Finding Joy in Real Life – 8-17-14

Today is the fourth in our five sermon summer series on “Finding Joy in Real Life.” We have focused each week on basic Christian values, starting with the Golden Rule, love your neighbor as yourself, moving the second sermon to humility, walking humbly with our God. The third habit for living well is forgiveness, which we highlighted using the Lord’s Prayer. Today we look at the habit of generosity as we read Proverbs and the oldest piece of writing in the New Testament from Philippians.

Philippians 1:27-2:4 Conduct yourselves, then, in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ.  If you do, whether I come and see you myself or hear about your behavior from a distance, it will be clear that you’re standing firm in unity of spirit, and exerting yourselves with one accord for the faith of the Gospel, without being intimidated by your enemies.  Standing together without fear is an indication that they will be destroyed and you will be saved.  It’s a divine signal that God—
on behalf of our Savior—has given you the privilege of believing in and suffering for Christ
You’re now experiencing the same struggle that you saw in me—and now hear that I still have.
If our life in Christ means anything to you—if love, or the Spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness or sympathy can persuade you at all— then be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind. That is the one thing that would make me completely happy.  There must be no competition among you, no conceit, but everybody is to be humble:  value others over yourselves, each of you thinking of the interests of others before your own.

August 17, 2014

Finding Joy in Real Life: Five Habits for Living Well      
            4. The Secret to True Wealth – Generosity

It was heartbreaking this week to hear about the death of Robin Williams. He was such an amazing talent and reached across the generations with his comedy and his acting. I’ve enjoyed watching some of the tributes.
One of the tributes that came out this week mentioned that when he performed someplace, he would put a rider into his contract that the local theater or movie company had to hire a certain number of homeless people to work as part of his stipulations for working there. That’s a great way to use one’s power and influence. I wonder how many homeless people ended up with their lives permanently changed because of Robin Williams’ thoughtfulness and generosity?
Generosity of spirit; generosity of finances, generosity of time: some people live out generosity in their lives and know a particular kind of joy because of the way they live.
I always think about a guy way back when I was a kid, a boy scout at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. All the scouts were meant to take turns getting up each morning to stoke the fire. It meant getting out of your warm sleeping bag into the cold mountain morning air, and getting some wood together and starting a fire. There was one guy in our group who took it on every morning. I was really happy to have him in our group – for his generosity in every respect. I appreciated him from the warmth of my sleeping bag. I know he felt a certain joy in doing it.
I like talking about generosity on a Sunday that is not a stewardship Sunday, when we don’t have a particular agenda of asking for money. The truth is that generosity is fundamentally part of what it is to be human. Though society these days teaches us to get as much as we can, and to spend as much as we can – to focus on acquisition and showing off our possessions, generosity of spirit, money and talent is what we are really about.
I feel like I talk a fair amount about generosity, because the church is such a good vehicle for our generosity. This is a very generous church. We have been showing that this summer in our campaign to renovate and enliven and modernize our church. We show it regularly in the gifts given to the Methodist Home for Children, the Mary Jane Enrichment Center and regular opportunities for giving.
Today I want to nuance my talk about generosity by acknowledging that recent studies show that there is a correlation between money and happiness, but only up to a point. The study showed that people who make up to $75,000 as a family show some correlation between their wealth and happiness, but after that there is no correlation.
The obscene amounts of money that CEO’s are making these days are out of all proportion to what workers are making, and it is harmful for our society. You see, generosity is not just about individual giving. Generosity is about how our whole society is set up. Research shows that societies that find ways to have more equality and less huge gaps in wealth are literally healthier and happier – not just the poorer folks, but the richer folks as well.
Doing this work in our church this summer has been a chance for us as a church to illustrate reciprocity in giving and receiving. Everyone feels good about being generous. It is a wonderful feeling when you can give. We forget that sometimes when we take all the opportunities to give and don’t make room for reciprocity.
This summer, a mission trip that we had planned turned out to be scheduled for the exact same week when we needed help taking up the pews. We cancelled the mission trip to Atlantic City and instead put out the word that we needed help. Folks from Cookman Beloved Ministries, Methodist Home for Children, and Alcoholics Anonymous all showed up to give back to St. Luke. They went out of their way to help us out because they appreciated the help they had been given. Somehow it felt right to deepen our relationships in this way.  Maybe this week, it will happen a little more as we put the pews back.
When I was in college, I majored in religion and I was surprised to see a particular author on the syllabus listed as an important eighteenth century theologian. The theologian’s name was Karl Marx. We usually think of Marx as being the radical founder of communist thought.
His early writings however were quite theological. We know Marx speaking most clearly about religion as “the opiate of the people.” He was critical of religion that encouraged people to settle for lives of drudgery and oppression. He insisted that religion that kept people from fulfilling who they are meant to be is not really about God and faith, but an institution that serves the state.
Jesus gave his life so that people would be free to live fulfilled and meaningful lives connected with the Creator of Life. Proverbs condemns people and societies that reward hoarding. Proverbs encourages generosity and a flowing of gifts. Paul in his letter to Philippians enjoins people to live as Christ lived – to realize that miser and miserable come from the same root. He insists that we find real joy when we live gracious lives, seeing the good in people instead of always looking to blame or fault them, being generous in spirit, generous with money, generous with our time.
All of our generosity flows from God’s generosity to us – from the gift of the Creator, the gift of Christ’s life refreshing ours, the gift of the Spirit of love always moving and giving in abundance. We respond to that love, we respond to that generosity with our own generosity, sometimes feeble attempts, sometimes real giving. I am so happy to be part of a congregation that practices generosity as part of it’s weekly and daily rituals. It is a real blessing to me and a blessing to our community. And I know we are being called to do more – to give of ourselves as a church for the larger community. Maybe we will find ways to serve through the Interfaith Hospitality Center; maybe it will be through our ministry to the local colleges. Maybe it will be through some initiative to Atlantic City or some ministry that we haven’t even discovered yet.
I am confident we will be ready. What a blessing.  This is God’s good news.

Responsive hymn 2130 The Summons (omit vs. 4)