The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 17, 2019 – Stewardship Dedication Sunday
As a young woman, Gerda Weissman Klein endured the horrors of a Nazi death camp. Her dear friend from childhood, Ilse, was imprisoned with her. They suffered terribly from brutally hard work and near starvation.
One day Ilse found a raspberry lying on the ground. She pocketed it and carried it all day in her pocket to give to Gerda that night. With a loving smile, just before the barracks’ dim lights were extinguished, she presented it to Gerda, carefully placed on a leaf, as if the leaf were a piece of fine China, and she herself were as well-fed as a Hawaiian queen. It was an act of glorious generosity.
The greatness of a gift is not measured by what we give but by what the gift means. With no more than a tiny berry, Ilse showed Gerda how much she loved her.
Jesus saw a glorious generosity in a poor widow who gave God no more than two small coins. While in cash value her gift amounted to little, it thrilled God. For it represented “all she had to live on” and showed how much she loved and trusted God.
In deciding what next year to give in support of God’s work through this particular church, we’d do well to think of our pledge, not just in terms of what we can afford or what the church needs, but in terms of what we can say to God by it. That, and not the amount, determines whether ours is an act of glorious generosity.
First, by our pledge we can give a glorious expression of grateful love for God.
A pastor I know, Mike Erre, was one Advent marveling at God’s extravagant gift in the birth of Christ, and suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to make an extravagant demonstration of his appreciation. Mike and his wife had just refinanced their home and cashed out what was (for them) a large sum of money. He found himself wishing to spend all of it in helping the church and the people it served. Only until he broached the idea with his wife, did he learn that God had already put the same wish in her heart! That year, the two of them had one of their best Christmases ever, as they gave away what they otherwise could have spent on themselves and showed a grateful love for God.
Second, by the same kind of glorious generosity, we can show helpful love for our neighbors.
One day, while sitting in the back seat of the family car and waiting for the light to change, 14-year-old Hannah, daughter of Kevin and Joan Salwen, saw a black Mercedes coupe on one side and a homeless man begging for food on the other. Hannah turned to her father and said, “Dad, if that man there had a less nice car, that man there could have a meal.”
After they pulled away from the intersection and drove down the road, Hannah felt a growing concern to provide for those in need. “What do you want to do?” her mother asked. “Sell our house,” Hannah replied.
That got her parents thinking, and eventually they did just that. They sold their large home, donated half the proceeds to charity, and bought a modest replacement home. Though they sacrificed some niceties, they believe the blessings more than made up for the losses. The smaller home, for example, facilitated more family interaction. “We essentially traded stuff for togetherness and connectedness,” Kevin says. “I can’t figure out why anybody wouldn’t want that deal.”
Kevin and Hannah have written a book to encourage others to step off the “treadmill of accumulation” and to define themselves, not by what they have but by what they share – in a lifestyle of glorious generosity. Hannah says, “The old house was just something we could live without. It was too big for us. Everyone has too much of something, whether it’s time, talent or treasure.” In other words, everyone has enough of something to pass some of it on and to feel no loss – while showing God’s big concern for everybody.
By our pledges, we can show a glorious generosity that expresses our grateful love for God and our helpful love for neighbors. Finally, we can show a glorious generosity that expresses our hopeful faith in God’s promises. Jesus wasn’t joking when He said that it is more blessed to give than to receive and that no one who sacrifices anything for the kingdom of heaven fails to receive a thousand-fold more in return.
Toward the end of his life, Martin Luther said, “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” Moreover, while we can’t take it with us, we can send it on ahead by using it now in the purposes of eternity, the purposes of love and justice.
In his book, Giving It All Away, David Green notes how some people act “like life is an oversized game of Monopoly”, where you win by accumulating as much as you can. In Monopoly you keep acquiring houses and hotels and extracting rent from others, until you have all the money.
Green notes that actually life is more like Uno or Crazy Eights, where the point is to run out of all your cards. You want to use up every card you have, knowing that what’s left in your hand at the end counts against you. You gain by giving away what you have and finishing with few things left in your possession.
And Jesus said, “Those who lose their life shall save it.” So too, those who give away the most, in love and trust of God, gain the most – and the best.
May God move us to such love of Jesus and neighbor, and such hope in Him, that we will by our pledging show overflowing faith and glorious generosity!