You Can’t Stop the Rain from Falling.
So What Makes the World Go ‘Round?
Grace United Methodist Church
September 27, 2009
2 Corinthians 9: 6-15 (NIV)
6Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And 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. 9As it is written:
“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.” 10Now he 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. 11You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12This 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. 13Because 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. 14And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
As I begin this morning, I want to invite each of us into a few moments of reflection. I would like each of you to recall, as best as possible, the moment in your life when you were happiest. But even more than happiness, try to call to mind that time in your life when you knew the most complete content and satisfaction you have ever felt. I engaged in this very activity this week, and I’m sure we all had similar memories flash through our minds as we thought back over our lives: baptisms, sports victories, musical accomplishments, weddings, Confirmations, and graduations. Certainly, these are all very happy times in our lives. But I imagine that many of you, like me, settled on something of a different nature in marking that moment of complete content in your life; a time when you gave an important gift to a special person, a time when you offered your gifts to improve the community, or maybe when you were serving on a mission trip in the name of Christ. For me, my most satisfying memories (and there are several of them from this particular trip) came while I was on a trip in Uganda; serving in that country in the name of Jesus Christ. I knew and experienced God more fully and completely in those two weeks than I ever had before or have since. In the midst of extreme conditions of poverty and despair, I found joy. I was completely content because I sensed that God was working through each of us on that trip as we interacted with the people of that country. Walking through prisons and slums and over the hills of rural Uganda was tough, but in our willingness to serve, God showed up in a mighty way. We can’t stop the rain from falling, but through generosity the world keeps “going ‘round.” Through giving the whole world comes to know more complete satisfaction.
You see, we are designed to give of ourselves. We are designed to be generous. God created us with a willingness to give; to God and to others. This is the way God has made us; we actually have the need to be generous. We have a God-given impulse toward generosity. And when we are generous—to God and to our families, friends, neighbors, and others who are in need—our hearts are filled with joy.
There is a writer who tells the story of a time when he was a young boy and a beggar came to the door. On this particular occasion, his parents were out and he was alone in the house. This being a different time many years ago, the boy answered the door and listened as the beggar described his need. On a boyish impulse, the young boy went to his room, broke into his own savings bank and gave the beggar all that was in it. He goes on to explain that never before or since did he know such sheer happiness as came in that moment. There is indeed great joy in generosity. Our hearts are enlarged by the very act of giving. And when we give generously, we become more generous. It feels wonderful to give because in giving we bring joy not just to those who receive our gifts, but in our own lives as well.
Yet giving is a delicate transaction. Giving must not be marked by the slightest degree of reluctance because then it is not freely given. If even the tiniest string is attached, then it is not truly a gift. Living in the 19th century, Robert Louis Stevenson’s home was managed by household servants who loved him very much. His servant boy wakened him every morning with a cup of tea. But on one occasion, his usual boy was off duty, and another one had taken over. The boy woke him not only with his usual cup of tea, but also with a beautifully cooked omelet. Stevenson thanked him saying, “Great is your forethought.” The boy responded, “No Master, great is my love.” When we give out of love, we are able to give freely without hesitation in the same way that God has given unconditionally to us in so many ways; most especially in the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. And it is God alone who can put in our hearts the love which is the essence of the generous spirit.
God is looking for persons who will give, as Paul writes, “not reluctantly or under compulsion,” but “cheerfully.” God loves the happy giver, the one who is generous in the very way that God has designed us to be generous. Anyone who’s ever dug down deep enough to give a gift—a gift that really required some sacrifice or cost something in money, time, or effort, and then watched the smile of gratitude on the faces of those who receive—anyone who has given in that way knows what it means to be a cheerful giver. What a concept; that giving will make us happy! But it’s the truth! Giving is not a burden, it is a joy!
You see, our generosity is an outpouring of God’s own generosity in our lives. It’s like the ripples that cascade out from a rock thrown in a pond. As Paul says, “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever. Now he 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. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” We do not deserve God’s favor, and yet we receive it. God graces and God sows. And grace received demands a response. The grace that comes from God finds its fruition as it flows through us to others.
You see, grace from God comes as a gift. God’s grace prompts grace in and among people, and that grace returns to God in the form of thanks. When my sister and I were growing up, my Mom was always quite insistent that we write thank you notes for any gifts we received. Part of our Christmas Vacation ritual involved at least a half a day at the kitchen table or on the couch with pens and notecards scattered around us, writing thank you notes for the plethora of gifts received earlier in the week. It was important to my Mother that my sister and I learn to show gratitude for the blessings in our lives. Our generosity to the church and to others—our willingness to serve in the name of Christ—is our thank you note to God. It is the way we show gratitude for the great graces of our lives.
From the very earliest times, the primary way people worshipped God was by offering sacrifices to God. Can you imagine this? We are talking about a time when worship was solely an offering given to God! There was no singing, there was no sermon; worship was simply an offering. That’s completely remarkable to me; worship is rooted first in our gifts and offerings to God! Yet, it seems to me, we have come to this point where we view the offering as a “necessary evil.” We gloss over it like so much junk in our mail pile. But offering is worship, and worship is our offerings to God. So these earliest worshippers would build an altar and offer the fruit of one’s labor upon it to God. They would burn the sacrifice of an animal or grain as a way of expressing their gratitude, devotion, and desire to honor God. The scent of the offering was said to be pleasing to God. It wasn’t that God loved the smell of burned meat or grain. Rather, God was pleased at the sight of people giving a gift that expressed love, faith, and the desire to delight and honor God. When we bring our offerings before God, when we are generous with all of our lives, it is a sign of our deep gratitude of the many blessings of our lives.
This idea that we give to God so that God will give back to us is completely backwards. We do not serve God so that we can get something in return; we do not give to God so that God will give more to us. We are to be generous because God has already given to us! And the amazing thing is that when we give to God and to others, the blessings just seem to come back to us; perhaps in something as simple as a feeling of complete contentment. Of course, there is no guarantee in our giving we will be completely free of all worries. There will be times when it will seem that the rain is never going to stop falling. Yet God’s love covers all. And when we give generously, the unmistakable blessings of God flow into our lives; we are touched and changed, even transformed.
There is a famous Jewish Rabbinic story. A man called Monobaz had inherited great wealth, but he was a good, kind, and generous man. In a time of famine, Monobaz gave away all of his wealth to help the poor. His friends came to him and said, “Your fathers laid up treasure, and added to the treasure that they had inherited from their fathers, and are you going to waste it all?” Monobaz responded, “My fathers laid up treasure below; I have laid it up above. My fathers laid up treasure for this world; I have laid up treasure for the world to come.” When we use our resources generously and without reluctance to bring help and comfort to others, though it may seem we are poorer, we really become richer. We tend to believe that if we give, there won’t be enough left for us. Yet, when we give our lives to Christ, invite him to be Lord, and allow the Holy Spirit to begin changing us from the inside out, we find that our aim in life shifts from seeking personal pleasure to pleasing God and caring for others. And the more we grow in Christ, realizing that our lives belong to him, the more generous we become. Generosity is a fruit of spiritual growth. And we all know the time-tested truth: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
We can shrink away in fear. We can make excuses. We can try to avoid the charge in our lives. But the bottom line is this: Generosity is our profession of faith; it is our love of neighbor, and it is our thank you note to God. We were made to give. We were made to love, and we were made to show that love through generosity. And when we give of ourselves, we are transformed. Deep down, we all know the true joy that comes with generosity. And when we are generous in love, we know more fully the blessings of God in our own lives. So the question is this: how will we be generous? How will we give of ourselves? How will we offer our time and resources to help others? What sacrifices will we make in the name of Jesus Christ so that all might know the sacrificial love of Christ offered to them?
Let us pray: Change my heart, oh God. Clean me out inside. Make me new. Heal my desires. Help me hold my possessions loosely. Help me to love you. Teach me generosity and help me to have joy! I offer my life to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.