We are a part of a cycle of generosity – where the lives of both the givers and the receivers are changed and transformed because of what God first gave. As Paul writes, “Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!”
I can remember coming home as a kid and my mom would be in the kitchen cooking. She had this great beef stew that she would make or she would be putting together another one of her specialties – a chocolate layer dessert. Treats that her three sons looked forward to her making.
Every once in a while, however, we would think to ask the question – is this for us or for someone else? You see, quite often there was a church dinner or there were people coming over and those special dishes were not typical fare for a random Tuesday in our house. And often, we were right to be suspicious!
But every once in a while – mom would say, no, it is just for us. Ah, those were good times.
These last weeks with our Stewardship emphasis – “Reformation to Action” – we have been reflecting on travel experiences and some of the places we have experienced God in the world. This memory of my mother’s cooking reminded me of a travel experience of my own.
While in seminary, I was part of a choir that took a three week tour in Tanzania, East Africa. We sang at church meetings and worship services and at the dedication of new schools – it was quite a trip!
There were many amazing parts of this experience for me, but the most profound aspect was the hospitality that we received – the hospitality in what was then, and still is, one of the poorest countries in the world.
During those three weeks, we stayed in guest houses and people’s homes – we were treated royally and as honored guests. A quick example, in one of the guest houses there was no hot, running water, but every morning a man would heat water on a fire and bring it to our room so that we would have hot water to wash up. Amazing hospitality!
Another example, as those who are used to having variety in our meals and are privileged to have that variety available, after a couple of weeks in Tanzania, it seemed like everywhere we went we were fed a meal of chicken and vegetables.
Now, I love chicken and vegetables, but it was nearly every meal the same. Different houses, different people, but very similar meals – and then it began to dawn on us – our hosts were giving us their best.
Like my mom preparing special dishes for special occasions – the families that were hosting us were providing their best hospitality to us.
I have to be honest, this was really quite a revelation to me – the idea that they would receive us – strangers that we were – into their homes and offer their best. What an incredibly humbling experience – God was present in their generosity, in their hospitality – in their trust in God’s provision.
Stewardship drives have at least two important functions – there is the obvious goal of inviting commitments in order to fund the congregation and its ministry for the coming year. But they are also an opportunity to talk about what it means to be a steward of all that we have been given – money and financial resources, but also time and gifts and passion.
And St. Paul takes it even a step further – writing about the preferred outward demeanor of a steward of God’s gifts — Paul writes:
You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Now, if Paul’s sunny assertion that “God loves a cheerful giver” causes your eyes to roll, you aren’t alone. But his point is still well-taken as he goes on in the next verse:
And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Our generosity, first and foremost, is a response to God’s generosity to us. And if we are not feeling good about our generosity, i.e. not feeling ‘cheerful’, then maybe there is something else going on in us. It could be that we haven’t bought into or have gotten away from this understanding of God’s provision and generosity – and to paraphrase Paul, that we are giving reluctantly or in response to pressure or obligation.
You see, the goal of being the “cheerful giver” really isn’t about God – it is about us. It is about our hearts being changed and opened up and transformed. Our giving has the power to change the world – our ‘cheerful’ giving – also has the power to change us – to recognize the cycle of generosity that God has started.
I think about the group of Gloria Dei youth and adults who went to the South Loop Campus Ministry last Sunday night, who served a meal to almost 100 homeless and food insecure guests, folks who were provided with warm socks, hats and gloves – things so necessary as the temperature dropped this week.
I think about the families that we will welcome in two weeks through Family Promise and the hospitality that we can provide for them in a challenging season of their lives.
I think about the stories that have been shared in these past weeks by Briana and Julia Schanke about Gloria Dei’s youth mission trips, by Mark Fisher about his work with HIV testing with phenomenal people in Uganda, and by Marge Andersen and her story of sharing the gospel in Tiananmen Square. Stories of God’s presence and activity in their lives. And many more of you have stories to tell too.
What is amazing about these stories and this cycle of generosity is what we don’t see. We don’t really see how sharing God’s generosity impacts another person. We don’t know the result of how the sharing that happened at South Loop Campus Ministry will change those who received that meal or even what changes will happen in those who served it.
Likewise, with the families we have hosted through Family Promise over the years or with those who have been impacted on mission trips or through health kits or food drives and the list goes on.
We are a part of this cycle of generosity – where the lives of both the givers and the receivers are changed and transformed because of what God first gave.
May our commitments to Gloria Dei and in all of the ways and places that we steward God’s gifts be generous and without reluctance or in response to pressure or obligation. And may our receiving be full of thanksgiving to God.
And may Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, be words for us as well – he writes:
So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.
As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you. Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words! (2 Corinthians 9:12-15)
Let us pray…
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Rev. John Berg
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Northbrook, IL