2 Corinthians 9:8-12, Matthew 10:5-10 November 24, 2013
Last month I was sitting next to another member of my Rotary club at lunch, I was about to get up and refill my coffee cup, so I asked him if I could bring anything back for him. It strikes me as rude to get up from the table to get only one thing for myself when I’ve got two hands. He asked me to get him a piece of cake. I did. I pointed out that I brought back the biggest piece of cake from the dessert table. He thanked me and I said, “I’m really generous with things I didn’t have to pay for.”
He replied, “There’s probably a German word for that.”
There is, it’s Der Kostenloselebensmittelmitgebringenendefreigeber
Which means something like, “the feeling of generosity caused by providing food or drink that one did not pay for oneself.” Kinda rolls off your tongue, doesn’t it?
Later on I realized, I do this kind of thing a lot. Here’s another story. The first wedding I performed after coming to this church was on the paddle boat that runs out of the Fin & Feather in Winneconne. I’d never performed a wedding on a ship before, so that was kinda neat. The ceremony itself took about 30 minutes. The cruise on the lake was about 2 hours. I got pretty bored. And the only people I knew at the wedding were the happy couple. I liked them, but let’s be honest, they had a lot of people they wanted to spend more time with than me. You know me, I’m a pretty social, outgoing kind of guy. But to be on a boat with 70 people who know only one thing about you—that you’re a minister—is not a recipe for a good time. Did I say I got bored? I could only stand at the rail and watch the shoreline for so long. I decided that a cold glass of beer would make me a little less bored and make the others on the boat a little more interesting. That’s another thing about going to a wedding reception—people are a little nervous about drinking in front of a minister. Sometimes I find it’s a gift to everyone when I lead by example and start drinking. I went to the bar tender and asked when he planned to tap the keg. Not for a while. I asked if he could make it a little sooner. What’s he going to do? Say no to the minister? So I got my glass of beer. But it’s pretty awkward when it looks like the minister is getting special treatment, so I decided to start walking around with a tray of cups of beer. Let me just say, this was a brilliant idea!
Everyone stopped worrying about drinking in front of the minister. I got to move around to all the different groups who were talking together. I was too busy serving beer—that the happy couple had paid for—to drink much myself. I had something to do. And if anyone wanted to talk to me about his uncle who’s a minister in Oklahoma, maybe you know him, pastor…I would just move on and say I had other people to take beer to.
An hour later when they broke out the champagne I put a towel over my arm and told the waiters to stand aside. Some of the guests said to the bride, “You have the coolest minister in the world!” All because I was bored. All because I was generous with something that I hadn’t paid for. Der Kostenloselebensmittelmitgebringenendefreigeber.
I’m really generous giving away things I didn’t earn, pay for or work for. I got to thinking about generosity and the nature of generosity. What am I generous with and why? What is it difficult for me to give away and why?
We talked about giving and gifts around the lunch table Tuesday. We told stories of the joy we feel when we give a really appropriate gift—and it is accepted and appreciated. That’s when it’s truly more blessed to give than to receive. The joy of the giver may even exceed the joy of the receiver. There’s a deep joy I seeing the “aha moment” in the face of someone to whom you’ve given a good, thoughtful gift. Paul is telling the Corinthians about giving and about how important their generosity was to the believers in Jerusalem. And inviting them to know the joy of a giver. He said that people should give the amount they’ve decided to give, they should give freely, because, as the Message says it, “That will protect you from sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.” God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. Do you ever think that you’ve done something that brings delight to God?
Earlier, Paul tells that if they plant a meager crop they will harvest a meager crop. That’s simple math. Plant sparingly, reap sparingly. Hoarding makes us less joyful. Generosity, especially generosity rooted in trust in God brings joy to the giver and the receiver—and brings delight to God. Too often we think of giving as a zero sum game, when scripture tells us that blessings multiply, that generous planting brings a bountiful harvest.
The gospel lesson this morning is some instructions that Jesus gave his disciples as they went out to do his work. He tells them to travel light, which is one way they expressed their trust that they would be provided for. He also told them that they should give freely, because they had received freely. That seems only fair and right, doesn’t it? The power that he gave them to use in his name, he gave them. They didn’t earn it; they didn’t pay for it. He gave it to them. And because they had been given it, they were asked to share it.
And that brings me back to this concept of the feeling of generosity caused by providing food or drink that one did not pay for oneself. I’m not going to try to work my way through that crazy German word again! When I think about things that I have been given that I have not earned, in fact, things that I can never hope to earn, there is nothing more important than the forgiveness I know in Jesus Christ. The amazing grace that saves a wretch like me. There is nothing more important, more life-giving than grace. And it is very, very hard to trust and believe that grace is real, I have no trouble at all believing I’m a sinner, but I struggle with this status of being a forgiven sinner. That’s a hard gift for me to accept. But sometimes I do accept it. And sometimes I know it’s real and that whatever thing I’ve done that makes me think that God couldn’t possibly continue to love me anymore doesn’t matter to God anymore. That God chooses to continue to love me. Now imagine that God’s this wonderful gift giver and it’s Christmas and you just opened up the perfect gift and that “aha moment” is all over your face. Got that? Now imagine the delight God feels because you know that you’ve been given the perfect gift.
Now be generous with that gift. As generous as I was in bringing my friend the biggest piece of cake. As generous as I was with someone else’s beer and champagne. Can you be as generous with grace? You didn’t pay for it. You didn’t earn it. You’ve been given more than you can possibly use. Take all you need. Now give it away. Amen.