A few days before Christmas, the grandparents arrived ready for “Christmas with toddlers”. One set drove their older pickup. The truck was packed tighter than Santa’s sleigh. After our 11 pm Christ-Mass Eve Service, I walked alone down the little path from the church to our parsonage humming, “silent night, holy, all is calm, all is bright… wondrous star lend thy light” and enjoying the cold stillness of the night. I was ready for a long winter’s nap, but before I could loosen my kerchief, I was sent to the basement to retrieve piles of packages, ribbons and bows. Far too soon, I was clumsily setting up a video camera while our children jumped up and down in anticipation. Lewis and Caleb opened so many presents from so many happy aunts, uncles, and grandparents, that our four year old began crying, “I’m tired of opening presents, I want to play with my toys.” How did our Purdue-Starnes Clan fall into such regrettable hedonism? Well that might take a long sermon on family systems! How did our culture turn our Lord’s humble birth into a materialistic mashup replete with Black Friday and Cyber Monday? I think our secularized celebration is rooted ‘in misguided ideas of love and giving.
What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
In professing our love for God, we vow to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin. We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, putting our whole trust in Christ’s grace, and promising to serve Jesus as our Lord, in union with the church, which is open to all people. We promise to uphold the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.” These vows put words to our love for God and neighbor. We are lifting up these spiritual practises that shape us into Christians. Last week we focused on prayer. Today we will be thinking about giving.
We may not think about giving as a spiritual discipline, but giving is essential to the spiritual life. Some sum up the whole Gospel with one Bible verse, John 3:16. As John narrates Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, John writes a missional statement for Jesus. It speaks of God’s motive and methods: “for God so loved the world that God ______?” What divine attribute moves God to dwell with us in the cradle and on the cross? Love gives us Jesus. What action sums up God’s love for us? God gave. The Creator gave us this creation. God gives us life. God gives us the capacity to love, to choose, to create, to laugh, to play to empathize. Love gives. John selects “gave” as a word to encase God’s love. God so loved the world that God gave Jesus. Love gives. In Matthew 20:26, Jesus defines his mission saying that Christ did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26) Jesus work cannot be understood apart from giving. Jesus gave. Love gives. God gives. Giving gives life.
Love gives. In some ways we define parenting by what we give to our children. What is our legacy? I hope your children never cry, “I’m tired of opening presents,” or that we believe things will bring them inner peace. Still, love gives, hopes, invests, provides and sacrifices. Last Sunday, Connie and I tracked down a red jacket at Goodwill and spent the evening sewing “tails” and black cuffs to make a top coat for Caleb’s last ‘childhood’ Halloween costume. It was fun to be able to uphold a silly tradition that has included homemade versions of Woody, Steve McNair, Ringo Starr, and Napolean Dynomite. God gives. Love gives. Giving gives life.
The Greeting in our Service of Christian Marriage calls us to give reminding us of Jesus as a model of giving “with his presence and his power, Jesus graced a wedding at Cana of Galilee, and in his sacrificial love gave us the example (of marital love).” Pat and Kelli come “to give themselves to one another in this holy covenant”. Giving ourselves to one another enriches a marriage. We partner with each other, each one striving to give more. This morning Connie brought me a cup of coffee at 4:45am. I felt love. Love gives. God gives. Giving gives life.
Giving upholds friendships. We had no more sat down at the table with our ice cream, when Caleb exclaimed, “wow you have got to try this… “ His friend James dipped his previously licked spoon into the edge of Caleb’s Brambleberry Crisp. Before I could offer a judgy word about flu season and personal hygiene, I recalled 35 years ago, Rip, Chris, and I usually shared the same Mountain Dew bottle with equal unsanitary zeal. Friends holler out ‘wow you got to have some of this!” God gives. Love gives. Giving gives life.
We give to friends without thinking of being paid back . If we live out of a norm of reciprocity, paying each other back for each gift we receive, we miss out on love, grace and the joy of giving. In fact, Jesus tells us to “lend (even to enemies) without expectation of reward”. (Luke 6:35, Matthew 5:46-6:6) Luke tells us that somehow our giving to enemies and the ungrateful will make us “children of the Most High”, for God is generous to ungrateful and unworthy people. Love gives. God gives. Giving gives life.
As a pastor it is a holy privilege to be inside a circle of grief, as if you belong to the grieving family. There is much to learn in these times. The chief lesson I have learned is this: No one celebrates the departed’s consumption. Woody Turner told a story that his father impressed upon him. After a big stock market downturn, Bill Turner offered his client consoling words as the client’s portfolio suffered significant losses. The client grinned at Bill and said “I did not lose what I gave away.” Life is not measured in what we consume – or give to ourselves, but what we give away. Jesus warns, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15 God gives. Love gives. Giving gives life.
Consider Jesus’ portrait of Life’s final exam, that day we will stand before the Lord in glory and our life will be laid bare before the divine truth. “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and gave me welcome, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you gave me healthcare, I was in prison and you gave me a visit.’” Friends, life is about what we give away. God gives. Love gives. Giving gives life.
The great lie of America today is that life is about consumption – what we give ourselves – or our clan. This is a lie repeated by the TV preachers of the Prosperity Gospel, who pervert scripture focusing on what we receive in return for our giving. Giving is a deep release of our living and our stuff back to God. I wish the Bible had a line in it that we find in Hindu scripture: “Material possessions are the chains of the soul, dragging us down into hell.” Jesus talks about plenty of riches and greed! When we pursue happiness through stuff, we become as empty as Christmas Day trash bags packed with discarded wrapping paper. Giving aligns our hearts with God, who is a giver! Giving frees us from the Golden Calf. Giving expresses our love for God and neighbor. Love gives. Giving gives life. Giving shapes aligns the soul with God.
So thank you for giving, yourselves to God and the work of our church.
Thank you for giving me a job. I am so grateful to be able to lead this congregation. Thank you.
Thanks for allowing Heather to spend her time offering pastoral care.
Thanks for letting Jefferson shape disciples and help others find their spiritual home.
Thanks for giving so that Jin, Sandy, and Alexcia can led our Karen worship services.
Thanks for giving so that we have David Hollis and others pastoring on college campuses.
Thanks for giving so Darren can stay up all night on Friday with our youth, offering sanctuary.
Thanks for giving so Susan and Amy can teach our children the path of Jesus in Sunday School.
Thanks for giving so that Gayle might lead us closer to God in worship through music.
Thanks for giving so that all our staff can do all that it does!
Thanks for giving nearly $5,000 to Africa university last month. Thanks for giving space in our building so that ESL students can learn to line dance in music city; college students considering a call to ministry might spend the night in our building Friday night; RITI might take place here; the youth symphony can rehearse here;, WDS can meet here. Thanks for giving so NOAH might raise a voice for justice in our city and that UMW might speak truth to power in DC.
Thanks for your giving so we might be Many Hands, Many Stories, One Church!
In Matthew 10:42, Jesus uses the Divine passive to tell us, “I assure you that everybody who gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones because they are my disciples will certainly be rewarded (by God).” So let us give, for in giving our lives become like our Creator and Lord. In your bulletin is a brochure about the Bible and giving; please pray through it and about your giving to our Many hands, Many stories, One church work.
Prayer, worship, service, justice, and community are essential to the spiritual life. We must uphold those spiritual practices, but our souls will dry up if we are not generous givers. God gives. Jesus gave his life. Love gives. Let us give without thinking of what we get in return, so that we experience deep release and freedom. May we be generous people, giving freely as God has given us every good thing (James 1;17) because: Jesus gives. God gives. Love gives. Giving gives life. Amen!