Generous spirits

Good morning, Friends! I hope you’re all doing well this morning.

I was going back and forth this week with a friend on Facebook. They were complaining about how terrible 2020 has been.

I said, “Just remember that during 2020 babies were born. People planted gardens, and things grew up in them. Sometimes we laughed. We prayed and found comfort in prayer. We ate a lot of meals together at our family table – even if the number around the table was small. We said grace at every single meal this year, and we were thankful. A lot of us had to work from home, but that meant that every day was casual Friday! We called each other more often. We read more books. We told stories, and we wrote things down.It’s been a hard year,” I said, “but it wasn’t all bad.”

This morning I want to talk about one of the most basic things in the Bible. I want to talk about giving.

And before I get started, I want to be very clear with everyone, that I am not asking for money today.

This is not a special appeal. There will not be another offering. We are not passing the plate around a second time again today.

As a minister, I always prefer to talk about giving, when it’s not time to give. People at Springfield have always been generous. We are in much better shape than a lot of churches, which have closed their doors and gone belly-up this year.

I grieve for those other churches. It doesn’t make me feel better, to see other people in trouble. I wish that all the churches in the world could be full to overflowing, because we need the Lord right now.

I’m grateful for all the support people give. I’m not pushing for more. That’s not my point.

What I want to do, though, is to remind us of one of the most basic things in the Bible – that it’s more blessed to give than to receive, that when we give, that it’s like lending to the Lord.
In one of the Psalms, it says:

Blessed are those who consider the poor;
The Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.
The Lord protects them, and keeps them alive;
They are called happy in the land.
The Lord doesn’t give them up to the will of their enemies.
The Lord sustains them on their sickbed,
when they’re ill, the Lord heals all their infirmities.

Psalm 41:1-3

The Bible is filled with this kind of stuff. It’s everywhere, in almost every book of the Bible.

In Old Testament times, there was almost no cash floating around. Almost everything depended on sharing what people had. In the book of Leviticus, it doesn’t mention cash, but here’s what it says:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather all the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and the foreigner who lives in your land. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:10

Jesus himself says, “Give, and it will be given to you.”

The book of Acts quotes Jesus, saying, “It is better to give than to receive.”

See, I think we get it wrong when we only focus on special appeals, or even on balancing the budget. We need to cultivate having a generous spirit, all the time. It’s one of the most basic parts of a true Christian character.

The early Christians were incredibly generous people. Even pagans, observing their Christian neighbors from the outside, were amazed at what they did.

Let me share a quotation from what a pagan observer, Marcianus Aristides, said about his Christian neighbors:

Christians live in hope and expectation of the world which is to come. So they do not embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet what is not theirs. If one or other of them has servants or slaves, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction.

They love one another, they esteem widows, and they rescue orphans from any who ill-treat them. Whoever has [wealth] gives to him who has not, without boasting. When they see a stranger, they take him into their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother.

Whenever one of their number who was poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability contributes to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free.

If there is among them any that is poor and needy, and they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to have food which they can supply to the needy one.

I don’t think we quite measure up to that standard. But I want us to know, deep down in our hearts, that being generous is an everyday thing for Christians.

I know that most of you have heard of the name of Allen Jay. Allen Jay and his wife Martha were both recorded ministers. They came here after the Civil War, and they worked here for eight years.

They rebuilt schools. They trained a new generation of teachers. They taught families how to farm, and they provided the tools and the seed so that farms could re-build.

They evangelized, and they brought new life to all the Quaker meetings in North Carolina. They brought a fresh spirit of prayer, and they started new meetings everywhere.

But there’s another name we should all know, and that’s the name of Francis King. Anybody ever heard of him?

If it wasn’t for Francis King, Allen Jay might never have come here. Francis King was a Quaker business man from Baltimore. He grew up in the Quaker community, and he became a Christian when he was 17 years old, and pledged his life to Christ.

He was clerk of Baltimore Yearly Meeting for many years, and served on a lot of committees. But what’s interesting is that he was a tremendously successful business man. He made a lot of money.

But then, after he’d built a big business, when he was still fairly young, he decided to retire. He said that he’d made enough. He wanted to spend the rest of his life, doing the Lord’s work, instead.

Francis T. King was the one who recruited Allen Jay to come here. He was the one who supported Allen Jay’s ministry. Francis T. King introduced Allen Jay to his wide circle of business friends, and encouraged them to join him in supporting the work here.

One of Francis King’s friends was a Quaker who owned most of the B&O Railroad. When his friend died, he appointed Francis T. King as his executor, to help carry out his dreams. That’s why we have Johns Hopkins University, and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

This is what I’m talking about. Francis T. King lived a generous life. He knew that life was more than riches. He was intelligent and successful, but he had no interest in piling up more money. He wanted to live, and he knew that the real riches are the ones we have in Heaven.

There’s a bronze plaque with his name on it, by the side door of the meetinghouse. I hope some of you go and take a look at it. We literally wouldn’t be here, if it weren’t for him.

And others, too. I could give you all kinds of examples of faithful Christians, here at Springfield, who lived lives of incredible generosity. Some of them had a lot of money. Some of them had very little.

We can all think of people here in the meeting, who we knew, who opened their hearts, and opened their homes, to welcome new families and young people. People like Clover Hill, and Valeria Thayer, and Warren and Jewell Parris.

These are difficult and challenging times that we’re living through. And we need people who have deep and generous hearts, who give whatever they have, because they love the Lord.

Remember – I’m not asking today for money. I’m reminding us of the kind of hearts Jesus wants us to have. I have always believed, that money is not the church’s biggest problem. When our hearts are given to the Lord, I have always believed that money will somehow take care of itself.

There’s a story in the gospel, about a young man who came to Jesus one day. It says he came running to meet Jesus, and he knelt down at Jesus’ feet, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to claim my share of never-ending life?”

Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the ten commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”

He said to Jesus, “Teacher, I have kept all these ever since I was young.”

Jesus, looking at him, and loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:17-22)

Usually, after I read this story, there’s this big THUD you can hear, as people’s spirits hit the floor. For some reason, this story makes people feel ashamed and guilty.

But that isn’t what Jesus wants at all! It says that Jesus looked at this person, and loved them. When Jesus loves us, he doesn’t hold back his love. He doesn’t not love us, because we’re not perfect yet.

Jesus looked at this person. He looked into their heart. He knew that they really wanted to belong to him.

And Jesus said, “You keep all the rules. But there’s one thing missing. Be generous. You need to discover the joy of giving. You need to stop worrying about your bank account. Give, and you’ll have treasure in heaven. Follow me, and find out for yourself what it’s all about!”

Jesus doesn’t want us to feel guilty. He wants us to be joyful. For people who worry, every day is a new threat. For people with a generous heart, every new day is an adventure.

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Dear Lord, bless these people who are here today, and bless our church, and all the people who couldn’t be here.

Thank you for all of your blessings to us each day. Please keep us healthy and safe in these difficult times. Please guide our troubled nation, into ways of peace and truth and justice again.

Help us to have generous hearts, and help us all to live generous lives. Help us to be excited at every opportunity we see, when we can help, or bring comfort, or hope.

We believe that you have all the resources we need, and you said that everything you have is ours.

Help us to have faith. And help us to invest our hearts and our lives in heaven, today.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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