Psalm 23, Acts 2:42-47
We continue our study today based on this reference,
Membership to Discipleship, by Phil Maynard. As we consider the relationship between the vows we make when joining the church and being a disciple of Jesus Christ, I find this chart very interesting when we explore the area of gifts and/or giving.
Generosity is a good indicator of one’s motivations. Do we give to others in need? Do we see the needs in our neighborhood and respond? Do we make giving a priority? This chart indicates that there is very little difference between those who consider themselves Christ’s followers and those who do not when it comes to this topic of giving and generosity.
Jesus understood the relationship concerning our priorities when it comes to giving. He used parables like the one about the Master who gives different talents to each of his three servants with an expectation of a return on investment. Jesus talked about trying to serve two Masters – God and money. He spoke about reaping what we sow. He interacted with tax collectors who found themselves convicted to the point of giving back even more than they had taken as a sign of being a follower. The scripture read for us from the book of Acts gives us a glimpse of the foundation of the early church. The apostles became a community – caring for one another in every way, including financially, as a way of supporting those in need. Two qualities stand out among believers as noted in the Acts reading: the qualities of gladness and simplicity.
Let’s consider the quality of gladness. Some synonyms of that word ‘gladness’ are gratification, satisfaction, contentedness, pleasure. What are some thing that bring you gladness? Watching your children or grandchildren play? Breathing in the cool, crisp air we have been experiencing lately? The view out your back window? Or instead, would it be something like your bank account, or your commute to work, or your struggle to make the budget meet expectations? Probably the former rather than the latter. I’m thinking we can better experience gladness with those intangible things. Yet there is also something to be said for the inner peace we feel when we know we have been a blessing to someone else.
I remember when our kids were little, Mark took on the coaching job for Russell’s soccer team. Russ was 6 years old at the time and Mark had a great understanding of how kids at that age play soccer. There’s the goalie, and there’s the mob! Wherever the ball went, so went the mob! There was one parent of a girl on Russ’s team who was not very happy about Mark’s leadership. This parent’s goal was for the team to win. Mark’s goal was for the team to have a great time, which they did. They managed to win a few games but overall, they lost more than they won – and the kids had a blast. They learned a little, ran a lot, stayed safe, and really fell in love with the game of soccer. Mark considered the year to be a great success – so did this parent. She even baked him a pie to seal the approval!
You see it wasn’t being the winning team that mattered. It was finding the joy of playing the game and being a part of a team. I see measures of joy on a spectrum. On one end you have those who are never happy, never joyful, utterly miserable and are more than capable of spreading that misery to anyone within ear-shot. On the other end of the spectrum are those who find joy in the little things. These folks are magnetic. In spite of their problems or concerns they always manage to make us feel better simple by being in their presence. In my experience, the most joyful folks are those who know and bask in the love of Jesus Christ. These are the folks who have taken Jesus’ message of love for all to heart, and are generous with their funds, their time, their talents, their patience, their wisdom.
I am sure we can all picture people we know on both ends of this spectrum. The most generous people we know are often living very simple lives. The apostles found joy and contentment with their generosity and their simplicity. It is no surprise that those qualities were appealing to others. Placing all our effort, time, and focus on obtaining more and more prestige and wealth and stuff often comes at a cost. Our ‘stuff’ can quickly suck the life out of us if we are not careful.
Some of the most content people I know live well below their means. Even those who are wealthy find an inner peace by maintaining simple lifestyles. Choosing to stay away from amassing debt frees them up to be more generous with their funds. Avoiding the quest for the next rung on the corporate allows them to spend more time with their children and families. Data on the subject seems to agree – our kids do not need more stuff, they need more of our time. I admit to getting caught up in the quest for more. When I landed what I thought was my dream job, I was spending 2-3 hours a day commuting to work. I missed the kids games. I missed school programs. I missed church events because I was pretty much focused on keeping my high-paying job. I’m convinced I now have high blood pressure because of that commute and that stressful job.
Yet it took a layoff for me to realize that we didn’t need more stuff. We didn’t need my high salary at the cost of missing out on my kids’ lives. When I did get another job, it was at a 40% pay cut – but it was 20 minutes from home. I was there in the afternoon when my teenagers came home from school. I rediscovered my kitchen! Not long after this time I felt God calling me into ministry. I wonder if God was calling me all along, but I was too busy to hear it.
Gladness and simplicity – two qualities that are not often seen together yet it makes perfect sense. Both relate to our generosity. Supporting the church with our gifts allows us as a church body to open this building to local groups who need a meeting place. Supporting the church with our gifts allows us to meet the need we all have to give and be generous. When we vow to support the church with our gifts we are making a commitment to keep our priorities in order, with Jesus Christ securely placed on the throne of our hearts.
Some of you might be a bit confused. After all, this is not the time for the stewardship campaign. Yet Jesus spoke about money more than he did about loving our neighbors. Jesus knew that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Where is our treasure? If our treasure is in fact money, this inanimate object takes on a life of its own, consuming all our time, effort, priority. But if our treasure is serving God and serving others, than money becomes a tool to be a generous blessing to others. Gladness and simplicity are direct responses to the cause of generosity. When we give, then we receive. When we reap, then we sow. When we labor, we experience a great harvest. When we prioritize giving as first and foremost – not a leftover but a first priority – then we will receive the reward of true contentment. I wanted to close with repeating the words of the most familiar Psalm ever written:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures
He leads me beside the still waters
He restores my soul.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His namesake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,
You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Let us find gladness and simplicity through our generosity. Others will definitely take notice. I wanted to thank all of you who came last week for our service of service, but also for those who stayed to share a blessing with our local motorcycle riders. Members of BACA, the Legion Riders, and folks from our local AA group all came and were blessed. 41 riders and their families know that we as Mayo United Methodist Church pray for their safety as they travel some very dangerous paths. Thank you for taking the time – for being generous with those seeking a blessing. Let us always be the church so that the same can be said of us as was said of the apostles – “They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.” Amen.