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Glad and Generous Hearts

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid. Posted in Sermons

Easter 4 A    John 10:1-10

An amazing thing happens to people when they feel safe; when they are confident that their needs have been and will continue to be met; when their fears about the dangers and threats they face are reduced or eliminated. When people feel safe, they get generous. When people feel secure, they begin to see and feel compassion for the struggles and needs of others. When people worry less about what might happen to them, they turn their attention and resources to what needs to happen for others.

The opposite is, of course, also true. The more people worry about what might happen to them or what might become of them; when people feel insecure, unprotected and un-provided for, when the threats seem real and dangers most frightful, people not only stop sharing, they sometimes even stop caring. Even when they have more than enough for now, if they are fearful about whether it will be enough for tomorrow, the need to accumulate even more becomes most urgent, guarding and protecting what you have against people in desperate need becomes more important than trying to meet those needs.

Confidence about the future breeds neighbor-focused generosity. Fear of the future breeds self-interested hoarding and protecting. That may be simple human nature and more of a psychological truth about us than a theological one, but I believe that it is also a holy truth about us and about our Easter faith and the abundant life that in today’s gospel Jesus says he came that we might have. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Our first reading today shows us the dramatically generous impulse that followed on the heels of fresh Easter faith. After telling us that the first Christian believers devoted themselves to the same things we’re devoting ourselves to this morning: the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers, being filled with the good news that God in Christ had freed them from the power of sin and death, saved them from their enemies, and protects them from all that threatens to steal and kill and destroy, giving them confidence that their lives, today and tomorrow, were safely held in God’s strong hands, the book of Acts tells us that what followed was an awe inspired outburst of generosity. Day by day, they were generous in spending time together with their brothers and sisters in faith, eating in one another’s homes with glad and generous hearts.

Day by day, with their own needs met and their fears subsided, their eyes were opened to the needs of others and as they identified those needs, they marshaled the resources to meet them. Sometimes they would even sell some of the stuff that they’d formerly believed they needed to keep for themselves, and distribute the proceeds to meet those now more urgent needs of others.  Day by day these things happened. Day by day the news of what wonderful things were happening in this strangely generous community spread, and day by day, their numbers grew.

An amazing thing happens to people when they feel safe; when they are confident that their needs have been and will continue to be met; when their fears about the dangers and threats they face are reduced or eliminated. When people feel safe, they get generous. When people feel secure, they begin to see and feel compassion for the struggles and needs of others. When people worry less about what might happen to them, they turn their attention and resources to what needs to happen for others.

The first letter of Peter puts it this way: “Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that free from sins, we light live for righteousness.” Jesus, in today’s gospel, put it this way: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” And I’ll put it this way: God has always wanted in this world a community of people who would love God and live with glad and generous hearts toward their neighbors.

God created such a world. When sin turned that world fearful and selfish, God chose Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of a new community that would model and spread and restore a fearless and generous humanity. God gave commandments. God sent prophets. God promised that where kings had failed and been lousy shepherds, God would come himself and lead his flock along right pathways and keep them safe from the thieves and wolves they so feared. And then God sent Jesus to be and do just that. To be the gate through which we can come in to the safe rest of God’s kingdom. To be the gate through which we daily go out to live confident and generous lives toward our neighbors, to be the Good Shepherd who came that we may have life and have it abundantly.

Easter, you see, isn’t so much about getting me and you into heaven. It’s about getting me and you confident enough that heaven and all of its promises and blessings are so fully ours already, that we can stop worrying about having enough, doing enough, being good enough, and can stop fearing what the thieves might take from us and what the wolves might do to us, and can start living the abundant Easter life that is already ours now and will be for all eternity.

And that, I believe, is exactly what broke out in the first Christian community that began to gather regularly after Easter; the awesome abundant life that freely and willingly spent time together, spent resources together, and even sold stuff they once thought they needed so that together they’d have more to give away to people who really needed it. It is to me the most exciting and inspiring image and sign of what the church is not only intended to be but by the power of the Holy Spirit can be: a community of people, fully confident in God’s abundant provision and protection, living day by day with glad and generous hearts.

Which means that as we here enter a time of leadership transition and change, in the midst of an even bigger time of cultural transition and change, that instead of focusing on, and worrying about, what we DON’T have and what realities of church and world limit our options and choices, we need instead to learn from those first believers, and devote ourselves first of all to the basics of our abundant life together: to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. We need to be grounded in those gifts of God, those every Sunday means of grace that can inspire and motivate and empower us to be generous with our time for one another and for this community: doing such things as filling out surveys, engaging in conversations, supporting our leaders with our ideas and opinions, our prayers and hopes and dreams. We need to be grounded in those promises of God that help us worry less about what bad things can happen or what we might end up losing, and enable us instead to see the real needs of our wider community that we want to begin to address.

After all, a church that is confident enough in what it already has, to be able to see a real need and decide to address the real problem of student debt among its present and future leaders, and then comes up with no less than $100,000 in little more than two months, is not a church that needs to feel like it’s stuck only able to afford a half-time Associate Pastor.  (Not that a full-time Associate is what we need right now. That’s just one option among many we’ll need to prayerfully and courageously consider in the months ahead.) But the point and the truth is that we have enough and more and can afford to do whatever we decide together that God is calling us to do, and that we decide together is important enough for us to do so that we share the resources needed to get it done; even if it means letting go of or selling some things we used to think were more important to keep.

Jesus came that we may have such life, and have it abundantly. Our Easter joy is that Jesus succeeded in that mission and that abundant life is now ours.  Jesus comes and day by day, week by week, gives us that abundant life as we spend time together here, devoting ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

So come to supper, to this feast of Easter’s victory over sin and death and therefore over all types of fearful and limited and selfish living.
Come to supper, and let’s see together what signs and wonders can come forth from our glad and generous hearts.   AMEN