The Gift of Generosity

2021 8 29 B Sermon given at First Church UCC, St Clair, MI.

August 29, 2021

James 1:17-27

17Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. 26If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Mark 7:1-8, 20-21a

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

 20 And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.

Let us pray:     Holy and loving God, your word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our understanding. Be with us we pray, that the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts will be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

The Gift of Generosity                                                                Rev Alana Kelley August 29, 2021

 Generosity is a gift we ALL have access to.  This September is our month to work in the Ecumenical Food Pantry. For any who may not know, our local food pantry is at St Mary’s behind a building that is, I think, the old convent. You enter the food pantry  through a garage door and then go downstairs where most of the non-refrigerated food is shelved. 

 Nine St Clair Michigan churches participate in the program; each church serves for a month. Many thanks to Kathy and Barb for being our organizers in 2021.

This year, because of COVID, those who work will only be going on Tuesdays and the shifts are from 4-7:00 p.m. If you sign up to volunteer, you go there and pack boxes for the families who have contacted Ann Whittaker to let her know of their need. Each box is weighed because we want to keep track of how many pounds of food is being given to each family and how much in total is given away. 

The Catholic Saint, Vincent de Paul has a charity named after him because he was renowned for his humility, compassion and generosity. The Ecumenical Food Pantry is part of St Vincent de Paul; the huge Catholic charity that does so much to help people in need. If you have financial difficulties, you can contact them thru St Mary’s here in town.  

The amazing thing about generosity is that it gives again and again. When we are generous with the people around us, we help to satisfy their needs and may even bring justice to them. But, that’s not all there is to it, and I know many of you already know this.             

When we are generous WE are greatly rewarded, not because we are then promised a place in heaven. Paul told us again and again that our faith is what saves us, not our works. According to Paul, as Christians who are believers, we are promised a place in heaven even if we do nothing for anyone ever except proclaim Jesus Christ our Lord and savior. This is the gift of grace that  Paul talks about repeatedly in his letters. James, on the other hand, in his letter, emphasizes the importance of helping others. I like the way James thinks.

It doesn’t really matter if Paul is right or if James is right. It seems to be the case though, that when we think about ways of being generous, especially with those who have the greatest needs, we are rewarded, simply because it feels great to be a compassionate giver. We often talk about agape love. We call this Christian love; Christian generosity expects nothing in return. Being truly generous requires no quid pro quo. That’s a difficult concept for some of us to swallow; because sometimes we feel that everyone needs to earn what they have, even when they can’t. We have a tendency to judge needy people; to lump poor, needy people all together, even when they can’t possibly help themselves.

Generosity is a virtue that is lifted up by numerous world religions; and is often celebrated in cultural and religious ceremonies. In Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity generosity is a virtue. It is a tenant to practice regularly.

We are living through a very tenuous time right now. The Supreme Court just made a decision that the Non-eviction mandate that had been extended by the current administration because of COVID, cannot be imposed. Because of this, many more people will soon become homeless. Yet, landlords have to pay their mortgages; so landlords are sometimes losing their properties for not being able to meet the mortgage. It seems like a lose lose situation for everyone.

 Part of the problem is that often tenants and landlords have not sought available help. They aren’t aware that there is government aid available due to the pandemic specifically for housing. Some states are very slow to release aid to tenants and to landlords. Too often there is help but the problem is either ineffectiveness about getting it out to those who need it; or deliberately ignoring that it is available. 

I love the writings of James. I love his call to generosity; and his struggle to teach Christians to be more generous.                                                                                                           

While today’s Mark Gospel is concerned with whether we need to follow the cleanliness code in the OT or not; James puts it simply when he says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

My son Zack was probably 15 the March when I decided that for my birthday I wanted the whole family to help me make and then deliver a meal for 80 people to Haven Center, a homeless shelter in Lorain, Ohio.

It was MY birthday, and I wanted everyone to have this fabulous experience of serving people who could use a good hot meal.  My older son had to work so he didn’t show up for the meal preparation, delivery and service. My younger son, Zack, fussed and carried on about how he didn’t want to be there. David was just very quiet, trying not to seem annoyed by the whole endeavor, which was my thing; no one else’s.                                                                                                                    

After we’d finished cooking and it was time to deliver the meal, I asked David and Zack to lift the giant roaster filled with the beef stew that we had spent the afternoon making and to carry it out to the car.

Zack continued his complaining the two of them walked out the door, and then I heard the crash of something very large hitting the ground. And, I heard the woosh of pounds and pounds of stew splashing onto the sidewalk, I heard Zack let out a curse. Did I mention that Zack’s heart was not in this project of mine?  He had let go of his end of the roaster. We scrambled. Haven Center ate Dinty Moore beef stew that night.

I had tried to foist my love of feeding the people at Haven Center onto my family and it hadn’t worked.

 So here’s my point. We are all different from one another. The gifts I give may not be the gifts you would be most comfortable giving.                                                                                     

Later in his life, Zack, a very gifted musician and writer of music actually offered to play in my church on a Sunday. He was very willing to share THAT gift.  

Sometimes we are simply not ready to share or willing to share what we have to offer. And this is ok. But, for those who aren’t familiar with the gift of generosity that James encourages us to take part in, there is so much to be gained in our spirit, in our hearts, in our minds by being generous people.

There are people who give ALL the time; thinking constantly about what we might do for someone in need.  Being generous just feels good. But there’s more to it:

 In October of 2020, a  Cleveland Clinic article, under the heading, “Mental Health” and titled “Why Giving is Good for Your Health”, shared recent research in the benefits of being generous were explained.

Did you know that the warm and fuzzy feeling you get from helping others is actually good for you? There are proven health benefits to volunteering, donating money, caring for others including, lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, less depression, lower stress levels, longer life, greater happiness and satisfaction.                                                                     

Supportive interactions with others helps people recover from coronary-related events.

People who give their time to help others through community and organizational involvement have greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels than those who don’t.                                                                                                                                     

Giving can create that “warm glow,” because being generous activates regions in the brain associated with pleasure, connection and trust. This is the reason why you feel happy driving back from a volunteer experience.                                                                                            

The MRIs of subjects who gave to charities, show that giving stimulates the reward center in the brain — releasing endorphins and creating what is known as the “helper’s high.” There is evidence that, [when being generous], humans secrete “feel good” chemicals in our brains, such as serotonin (a mood-mediating chemical), dopamine (a feel-good chemical) and oxytocin (a compassion and bonding chemical).                                                 

Like other highs, this one is addictive, too. So go ahead and reach out to someone in need, and identify opportunities to give back in your community. Your mental and physical health will thank you – and so will the people you help.

 There is so much to be gained from [being generous] with what we have and love the most, like gifts of time, hard work, talents and treasures.                                                                   

So sure, we can go along with Paul who states that we’re saved by grace alone; but it sure seems that giving can make a big difference in our quality of life while we’re on this earth, creating the Kingdom of God, here and now.                                                                              

I wanted to share Friday’s Sojourner’s Devotional for you because it is right on for the theme of generosity. I posted it on the church Facebook page on Friday:

Verse of the day: 
Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  Galatians 6:2 

Voice of the day:
There is no phenomenon in the universe that does not intimately concern us, from a pebble resting at the bottom of the ocean, to the movement of a galaxy millions of light years away. 
Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun of My Heart (2020)

Prayer of the day:
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.- Pope Francis, “A prayer for our earth” AMEN.    

 Wikipedia. Generosity and religions.

 https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-giving-is-good-for-your-health/

 Study on giving. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10902-020-00242-8