[Jesus said:] 14 “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of humanity be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in the Son may have eternal life.
16 For God loved the world in this way, that God gave the Son, the only begotten one, so that everyone who trusts in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through the Son. 18 Those who believe in God’s Beloved are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the revelation of God’s glory has come into the world, and people loved evil rather than God’s glory because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the truth and do not come into God’s glory, so their deeds may not be exposed.
21 But those who do what is true come into God’s glory, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
You have given us an incredible gift.
We didn’t earn it. We don’t deserve it.
And yet you’ve given it to us still.
Help us. Show us how to respond.
Teach us how to be generous
With this gift you’ve lavished upon us.
You’ve heard me say it before, but I’m really not a particularly good gift-giver.
I struggle with knowing what might resonate with someone or what they might find meaningful. I tend to have some defaults, but in general, I don’t feel great about the gifts I give. It’s just not a spiritual gift of mine.
But I do like to give gifts.
Or rather, I like to give. I’m a very giving person…sometimes to a fault.
Maybe you, too, consider yourself a generous person.
For me, one of my earliest memories of learning generosity was at church, actually. Every Sunday, we’d sit together as a family, and toward the end of the sermon my dad would reach into his pocket and pull out a dollar’s worth of quarters, and I’d get 2 quarters and my sister would get 2 quarters. And I can remember how I would rub those quarters together between my fingers, and what that felt like. Then, a little after the sermon was over and we sang and prayed, it was time for the offering plates to come around, and the plates would come right in front of our noses and we’d drop our quarters in the plate.
It wasn’t much, and it wasn’t even my money, but it was an act of giving something to God…an act of giving something that I had been given and joining it with the gifts of others who were giving from what they had been given, and using our gifts together for the ministry and the life of the church.
And no…this isn’t a Stewardship sermon.
I was given those 2 quarters every week, and they weren’t mine, and I don’t even necessarily think I did anything to deserve them…maybe made my bed or something, but…it wasn’t my money. It was a gift to me, and a gift that I was expected to give.
What makes me feel so good about being generous—whether it’s with my time or my energy or my money—is how my being generous makes someone else feel. I feel good because I’ve maybe helped someone else or made them feel good. Generosity is a selfless act, focused only on the well-being of the other person, the one being served.
Generosity is giving a gift.
A gift as a response to something that you were given. Something that probably wasn’t yours in the first place. Maybe something you earned, but something you deserved…?
Generosity connected to the biblical understanding of stewardship recognizes that everything we have is a gift. Even what we’ve earned…is a gift given to us.
You have been given a gift and you are free to live a generous life as a response to the wonderful gifts you have been given.
God so loved you…
But not only “God so loved you…”, but God so loved you…and you…and them, and those people, and those other folks…indeed, God so loved…the world…
That God gave God’s son…the Begotten One…the Beloved…
That everyone who believes, everyone who has faith…that everyone who trusts…who trusts the truth of God’s great love…that everyone who puts their faith in such a love…
Would not perish…but instead would enjoy life…life everlasting…life abundant…
Indeed, God did not send the Beloved One into the world to condemn the world, but in order…so that, the world would be saved…through God’s Beloved.
God’s intention is salvation.
God’s whole plan, God’s work in the world…is about the salvation, the saving of God’s people.
God’s only interest, church, is that you would know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the depths and height and expansiveness of God’s incredible love for you, beloved child, and that that knowledge of God’s love would save you…would free you…would liberate you……from everything that keeps you locked away in those graves you seal yourself up in. Those tombs of doubt…of shame…of not-enough-ness…of fear…of anxiety…of worn-out tiredness…
God’s only agenda is salvation…is liberation…
And that you would know that this freedom and liberation…that this salvation is yours. It’s already given to you. It’s free. You don’t have to earn it…in fact, you can’t earn it. None of us are deserving of it…but it’s yours. It’s God’s gift for you.
You are saved by grace.
It’s unmerited. Undeserved. Unearned.
And it’s yours.
The gift of God. Not the result of works—not by something you did—so as not to give anyone cause to be boastful.
For you are only what God has made you…created in Christ for good works…which God intends to be your very way of life.
Because salvation is yours. Because you didn’t do anything to deserve it. Because you didn’t do anything to earn it. Because your salvation, your freedom, your liberation…is a gift to you…you are free to live lives of love for others.
We’re not saved from…we are saved for…
Saved for generosity. Saved for compassion. Saved for mercy. Saved for goodness. Saved for service. Saved for volunteering. Saved for giving. Saved for healing.
You are what God has created you to be.
You are created by love. And for love.
That love would be your very way of life.
Again and again, we love because we were first loved. We give because God first gave to us.
Again and again, our lives are lived as a response to the love we’ve been shown and given by God.
This past week was one year since we were gathered together in person for worship. Today is one year since we made the agonizing call to take our worship and faith formation—to take our whole community of faith—to a virtual community. None of us possibly imagined then that we’d be here 365 days later. If we could have even dreamed of such a scenario…I imagine worship might have looked a little different. Songs sung with a bit more passion. Prayer petitions offered a bit more earnestly. Handshakes and embraces lingered just a bit longer as we shared signs of peace.
What I do know, is that it’s been the most difficult year any of us has ever had. Some of us got sick. Some of us got really sick. A lot of our friends and neighbors got sick. A lot of our friends and neighbors died. It’s been a year…
And in the midst of all of this…God never stopped showing up. Through volunteering, cards for healthcare workers, buying dinner for your neighbor who’s a nurse, donating headphones to Armstrong so elementary students could log on to learn, reaching out in the midst of a terrible freeze…friends, God and the Holy Spirit has never been more active…
This love that you’ve been given has to be shared. It’s simply what God created you for.
Thank God for all that’s been done to get us to where we are today. Thank God for medicine and science and vaccines that are hurtling us toward the finish line.
And we are still being called to love our neighbor, church. Our unvaccinated neighbor. Our immunocompromised neighbor. Our young neighbor. Our neighbor for whom vaccines aren’t available yet. Our neighbor still cleaning up from their busted pipes. Our hungry neighbor. Our neighbor in need.
You have been given an incredible gift.
How will you share the love you’ve been shown?
How will you be generous with this gift?