Generosity Practiced Here

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid. Posted in Sermons

Pentecost 19 A    Matthew 22:1-14

Today is CROP Walk Sunday, when congregations in communities all across the country come together to bear witness to a special kind of unity. We may be of differing faith traditions, denominations and doctrines, but we all share a conviction that the God we worship calls us to not only pray for the poor, but also to do our best to see that every child of this earth has enough food to eat. We hear Bible readings like those we’ve heard today that describe God’s kingdom as a great feast of rich food for all peoples, and we each know in our own way that being generous in feeding others is an obvious way to practice our faith.

Here in Holden, today’s will be the 39th annual CROP Hunger Walk, and after 38 years of walkers walking and others pledging, the Holden CROP Walks have raised over a quarter of a million dollars: $278,398.04 according to Kathy Mills. And speaking of Kathy Mills, who has for over 20 years now led Holden’s town-wide CROP effort, and took that job from other Immanuel leaders going back to the walk’s earliest years, it’s worth noting that this congregation has provided not only the organizational and planning leadership  for the event throughout it’s 39 year history, but has also consistently raised more than twice, sometime three times more than any of the other participating congregations.

Last year’s walk involved 8 congregations and raised $17,000. Immanuel’s walkers raised 41% of that total, or $7,000. The next highest total from a congregation was 15% or $2,500. Now, we are not, by any means, twice as big as other participating congregations, nor are our members likely to be twice as wealthy either. We’re bigger than some and smaller than others. We send more walkers than some and fewer than others. But at the risk of sounding like I’m bragging, we are consistently more generous. And that’s not only when it comes to CROP Walks.

Immanuel is and has long been a congregation that has practiced generosity, and because we have practiced generosity over a long period of time and in a variety of ways, it’s become something we’ve gotten rather good at, and that others notice, and that is perhaps the clearest public witness to our faith, a measurable sign of how what we believe shapes and guides our living. In fact, if we were as good at articulating the connection between our faith and generosity as we’ve gotten at practicing it, we would say something like this:

“We give because we worship an incredibly generous God who is the creator and sustainer and owner of all that is, who gave this world his only Son, who in turn gave himself for us on the cross, holding back nothing, and who now, as risen Lord, gives the Holy Spirit to call and gather us together, who comes into our midst when we gather to feed and strengthen us, so that we can in turn be given to the world as the living and breathing Body of Christ. We give because giving is at the heart of our God. If and when we are generous, whether it’s in our welcome to others or in our gifts for others, it’s in response to and in partnership with our generous God."

So today’s CROP Walk is just one example, though a very good one, of how the practice of generosity over time not only makes us better at it, but teaches us the joy and blessing that results from it. On the cover of today’s bulletin, you will find the theme of this fall’s stewardship pledge campaign here at Immanuel: Generosity practiced here! Jim Provencher created the logo, which is based on the signs you see as you enter every town in Massachusetts. As Immanuel enters it’s 90th year as a congregation here in Holden, we want our neighbors to know that Generosity is practiced here. If generosity describes us; if it shows in things like CROP Walk totals and weekly offerings and special appeals, it’s because it’s not only what we do: it’s what we work hard at. It’s what we practice so that we can be even better at it.

“Generosity practiced here.”  And I’m hoping that along with the story of the CROP Walk that we highlight today, there are other stories that people will be willing to share about how the practice of generosity here in this congregation has made a difference to them,  stories from people who were blessed either by an opportunity to be generous themselves or blessed to have been on the receiving end of the generosity that gets practiced here.

Between now and our Commitment Sunday in four weeks, on November 12, when we all be asked to submit our giving intentions for 2018 on a pledge card, I’m hoping that at least three people will be willing to share a brief story of what the generosity practiced here has meant to them or done for them. I know those stories are out there. I just need three or four people willing to share them, starting next Sunday and on until November 12th.

Just this past year here at Immanuel, our practice of generosity included a challenge gift of $50,000, that was then matched by more than fifty pledges of another $60,000 to not only reduce but nearly eliminate the seminary student debt that had been burdening Pastor Aaron Decker, as well as provide a major gift to our denomination’s Fund for Leaders that is making seminary more affordable to the next generation of pastors. It included memorial gifts that replaced our church sign out front and rebuilt the shed out back, special gifts given in thankfulness to God that don’t even have a designated use yet, bequests that helped our Mission Endowment Fund grow to where it will soon be able to provide annual allocations for new ministry endeavors.

And best of all, all of that practice of new generosity took place while our pledged giving and practice of basic Sunday offerings also exceeded our budgeted projections by over $20,000 in the first 9 months of this year. Which means that instead of issuing dire warnings of deficits that we need to eliminate and things we won’t be able to do if giving doesn’t increase, we can instead celebrate this year the generosity that gets practiced here, and even more so share stories of the blessings and joy that comes from it.

Because the generosity that we practice isn’t, in the end, an obligation that leaves us with less, but an opportunity to discover more blessing, more joy, and more faith in God’s constant provision for our needs. As Paul writes in his parting words to the church at Philippi, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Keep on practicing generosity, and you’ll not only get better at it, but you will grow to love and enjoy it even more, and discover the blessing of living in the generous image of God. And if you have a brief story of “Generosity Practiced Here” that you are willing to share on one of these coming Sundays, please let me know.   AMEN