Isaiah 55:1-3, 58:6-8a & 58:10-11
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 19, 2017
Stewardship Dedication Sunday
This week we make a special effort to give thanks.
People who study the Bible know God wants us to give thanks because giving thanks gives us happiness.
People who study the Bible also know God wants us to give money because giving money gives us happiness.
Today’s message is the third and last in a series about how generosity is a spiritual investment that brings a high return: a life of love with the God who is love!
We have already considered how by generosity we grow in loving God and others. Today we consider how by it we grow in loving ourselves. For generosity brings us into a happiness that selfishness could never attain.
Isaiah 58 says, in a mixed metaphor, that generous people become “like a watered garden, like a spring of waters, whose waters never fail.”
Isaiah 55 had invited us to “come to the waters” of God’s grace and drink in their sweet, life-giving, growth-inducing refreshment. Isaiah 55 had invited us to drink our fill even if we “have no money” – even if we can make no payment in virtuous deeds or devotion by which to earn the right to the blessing – even if we can only receive it as a free gift of love that our character can never warrant and our conduct never merit.
When we take in this undeserved, gratuitous gift, we are both blessed and enabled to bless. We gain capacity and opportunity to bless and love God, others and, yes, ourselves.
Though we often think of increasing our generosity as something that would involve sacrifice and loss of what we might otherwise enjoy – true in the short-run but not in the long – we are overall ahead by our practice of God-guided generosity. As we honor God, we are honored by His making with us “an everlasting covenant” and by His being able to get His “steadfast, sure love” through to us. And as we bring “food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted”, we ourselves “eat what is good and delight [ourselves] in rich food” (which we know ultimately to be Jesus, the Bread of Life), and we experience God’s “[satisfying our] needs” even “in parched places”.
That’s why Proverbs 22:9 says, “Those who are generous are blessed;” why Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will be enriched;” and why Isaiah here compares the generous to “a watered garden.”
As we love God and others by our giving, we at the same time love ourselves well. For by our generosity we become that “watered garden”, and it produces a bumper crop of “the fruit of the Spirit”, which Galatians 5:22-23 enumerates as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.
Everyone who knew Lisa Samson saw her as a wonderful human being and a model Christian who deserved the good life she enjoyed with her family. She actively served her church, home-schooled her children and on the side wrote award-winning Christian books.
Lisa had a beautiful life. She resided in a lovely house in a toney Maryland suburb, from which her husband, Will, commuted to a high-paying corporate job in Washington D.C.
Lisa strove to please God, but she yearned to feel closer to Him. Her spiritual life left her discontent. She longed for more depth and significance.
That healthy spiritual dissatisfaction, combined with some physical problems, motivated Lisa to study the life of Jesus anew. Rereading the Gospels with fresh eyes, she came to appreciate how the best living involved giving all one is and all one has to the purposes of love.
In the middle of that process, this 58th chapter of Isaiah grabbed hold of her and of Will, and wouldn’t let them go. From it there arose in them a desire to do right by God in a fuller sense and to do more for the needy.
So they took a bold step of faith. They decided to downsize that they might give more generously to serve God and help the poor. They sold their home in the suburb and moved into the city.
At first Lisa and Will worried about whether their children would be safe, but they came to look at safety in two ways – as both physical and spiritual. They concluded that their children’s souls would be safer away from all the privilege and protection they’d enjoyed in their old rich enclave and that they’d develop more spiritual muscle in a grittier, edgier urban context.
As they gave themselves more to take care of others and to help people discover the riches of Christ, as they gave more to give God a good name in a place a lot of people thought He’d abandoned, they felt their inner life of faith and friendship with Christ uplifted and enriched. He became both more real to them and dearer to them, and they experienced a happier and more satisfying life.
The essence of the Christian life is loving: loving God, others and ourselves. We needn’t choose between these three dimensions of love. If we love God right, we will love others and ourselves right.
To love anyone right involves using our money right with respect to them. For, while we can give without loving, we cannot love without giving.
That’s why many of us plan out our giving by making a commitment to ourselves and to God about it. Pledging is making a faith promise to give a church a certain amount of money with a certain regularity for a certain stretch of time, according to God’s particular leading of us as individuals. Of course, picking up God’s specific leading takes prayerful listening. Thus, this service will close by providing an opportunity to do just that – one in which we can, as long as we need, keep quiet and attentive before God and be supported in our praying by Peter’s organ meditation.
Thank you for cocking an ear toward the Spirit and listening , in order to hear God’s will about your possibly pledging , for the sake of loving God, others and yourself best, at this point in your life, by means of money. Let us all now pray.