LIVING LIFE GENEROUSLY
2 Corinthians 8: 7-15
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You don’t have to be a billionaire to live life generously, but let’s look at a couple of them. The billionaire owner of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, has so much money that he’s spending some of it to go up into a sub-orbital trip in a Blue Origin rocket, a company that he owns: a thrill ride indeed! Still, he will recoup some expenses because he auctioned off another seat on the rocket and the winner of the trip will pay Bezos’ company 28 million dollars for the privilege! That’s one way to use money! By contrast, Jeff Bezos’ billionaire ex-wife-Mackenzie Scott has given away more than $8.5 billion dollars to charities in less than a year, with $2.7 billion just announced last week. One report said: “Her model of giving—direct, no-strings-attached donations to organizations selected by a team of advisors—has made her an outlier in the billionaire charity world.” [recode by Vox, by Sara Morrison, June 15, 2021.]
But Jesus was superb in describing that the amount of generosity is good, but the percentage given from one’s actual worth is what mattered most to God. He pointed out in Mark chapter 12 that “a poor widow came and put two copper coins [into the Temple treasury] which makes a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she, out of her poverty has put in everything she had.’” It’s an astounding lesson; Jesus said God looks on the sacrifice much more than the amount. Nevertheless, I know examples of how people’s generosity has provided many things: the land on which our church facilities were built was a gift from an individual; our sanctuary instruments are here because of generous donations; our replacement steeple after a devastating hurricane was a generous gift, and our new roof when ours was torn apart in 2004 was replaced by generous gifts. We have a Peninsula Hall too because of generous people. But enough about us! Generous people have made it so that people in need of good counselors can find and afford them at our Presbyterian Counseling Center over the past 35 years. Next month, if we get approval from the Daytona Beach Shores Council, the house where our Associate Pastor used to reside will become a Counseling Center satellite office in Daytona Beach Shores! Other sites already include Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, Port Orange, and Palm Coast! The location on our property was made possible by a generous bequest. In addition, the number of Presbyterian Church (USA) missionaries has been dropping steadily as churches have failed to support their denominational causes. So this year, as one missionary couple that we used to support announced their retirement, we moved to select another missionary to support, this one from Guatemala, the place where Radford Rader still hopes to lead a team of adults back for mission work in January. That too is made possible in part by generosity!
But generosity is not just about money; it is also about spirit; and it’s about giving time, and food, and clothing, and water to others. Our food drives are a tremendous example of generosity in our area. And our Staff members don’t just stick with their job descriptions when needs arise. Just last week many staff members hauled our hundreds of hymnals and remaining Bibles from our Christian Education wing where we stored them for a year, and they worked to put them all back into our sanctuary—what generosity of spirit! They were tired and sore after doing that! Generosity provides for public parks that many can enjoy. Generosity of time from professionals has been the backbone of our Body, Mind, and Soul Health Ministries as doctors, nurses, counselors, personal trainers, chaplains, and other professionals have come to our Fellowship Hall to either screen for medical issues or teach others how to be impowered to care for themselves. But some just stay in their lane, living in comfortable mediocrity.
In 1979, a man named Wilbur Rees wrote these biting, sarcastic words. Get ready: “Give me $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of [God] to make me … pick beats with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.” [Charles Swindoll, Improving Your Serve, Waco: Word Books, 1981, p. 29.] Mary Ann and I joined youth and their leaders a few years ago in a hot and dirty gleaning project from a generous farmer in Central Florida who let us cut many, many heads of cabbage out of the ground and taken them to food banks! We came with our own work clothes and cutting tools: what a hot and difficult job that was, but we gave a day so others could have fresh food. Others joined us in that work. In other seasons, we were invited by farmers to glean oranges and other vegetables. Generosity is a way of thinking and living.
Paul wrote this to the Corinthian Christians: “Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in generous understanding.” [2 Cor. 8:7] What would be Paul’s reason to urge them—and us—to have a generous understanding? He goes on and gives the answer: “You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” Our salvation Jesus procured for us through pain and sacrifice. What is the going rate for salvation these days? Is it worth a trip into space? What are people spending precious money on these days? A home? A car? College? Medical insurance or prescriptions? There are many important things that demand our money. To what or to whom might you want to give money just because you want to? So many of our ministries function because people have generously given their time: Except during the pandemic, volunteers folded weekly bulletin, volunteers folded our newsletters, volunteers (by and large) still repair our building and grounds, and volunteers go to feed hungry people. Generosity encourages generosity. My heart is warmed by generous actions.
I am reminded of the responses we had when Hurricane Charley went through our area in 2004, followed by Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. Charley was our devastating storm, pulling our sanctuary roof apart and causing water to dampen pews, carpets, hymnals, and Bibles. With a valiant effort and tall ladders, sheets of plastic were laid over our organ pipes, our piano, our organ console, and our bookshelves of music in the choir room. Do you remember our original ceiling? Acoustic tiles; they got so saturated that the week after when we tried to hold services, heavy wet tiles fell with a splat, nearly hitting people. Generous volunteers came and mopped and dried what they could. Our Executive Presbyter called me: “How are you?” she asked. “Is anyone hurt? Have you had destruction?” I was relieved to tell her that no one was hurt as far as I had heard, but our roof was partly torn off and water had gotten in. “Let me make a call,” she said. Less than a week later, we got a check from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Mary Ann and I and our congregation have supported PDA causes before. Well, this time the need was ours. “We heard about your roof” they wrote. “Please use this $10,000 in any way that will help, and we will pray for your recovery.” Generosity encourages generosity. We got a new roof, and we built a new beautiful wood ceiling. I thought my heart would burst from gladness over the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance gift, but the best was yet to come. We received many other precious gifts toward church repairs that were given from the heart; some were handmade cards, some were sacrifices of time; and one was an envelope with $20.83 cents in shiny coins. That gift was from a 5-year-old girl who is now a young woman in our church. Her parents had discovered she had saved birthday money and saved money earned from doing special jobs around the house. When her parents told her about the church roof being damaged, Casey pulled a twenty-dollar-bill out of her savings and laid it on the table. Then she went to a secret place in her room and pulled out all the shiny coins she had. Together, she and her mother put it in a church envelope and her mother wrote on it what Casey wanted to say: “To help fix God’s roof …and ours.” Inside was twenty dollars … and 83 cents. Praise God; thank you Jesus; and thank you, Casey Timbs, for such a precious gift.
Let us pray:
Generous God: you set the examples for us. Sometimes a little child leads us like in October 2004. Perhaps new examples will be ours to make or ours to witness. Keep our hearts and eyes open. Thank you. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner June 27, 2021