October 1, 2006
16th Sunday after Pentecost
(1 Timothy 6:11-19)
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Have you all heard about the Preacher who stood up one morning and told his congregation. "This morning we'll have an interactive service. I've prepared 3 different sermons for today. First I've prepared a fifty dollar fire and brimstone sermon which is about two hours long."
"Second I've prepared a hundred dollar sermon on the evils of sin that should take about an hour to deliver. And finally I have a $500 fifty dollar sermon on love and generosity, it will only take about 10 or fifteen minutes. We'll take the offering and afterwards, I will let you know which message I'm going to be preaching this morning." (1)
I thought that was funny, so this morning I've prepared three sermons. Just kidding. This morning is actually the kick off for our fall Stewardship Campaign titled "Called To Generosity."
As I was looking at the Sunday lessons which have been prepared and thinking about generosity and giving, I kept think about what the apostle Paul wrote Timothy. 1 Timothy 6:11-19 (NRSV)
 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.
 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you
 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
 which he will bring about at the right time, he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,
 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
You may be thinking to your self, I'm not rich. Few of us are by American Standards. But by the rest of the world, even the poorest of us have more then the average person. We are rich. As a result, we're called to "set our hopes on God." We're called to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share. This congregation, as long as I've been here, has never had a problem being generous. Or having Generous Hearts.
A. Rather than giving you lots of definitions about having, growing or developing a Generous Heart, I simply want to tell you about a man I knew. I want to tell you about Mr. Dick. That's what everybody called him. Mr. Dick very seldom went to church but that didn't stop him from being one of the best Christians I've ever known. Mr. Dick had a generous heart. You see, Mr. Dick worked at the local Exxon station and he was always encouraging the younger workers to go to church by saying "get yourself and your family to church so you could meet my God and Savior. Everybody needs that."
Now, Mr. Dick could have been seen as a kook or a fanatic by those workers except for the fact that he always took the Sunday shift, so everyone else COULD go to church. And on Sunday morning, if you pulled into the full service bay, likely as not, you'd see Mr. Dick set his Bible down before coming out to pump your gas.
I could always count on him to surprise me with his generosity. Not a lot of people knew this but Mr. Dick tithed. He tithed and he gave a generous regular offering. He tithed, gave that generous regular offering and at times gave some pretty extraordinary extra offerings as well. Why? Because Mr. Dick had a Generous Heart. And he understood what Paul meant when he wrote: "be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share."
B. I got to know Mr. Dick first, because he was a member of the church and second because our Church had a set up with the local gas station. If someone came through needing gas, we'd give them a voucher which was good for $5.00 worth of gas. (This was back when gas was 79 cents a gallon.) Since I was the pastor, I was usually the one who filled out the voucher and then later went and paid for the gas out of our local missions fund or travel mercies fund.
Not only that but there were times when Mr. Dick would call me because there was someone or a family in need.
C. I'll never forget the family who was on their way back from Dallas to Cape Girardeau, Missouri. They had moved to Dallas nine or ten months before because of a job. The job paid well and it was well worth the move. But the job only lasted about six months. This husband and wife and teen young teenage daughters had tried to find work. Unfortunately it was in one of those down turns in the economy and a lot of people were have a hard time finding work.
Finally, this family's money had completely run out and they were living hand to mouth. So much so that for the last two weeks they'd been living out of their care. In a phone call to a relative in Cape Girardeau, they found out about a job that the owner of the plant said he would hold for this man if they could get there the next day. They coasted into our community on fumes. The man asked if there was some work he could do to earn a little money for gas and to have a flat tire fixed, so he'd have a spare for the trip.
D. Mr. Dick called me and Wayne, the owner of the local little store. Mr. Dick told us how this family had been living out of their car, living on water and raw potatoes. They'd sold most of their possessions to make ends meet. All they had what was in the car. He asked if we could help.
I took them down to the church where we let them get cleaned up. I fixed them a hot lunch in our kitchen. And told Mr. Dick to fill their tank. Wayne began gathering the kind of groceries you can use when you travel. He made a bunch of sandwiches, gathered drinks, chips, crackers, cheese and fruit and put them all in a cooler along with a bunch of drinks.
I did something I don't normally do, I gave the man money for gas. I told him, between the tank he had and what I'd given him he should make it to Little Rock, Arkansas. And I gave them the name of friend from Seminary. Who I had called and had agreed to help him get gas.
When the family finished eating and we got them back to the station, the tank was full and the groceries were in the back. Mr. Dick had changed the oil and replaced all four of the man's bald tires with newer ones. They weren't new but they had about two years more tread on them than the old ones. He used the best of the old tires as a spare. Mr. Dick said he couldn't let that family leave on those old tires, it would have weighed on his conscience.
E. The family was in tears. They all hugged the stuffing out of us and Dad nearly shook my arm off. Not only that, but after the family left, Mr. Dick called my friend and told him to have the car filled up so they didn't have to stop again and he'd cover it if need be.
That's just the way Mr. Dick was. He had a generous heart. There was one widow in town who always came by and asked for $2.00 worth of gas. Mr. Dick knew that even $2.00 was stretching her budget out of shape. And he always put in $5.00 worth of gas and only asked for the $2.00. I know because I caught him doing it one day.
F. Mr. Dick was generous and he sort of kept watch of those of us who tried to help others. I'll never forget the day I went up to settle for some of the gas vouchers. By my figures we owed $20. But Mr. Dick said we only owed $19. He said one guy came in with the voucher and asked for $4.00 worth of gas and one of the cold beers in the cooler. Mr. Dick pumped the $4.00 worth of gas and when the guy asked for the beer, Mr. Dick told him "No, you can't use my church's money for beer." So, the guy said, well put the other $1.00's worth of gas in my car. And Mr. Dick said, "Nope, you spent it on that beer I'm not giving to give you."
Mr. Dick might not have been in Church very often but he had one of the most generous hearts I've ever seen. Not only that but as Paul told Timothy, Mr. Dick was "rich in good works, generous, and ready to share." And Mr. Dick was definitely "storing up for himself the treasure of a good foundation for the future."
G. Now, what you need to know is that Mr. Dick's generous heart and all the good deeds he did in his life, aren't what won his salvation. Good works and giving never does. But because Mr. Dick's life had been changed, because he knew the love and forgiveness of Christ, Mr. Dick lived a joyous and generous Christian life that brought glory to God. All the good that he did, he did out of response to the love and grace he had experienced in his own life.
That's the way of a generous heart. A generous heart has experienced the grace of God through Christ Jesus and gives thanks for that grace. A generous heart gives thanks by living a generous life. WE become generous because of God's generosity.
Today we celebrate the generosity of God's Grace as we come to this table. It is a celebration of God's grace in our lives. An all you can eat buffet of God's Grace. A time to celebrate our new birth. For out of God's unconditional love offered to us through the grace of Christ Jesus, we, who are unworthy on our own merit, are made worthy and invited to come to this table and to stand in God's presence.
Were it not for what Jesus did, none of us would be worthy so much as to pick up the crumbs from under this table, as the old, old liturgy used to say.
But through the sacrifice of Christ, through His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, this table and the elements of Bread and Wine are made available to us all, man, woman and child. Now there is no distinction, Paul says. All who believe in Christ and seek to live in peace with their neighbors are welcome at this table.
Does that mean we fully understand the mystery of the Sacrament. No, I doubt any of us will ever fully understand the mystery of this Sacrament until we stand with Jesus. But does that keep us from sharing and partaking, absolutely not, because we come by the invitation of our Savior.
And it's here that we learn what a Generous Heart truly is, through simple things like bread and wine that have become symbols and elements of God's Generosity.
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