Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon on May 4, 2014, the Third Sunday of Easter. It is based on Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. The sermon text is 2 Corinthians 9:11, “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Let me begin this sermon with a heartfelt “thank you” to all of you for your on-going generosity in support of Christ’s ministry through Resurrection Lutheran Church. We recently had a congregational experience of indicating our Estimate of Sharing our Blessings for the coming year. As most of us know, we called it “Pony Express”. The initial report is very encouraging.
We experienced a 25% increase in the number of families responding over last year, and that will result in more dollars of support.
The title of this sermon is “Extravagant Generosity” and is the fifth and final sermon in the series based on the book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Robert Schnase. Do you remember the other 4 practices? They are Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development and Risk-Taking Mission and Service.
Some folks are really perplexed, perhaps concerned, when they feel the church is always asking for money. Some think its downright “un-Chris-like” to talk about money and offerings. That’s a good place to start our thinking about money. Jesus spoke more about money than any other subject. It was his understanding that everything we have is a gift from God and we are asked by God to use our gifts wisely and generously. Yes, Jesus definitely expects us to return a portion of our gifts to the work of ministry.
Bishop Schnase has some really good advice for us here at Resurrection: “Fruitful congregations focus on the abundance of God’s grace and emphasize the Christian’s need to give rather than the Church’s need for money.”
Has your heart been captured by the abundance of God’s grace in your life? Let me tell you the story of a man who had such an experience. He was a long-time church member and now a proud grandfather. At the Sunday morning baptismal service for his grandchild, another family was having their child baptized too. Following the service, the families were mingling in the narthex, and at one point the mother of the other family needed to get something out of her purse and asked this man to hold her baby. Other church members commented on the grandfather with the baby; and he found himself saying several times, “Oh, this one isn’t mine; I’m just holding him for a minute.”
On Monday morning the grandfather called the pastor and said, “I want to change my will to include the church, and I want to talk to you about how to do that.” The pastor was stunned and couldn’t help asking about what brought the grandfather to this decision. The older man’s eyes grew moist as he said, “Yesterday I realized something while I was holding that other baby. I kept telling people that he wasn’t my child, but then it dawned on me that he was part of my family, part of my church family. I’ve been a member of this church for more than 40 years, and in God’s eyes I’m a grandfather to more than just my own. I’ve taken care of my own children with my will, but I realized I also need to provide for the children of this church. So I want to divide my estate to leave a part to the church as if the church were one of my children.”
Folks, those who practice Extravagant Generosity have a God-given vision and faith to plant seeds for trees whose shade they will never see.
A wonderful thing happens to our hearts as we mature in the faith, as we grow as disciples of Jesus, as we grow in our knowledge of God’s grace in our lives. What happens is that our heart for generosity expands. We no longer feel like we have to hold on so tightly to our money and possessions. We want to share, we want to make a difference, and we want to say thanks to God.
Have you ever served on a church’s Finance Committee? Bishop Schnase writes about the six members of the Finance Committee of a small congregation that faced the challenge of paying for an unexpected air conditioning bill of $465. The church had already exceeded it maintenance budget for the year. The lay members of the committee included a retired salesman, a banker, a teacher, a housewife, a small business owner, and an insurance agent. They discussed options. Should they make an additional appeal for money on Sunday? Should they reallocate budgeted resources form other ministries? They considered fundraisers, such as a bake sale or a dinner.
As the meeting went on, frustrations grew. Finally, the teacher suggested they simply stop thinking so much and pause for silent prayer to see if God would provide another way. The others went along. After a few minutes of silence, she looked around the room at her friends, and fellow church members and said, “We all realize that any one of us could write a check for the full $465 and would not make any major difference in our lifestyle or financial security.” With that she pulled out her checkbook and wrote a check for $465 to the church. Then she said, “Anyone who wants to join me can write their check too.” Three others followed her lead and a couple of others wrote smaller checks. As a result of her generous leadership, the air conditioning bill was paid; and an unexpected surplus of $1,695 was collected to launch new ministry initiatives!
The final word to all of us today is this: There’s no end to what the church can accomplish for the purposes of Christ when the sharp awareness of the assets, resources, and talents that God entrusts to us supersedes the fear of scarcity and the obsessive focus on needs and problems. Extravagant Generosity means graciously and responsibly placing ourselves and our resources in service to God. I invite you to experience the joy of Extravagant Generosity.