered that 62 percent of religious households give to charity of some kind (religious or secular).”
I want to continue to be a follower of Jesus in ways that cost me something. I imagine the same is true for you.
In the coming weeks at worship, our Stewardship Team will be asking some great questions among us, helping us to get clear again on who it is we hold covenant with, who it is we desire to serve with our very resources. Questions like –
-Who taught you how to be generous?
-What are celebrations you have for what you’re already thankful for?
-What are your visions & dreams for Central’s future?
I invite you to respond to my comments here, telling what generosity means to you. Who taught you how to be generous?
I see such generosity in our congregation and beyond. During the month of October we’ll highlight our annual giving campaign and the opportunity to use the coming weeks to sense the privilege of giving our hard-earned dollars to the same cause that Jesus’ first followers signed on for. But let us also consider a deeper level of giving going forward. We might just be a sign of hope to our culture that notices when people put their money where their mouth is. When that happens, we are shining a light like some city on a hill.
On the Way with you,