November 14, 2023
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
St. Luke’s UMC
November 12, 2023
The Blessed Life
A Generous Life
1 Chronicles 29:10-14
Stewardship Commitment Sunday
A few years back NPR ran a neat story that is perfect to share on this Veteran’s Day weekend. Let’s listen…
You never know the difference that generosity can make. I can imagine that vet who gives haircuts to other vets would say he’s living a blessed life. In this series so far, we’ve talked about how a blessed life is a meaningful life and a grateful life. Today we think about living A Generous Life.
That’s what King David wanted people to know at the end of his life, that a generous life is a blessed life. He had wanted to build a temple to God but he knew that won’t happen. However, he could do something to prepare the way. So in his last public act, he donated incredible amounts of his personal possessions for the building of the temple that will happen under the leadership of his son, King Solomon. David got ready for the completion of his life by looking ahead, after he’s gone, to say, “I want to pay it forward. I want to honor the God who has honored me. I want my most lasting contribution of my life to be what happens after I am gone.” This is how David wants to be remembered.
Ten days ago Bob Knight passed away, interestingly on All Saints’ Day! I read a story in the paper about an interview with Bobby Knight the day after he was fired at IU. The reporter for Channel 4 expected a typical Bobby Knight tirade, but that wasn’t what he got. Knight was positive and calm. The reporter asked him, “If you could write the line that would be on your gravestone, what would it say?” Knight replied, “I think it would say, ‘He was honest. He did what he thought was right and didn’t kiss anybody’s…(Bob Knight euphemism!)’ But then he said, “I would add a PS to that epitaph, that would read like this: “And every once in a while, he did think he was wrong.”
When you think about it, stewardship is about taking charge of what you want to put on your epitaph, determining how we want to be remembered and for what. That must have been on King David’s mind. He’s come to the end of life. He doesn’t need to tell people that every once in a while he was wrong. There were several times he was seriously wrong, but what endeared him to people, and to God, was that he admitted it. Instead, what David wants on his epitaph, is that he’s had a blessed life. God has been good to him, but the greater blessing, the thing he wants people to really know, is that generosity is what makes life a blessing.
So on this sacred Sunday as we prepare to make our pledges of support to the church for the coming year, I want us to think about a few things in this story and particularly David’s prayer to God and what they say about living a generous life.
To begin with notice that Generosity comes from a desire to give. Just beyond where our scripture reading stopped, David prayed, “In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people who are present here offering freely and joyously to you.” (v.17) Generosity can’t be required. True generosity is a desire that has a need to express itself.
Have you received a gift that felt like the giver did so out of obligation? I received a gift of licorice one time. I thought it was interesting because I really don’t like licorice. I sat it down and noticed a little tag on the back. It said, “Dear Jan, I know how much you love this.” I realized, this was a regift! Now how did I know that? Because I have regifted before! Let’s see a show of hands, how many of you have regifted before? Sure, and there’s a difference between a gift that shows careful thought and effort versus something we do because we should.
When our giving to God comes as a should, we typically don’t give our best. We give what we feel like we have to, or ought to. And God doesn’t want that. God wants us to give with a joyful, cheerful spirit, as Paul says.
This is why last week I said stewardship begins with gratitude. If it starts with our giving, its probably going to feel like a duty. But when we start with all we have received, what we’ve been given, our response will be freer.
Rick Warren says people don’t give more to God because they don’t love God more. They don’t give more to God because they don’t realize how much God loves them.
Stewardship comes from a desire to show love.
Notice also, how David wanted people to know that Generosity simply means Thank you. You know, we can’t actually give anything to God. Everything belongs to God in the first place.
When David started speaking at the beginning of the chapter, he doesn’t sound so humble. He says, “With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God.” (v.2) “I have provided!” Sounds pretty braggadocios doesn’t it? But look at the next time he uses this word “provided.” “LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.” (v.16)
There’s no bragging there, just honest acknowledgement. God owns it all. In fact, David reiterated that several other times: “For all that is in the heavens and on earth is yours.” (v.11) “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (v.14)
David wanted to make sure people understood, we don’t give to God. Everything is God’s to begin with. We are just temporary holders. We aren’t keepers. None of what we have really belongs to us.
A few weeks ago I preached at Matthews UMC outside Charlotte. I had been an associate pastor there over 30 years ago. Susan and I flew in that Friday afternoon and didn’t have anything scheduled so I said, “Let’s go see the first house we owned.” We remembered out way well enough to find the neighborhood, but it all looked so different. It was brand new when we bought in 1992, and now trees were grown up and it was very different. But we found the house. Julie and Sarah were born when we lived there. I remember taking Julie trick or treating in the neighborhood when she was 2. I just had this feeling of being so blessed. So grateful for all that God has given us.
But here’s the thing. We just borrowed that house for a few years. Someone else lives there now. We didn’t really own it. No one really does. God holds the deed to all things in this life. We are just grateful caretakers. That’s why it’s called stewardship. Steward means “manager.” We just manage what we have in a way that honors the Giver. So when we give to God we are saying, “Thank you. Lord, I have a blessed life. I am so grateful.”
Then, notice something else in this story about David’s gifts for the temple. Generosity inspires generosity. When David gave so liberally, it inspired others to do the same. They were motivated to come forward and give generously so that “The leaders of the families…gave willingly.” (v.5)
Just like stinginess can spread, so can generosity. In fact, the inspiration of generosity is greater than the discouragement of selfishness.
I was in a church one time that started a soup kitchen. The Finance Committee organized a special fundraiser and promoted the goal the soup kitchen needed. Well, the campaign was beyond successful. In fact, the goal was within sight before halfway through the campaign. At the next Finance Committee meeting they celebrated this good report, but then someone said, “I don’t think we should share this information with the congregation. It will demotivate people who haven’t yet made a commitment. They will think their gift isn’t needed.” Everyone paused and thought, “That could be right. Maybe we should just hold onto this for now.”
But then someone spoke a very wise word. She said, “You know it seems like God is moving in people’s hearts in this campaign. And we should trust that. How people respond isn’t ours to control, but if God is doing something, I don’t think we can go wrong by celebrating it.”
Talk about a timely word! People continued to contribute above and beyond the goal. Generosity inspires generosity, and if I’ve ever been made mistakes as a pastor its not because I asked people to give too much, its that I didn’t celebrate enough the generosity people demonstrated.
One final point. This story about the generosity of David and the people shows how Generosity generates joy. Look at two more statements from this story:
“The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly.” (v.9)
Then, at the end of the story after witnessing all people had given it says, “They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the LORD that day. (v.22)
Leslie Allen in his commentary on this passage writes, “Consumers experience self-gratification in their spending, and so do misers in their saving; but givers know a deeper joy and a greater gain.” (NIDB vol III, p469)
Every year on or near this second Sunday of November we make a commitment to support the church in the year ahead. That’s because ministry is a zero-based. We start every year depending on the commitment of people to make ministry happen in the year ahead. As an old saying goes, “Christianity is just one generation away from extinction.” The faith depends on the support of every generation to impact their generation. And when we see the impact, it’s like the Israelites under King David, they witness the difference their generosity made and it left them rejoicing.
Just think about a few, just a few of the things, our commitments last year made. These are things that happened in 2023. Midtown is coming up on its first anniversary. We made Midtown happen this year. Last December they began with 75 people. After one year they are averaging about 120. New people who have come to St. Luke’s through Midtown include Sara and Renee Wells whose story we told in a sermon some weeks ago. In a previous church Sara experience life transforming hope through Jesus Christ and was baptized. Then when they came out as a couple the church told them the baptism would have to be rescinded. That brought them to Midtown where they feel accepted and welcomed. They found hope.
Laura and Matt Hunter appreciated the Special Needs Ministry started a few years ago by Crystal Hensley on our staff. Prior to that they were not able to participate in church as a family because one of them needed to be home with their son, Thomas. Discovering this led to the inspiration to create a special needs classroom. Thomas passed away this past July. Recently Matt and Laura said to Crystal that they so appreciated what the church did for them they want to give back. They want to serve in the special needs ministry. They want to give the hope they have found.
Freedom School was another success this year, providing six weeks of learning, community, and support to 87 students.
We held a first ever Hunger Symposium bringing together local leaders to educate us about hunger needs in Indianapolis.
The Dementia Care group meets to support people caring for loved ones with dementia, and its not just for family members, but anyone in relationship with someone who has dementia.
And these are just a few. When you experience the difference generosity makes, it generates joy. It is something to rejoice over because we see what God did through our gifts.
So now we come to the time of making our commitments for 2024 so God can do more of this in the year ahead. (lift up card) If you are new to St. Luke’s and are not accustomed to the idea of making a pledge, this is just a way of vowing to God our intention for the coming year. It is not a promissory note! It is between you and God. Your circumstances may change in the year ahead. No one is going to call you if you didn’t complete your pledge. No stewardship police here! But this does help our church. While our pledges are confidential, our Finance Committee receives the dollar amounts and this is very helpful to them in planning and approving our 2024 budget.
This pledge is basically our response to all God has done for us and what we hope to do in the coming year to support God’s work through St. Luke’s. It’s really a trust that says, “We believe there will be stories of people and pictures of life changing events next year because of what God will do with what we pledge.”
For all who are members of St. Luke’s this is nothing more than following through on our membership vows, to support the church with our gifts. This is a sacred event just like David and the people long ago finding joy and celebration in bringing to God the best of what they had. It is a privilege.
Right now, with you card in hand, take a moment to be reminded of the difference our giving makes as we watch this Year in Review video, then I’ll come back and lead us in prayer as we fill out our cards and during our closing song we will bring them forward and place in baskets.
We also have a gift for you. These are the tumblers we will give visitors in 2024. For everyone making a pledge you get to be the first to receive. So after placing your card, grab a tumbler, then return to your seat and we will close with our benediction.
So let’s see our video now…