October 8, 2006
17th Sunday after Pentecost
"The Challenge Of Generosity"
(Luke 6:36-38, Malachi 3:10)
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
I want to read a little book to you by one of my favorite children's authors, Judith Viorst. I have enjoyed her stories and the adventures of Alexander and his brothers. This is another one of those and it's entitled: Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday. (Read the Book out loud)
Alexander needs to change doesn't he? He needs a better understanding and stewardship of money. A lot of us are like Alexander. We know the old saying "Money talks" is true because ours keeps saying "Good-bye." So what is it we need to learn about stewardship that will help us like Alexander. Well, first we need to remember that the Biblical witness concerning stewardship is very simple. You find it in the first words of both the Old and New Testaments. OT "In the beginning, God." And NT "In the beginning was the Word" (which we know refers to the Son of God).
For the believer, these phrase put everything else into proper perspective. It tells us that everything that was and is and will be comes from God. It was created by God and given to us to use responsibly. We are the stewards, the caretakers of God's stuff. And since everything was created by God, it's all God's stuff, including money. The mistake we make is that we think of it as OUR money.
Having said that, you might have guessed that this is what I always refer to in a Stewardship Campaign as "The Sermon on the Amount." Let's look at the two passages I've picked for this morning.
Malachi 3:10, Luke 6:36-38 (NRSV)
 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.
 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;
 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
Last week I told you about Mr. Dick and his generous heart. And I told you how few people knew what kid of giver he was. He showed me three kinds of giving. First there is the Tithe, then there is the Offering. And then there is Second Mile giving.
A. The Biblical witness for giving is the tithe or ten percent. From the very beginning all God has ever asked for is a thank offering. Everything we have and are comes from God and is really God's to begin with, and all God asks is that we return a portion as a means of giving thanks. And God said that portion should be ten percent or a tithe. And that tithe should be from the first fruits not the leftovers.
Some people don't think it matters which portion they give to God; the first fruits or the leftovers, but it does. You see if you give God the leftovers, that's like eating an apple and giving God the core. And the apple core isn't very appealing is it? In 2 Chronicles 31, it tells us that during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when Hezekiah was king of Judah, an order went out for the offering. In verse 5 it is recorded. "As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the first fruits of their grain, new wine, oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything."
God wants us to give but God doesn't want the leftovers. You wouldn't give them to your children or your spouse would you? You throw scraps and leftovers to the dog, not God. God doesn't want leftovers. God wants a tithe of our first fruits.
B. Tithing is the Biblical standard. Tithing is also an act of faith; faith and trust that God will supply what we need if we get to the point where there was too much month for our paycheck. That's usually everybody's fear. But Tithing is a matter of faith, not fear. For some, this may be the first time you've ever heard about tithing and how much God expects us to give to the work of God. You may be sitting there scared to death or angry or even trying to figure out how you can tithe when you hadn't ever thought about how much you should give to the Church.
I understand and God understands. So, let me suggest something to you. It's called "Proportional Giving." It's not an alternative to the tithe but a tool to achieve the tithe. If you find the tithe, ten percent, too staggering a place to start, then find that percentage where you can start. If it's five percent, then pledge and start giving 5%. But don't leave it there. Test God and stretch your faith. Make it a spiritual challenge to increase your offering 1% every month. Keep trusting God, and keep slowly challenging yourself to increase your giving every month until you have moved yourself up to the Biblical standard, the tithe.
A. Some of you might ask, "What's the difference between and tithe and an offering?" A tithe is what God expects. It's where our giving begins. An offering is gifts above the tithe, offered out of joy and gratitude and generosity for what God has done in our lives through Christ.
The motive behind the Tithe is obedience and faithfulness. The motive behind the Offering is Sacrificial Love. As Christians we sacrifice for others and the church because we are the recipients of Christ's sacrifice. The gifts of love, renewal, redemption, forgiveness, hope, peace, joy, you name it, all of these gifts that we, as Christians, have received freely. And in response, we give just as freely. And when we give an Offering, we give Sacrificially in response to the Sacrificial Love we have experienced through Christ. B. The movie "I Am Sam" is about a mentally challenged man raising his daughter Lucy, on his own. Sam works at Starbucks and hangs out without four other men with similar disabilities. Lucy is going into the first grade and needs a new pair of school shoes. Money is tight for Sam and his friends and what Sam makes at Starbucks barely covers the rent for his little one bedroom apartment. But Sam and his friends head out to buy Lucy a pair of shoes.
They all take the task very seriously and each of them search for what they think is the perfect pair of shoes and bring everything from blinking shoes to leopard skin shoes. The shoe salesman is somewhat frustrated but cooperates and Lucy finds a pair of shoes.
Sam asks the shoe salesman how much they are and he says, "They're $16.19 with tax.
Sam pulls out all his money and all he has is $6.25. He begins to explain why he didn't get his whole paycheck. About that time all of Sam's friends, who aren't in any better financial shape than Sam, start digging in their pockets and pulling out their money. They lay it all out on the counter and ask if it will be enough. Lucy smiles and they all leave with balloons.
I think that's a great scene which shows the Sacrificial nature of the offering. No one asked those men to help Sam. But because of their love for both Sam and Lucy, they pooled what they had and offered it to Sam. That's Sacrificial giving.
And that brings us to the Special Gift. One afternoon three children entered a flower show, two boys and a girl. They were about nine or ten years old, raggedly dressed, but at this moment well-scrubbed. One of the boys took off his cap and gazed around the store somewhat doubtfully, then came up to the person who owned the store and said, "Sir, we'd like something in yellow flowers."
There was something in their tense nervous manner that made the man think that this was a very special occasion. He showed them some inexpensive yellow spring flowers. The boy who was the spokesman for the group shook his head no. "I think we'd like something better than that." The man asked, "Do they have to be yellow?" The boy answered, "Yes, sir. You see, Mister, Mickey would like 'em better if they were yellow. He had a yellow sweater. I guess he'd like yellow better than any other color." The man asked, "Are they for his funeral?" The boy nodded, suddenly choking up.
The little girl was desperately struggling to keep back the tears. "She's his sister," the boy said. "He was a swell kid. A truck hit him while he was playing in the street." His lips were trembling now. The other boy entered the conversation. "Us kids in his block took up a collection. We got eighteen cents. Would roses cost an awful lot, Sir -- yellow roses, I mean?"
The man smiled. "It just happens that I have some nice yellow roses here that I'm offering special today for eighteen cents a dozen." The man pointed to the flower case. "Gee, those would be swell! Yes, Mickey'd sure like those." The man said, "I'll make up a nice spray with ferns and ribbons. Where do you want me to send them?" One of the boys responded, "Would it be all right, Mister, if we took them with us? We'd kind of like to -- you know -- give 'em to Mickey ourselves. He'd like it better that way." The florist fixed the spray of flowers and accepted the eighteen cents gravely and watched the youngsters trudge out of the store. (3)
That was a Special Gift given out of generosity and love.
One day at Church, as the ushers came down the aisle to take up the offering, Susie asked her mom what was happening. "They're taking up the offering and when they get here you can put your nickel in the offering plate," her mother answered. Anxiously, Susie replied, "But this nickel is for Jesus."
Mom explained how, by putting her nickel in the plate she was giving it to Jesus, because of the many ways in which her gift would be used to spread God's Word. As the plate came down her row, Susie carefully placed her nickel in the plate, then turned to her mother and asked, "If that money is for Jesus, why wasn't there more in the plate?" (4)
Since, the title of today's sermon is The Challenge of Generosity, so let me give you a little challenge. "How would you answer Susie? What would you tell her?"
1. Alexander Who Used To Be Rich Last Sunday, Judith Viorst, Atheneum, 1978.
2. I am Sam, MMI New Line Productions
3. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), July 1983
4. Preaching-Vol. 2, #1.
Barclay, William: Daily Study Bible of the New Testament (WordSearch Bible Software Version)
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Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)
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The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)
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