Proverbs 3:9-10, 27-28 & 33; 11:24-25; 22:9
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 6, 2016

Several years ago, researchers studied 132 people with multiple sclerosis (MS) to find out how best to help them develop coping skills for dealing with their disease. The researchers divided the 132 people into two groups. One group would learn the skills in classes led by doctors, nurses and other medical professionals; the other group, in meetings with fellow MS sufferers.

The surprising discovery was that neither of those two groups benefited as much as the MS sufferers who were giving support. Far more than those being served, those who served showed evidence of improved perspectives on themselves and the possibilities of their lives. They, the lead researcher observed, “had undergone a transformation that gave them a refreshed view of who they are.” The report concluded, “Giving support improved health more than receiving it.”

In other words, the gift was to the giver. Caregiving healed the caregivers most – not in the literal sense of decreasing the physical symptoms of their disease – but in the deeper sense of bringing them emotional peace and spiritual strength.

It is a rule of life that those who put themselves out to bless others end up more blessed themselves!

This rule, the Bible makes clear, applies in our putting ourselves out in financial support of God’s agenda of love for others. As Proverbs says, “A generous person will be enriched.”

This does not mean that God will enrich generous people in the literal sense of adding cash to their bank accounts, but in the deeper sense of enriching their lives by making their lives more meaningful, satisfying and fulfilling. Generosity, born of a loving concern for others, sometimes involves real sacrifice; but those who make such sacrifices feel better off despite their going without some of their wealth and what it can buy.

It’s not just that the best givers are cheerful givers, but that givers make themselves cheerful by their giving. As Bob Hope, a very successful comedian and a very generous man, put it, “Laughter is an instant vacation, but giving is a two-week cruise with pay.”

When I think of how much the gift is to the giver, I think of Tom White, a wealthy
Boston businessman and devoted disciple of Christ, who made it his life’s goal to give away his entire fortune. Though White has now gone on to the life everlasting, and I don’t know whether he fulfilled his ambition, a decade ago he had given away over $80 million. According to a Boston Globe article, when people would ask him why he was so extravagantly generous, he’d reply by saying, “Give me three reasons why I shouldn’t,” and then he’d proceed to give three reasons why he should: “I can’t take it with me, my kids are okay, and my wife’s taken care of.” He would also, when given a chance, add: “I’m motivated a lot by what Jesus wants me to do…and I think He wants me to help make the world a better place.”

White sat on the boards of Harvard Divinity School, Boston College and the JFK library, but his proudest relationship was with the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti, where he funded many health and justice projects.

When his alma mater, Harvard University, would call for a donation, he’d respond, “For God’s sake, you’ve got $15 billion over there, and I’ve got people over here starving to death. You tell me what I should do.” With a chuckle he told the Boston Globe reporter, “But I still give Harvard a $1,000 a year so my classmates will keep talking to me.”

Does White have any regrets? “Just one,” he said, “I’m sorry I don’t have more money to give away.”

We don’t have to be fabulously wealthy like Tom White to experience, as much as he, how the gift is to the giver. We just have to match his generosity in proportion to what we have, even if it is not much at all.

Gary Waddingham, the rector of a small church in Billings, Montana, found himself with a large amount of food left over from a certain program. He remembered a poor single mother, with a bunch of kids, who lived at the edge of town. So Gary packed up the food and drove out to her place.

As he approached her dilapidated trailer, Gary was wondering how he could offer her the charity in a way that would avoid embarrassment and preserve her dignity. So, when she opened the door, he asked her whether she knew of anyone who could use the food.

“You bet,” she answered with enthusiasm. Then she grabbed her coat and hurried over to her rundown car, telling Gary to follow her. After several stops at the homes of poor people, Gary finally came clean, and said, “I was kind of hoping you’d take this food.” She looked at him with an incredulous stare and asked, “Why can’t I be generous too? Why do you get all the fun?”

The gift is to the giver. And, while none of us can give unless we receive, none of us can enjoy life at its best unless we give too.

To make a pledge then is to do ourselves a favor. To make and keep a faith promise to support a particular church’s service of others is to enhance our own happiness. Pledging is one more way of knowing the joy of playing a role in God’s work of saving lives, uplifting people and liberating a community to be all it can. The more generous we can be, in proportion to how much God has entrusted to our stewardship, the more we can appreciate how much the gift is to the giver.

In the context of worship next week, on that Sunday we call Stewardship Dedication Sunday, we will have the opportunity to fill out a pledge card specifying a promise for 2017 of financial support for this church’s mission. May each of us, beginning right now, spend this week praying and seeking God’s leading about what we shall write. Let us, in this moment, start together.

Holy Spirit, as we seek to discern heaven’s will about how daring we are to be in our pledging, open our hearts to living and loving as Jesus lived and loved. Guide us in His path of giving and receiving, in His astounding grace. Amen.

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