Creative giving

Good morning, Friends!

We’re doing something different this morning. We already took up our regular offering. Now we’re going to do a special offering, a different type of offering.

All year long, we’ve been collecting things to go in these boxes you see here in front of me. You’ve heard lots of announcements, all through the year, saying how much we’ve collected, and what things we still need.

As of this week, our offering is complete. We have 100 boxes – 50 for girls, 50 for boys. The boxes are going to lots of different places – some here in the United States, many for children in other countries.  If you lifted up the lid and peeked inside, you’ll see that each box contains:

• a package of lined school paper
• a spiral-bound notebook
• an assignment book
• pencils and pens
• pencil sharpeners
• crayons and a coloring book
• a bar of soap, a washcloth, a comb and a toothbrush
• a pair of new socks
• a soft toy or a little car
• a jump rope or a ball to play with outdoors

Plus, each box contains a note, written in English on one side, and Spanish on the other. The note says: “Hello! This box is a gift to you from our church. Enjoy everything in it! We love children, and we are sending these boxes to many children like you around the world. Jesus said, “Love each other as I have loved you.” We want children to know that God loves you. God loves all children everywhere!” And it gives our address.

I can’t begin to tell you how many hours that Diane Welch and her helpers and friends have worked on this project. It says on our Sunday bulletin and in our newsletter that “every member is a minister”. These boxes are a ministry. They’re a gift to children who have almost nothing in the world.

Before we take the boxes in to the central collection point, we have a tradition of blessing them. It’s not just our physical gifts that we’re sending. We want to send our hopes and prayers for these children as well.

So, I’m going to ask the children and young people of the meeting, to come up front here, and help pass them out. Everybody’s going to get to hold at least one of these gift boxes. Some of you are going to need to hold two or three of them.

Then I’m going to ask you all to leave your seat, and stand up in a big circle around the edge of the room, and we’ll say a prayer together.

We’ve already done something special at worship this morning. But I do want to read something Jesus says to us. It’s actually one of the most important things that Jesus ever said. It confirms that we belong to Jesus, and it tells us that whatever we do for him, no matter how little it may seem, is totally worthwhile.

“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

– Matthew 10:40-42 

Here in the church, we’re always talking about giving. A lot of it is for our own needs – to provide a nice place to worship and learn and have fellowship with each other.

So, we give for ourselves. But that’s only part of our giving. What I want to talk about today is creative giving, the kind of giving that’s extra fun and challenges us to go on and do more than we think we can.

A lot of churches, like Springfield, think that we’re poor. Actually, that’s not true. There’s a difference, between being poor and being broke. Being broke means that we don’t always have the money to do everything in the budget. That’s not unusual! Most churches have to stretch to pay their bills at times.

Being poor is different. Being poor means you don’t have anything to give. Not to yourself, not to anybody else. And often, a church being poor is a matter of attitude, because there are always ways we can give.

The Scripture this morning talks about giving. Jesus says, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

The early Christians had this strange idea. They believed what Jesus told them. Jesus told them to share what they had. And they were incredibly generous. They gave to help people like Paul, who were in prison. They gave food for people who were hungry. Many Christians who lived in Jerusalem were persecuted and neglected, and so other Christians took up collections to care for the widows of the martyrs.

They offered hospitality. They looked after orphans. They nursed people during epidemics. Many of the monasteries had schools attached to them. Generosity was at the very heart of what they believed and what they did. And it was all because of what Jesus said in today’s Scripture reading. “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

It’s a two-way welcome. When people see us, they should also see Christ. If Jesus came to bring hope, if Jesus came to help lift the burdens of people who were falling down, then that’s what we should be doing, too.

One of the early Christians, St. Patrick of Ireland, put it this way:

“Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me. . .”

That’s what they wanted. They wanted people to look at them, and see Jesus. People should see us, and feel Jesus’ love and compassion. They should come to us, and find peace and healing. That’s the idea.

But Jesus also said that every good action, whether it’s large or small, will be rewarded. Whether the action is great and kingly, or just ordinary, or even very small, God knows why we did it. As Jesus says to us today, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

We can’t always make the grand gesture. We can’t always do the king-size action that we want to do. Most of the time, in a church our size, we’re limited, and we feed badly about it. We let that affect us so much, that we’re tempted to give up and do nothing at all.

But that’s not what Jesus said. He said that even the smallest gift, the simplest gift, the most basic gift of human comfort, the cup of cold water, would be rewarded.

Do you remember a story from the book of Acts, where Peter and James told a crippled street person, “We don’t have silver and gold to give you. But we’ll give you what we do have.” They prayed for him, and he was healed. Sometimes, when you give what you do have, things actually work out better.

So, let’s talk about some ways that happens.

I remember, one meeting where I served, the Thanksgiving parade went by every year on Main Street, right outside the meeting’s front door. It was always bitter cold for the parade. Many years there would be snow falling. So, we thought we’d try selling hot cocoa to the parade watchers lined up on our front lawn.

It seemed like a nice idea. Then we started asking questions. How much should we charge? What if people didn’t have the right change? Should we charge more for grown-ups and less for kids? This was turning into a first-class Quaker argument.

Then somebody said, “This is all wrong! We’re a church! Let’s not sell the cocoa. Let’s just give it away!” And all the arguing stopped. People put up their hands, and said they’d bring gallons of milk. Other people said they’d bring the sugar, the cocoa, and the vanilla. Suddenly it seemed like fun again!

The day of the parade, we were out there with a table and big pitchers and cups, and a relay team of people kept bringing fresh hot cocoa out from the kitchen. And people couldn’t believe it. Everybody else was just out for a buck, and we were giving it away.

One guy took his cup of cocoa and handed me a twenty-dollar bill. He said, “Nobody does things like this!” We had people coming from two blocks away in every direction. We had little kids who came back for seconds and thirds. We had a wonderful time! And it didn’t cost that much. I think we had donations enough to cover everything.

Sometimes, if you just decide to give something, it’s easier, and it’s more fun.

Another time, we had a visit from the director of the Quaker center for the Choctaw people in Alabama. They were in a very bad way, because they had never qualified for federal assistance as a tribe.

When most of the Choctaw people were forcibly evicted from their lands and moved out west along the Trail of Tears, this group in Alabama hid out in the swamps. Many of them had intermarried with runaway slaves. They had no leadership. They were unwanted by everybody. They were the poorest of the poor, in one of the poorest states in the whole country.

We had helped this school before, with a program similar to the shoeboxes we’re sending out this morning. Most of these kids had never owned a pencil of their very own, in their whole lives. Many of them were several grades behind in school.

So, the Quakers started up an early childhood enrichment program. Quakers from all over sent clothing for a clothing room. They could have just given the clothes away free, but they decided to charge ten cents for each item, so that people would have the dignity of saying, “I bought it!”

The director told us that he really wanted to start a library for the kids, because their school didn’t have one. There was no library in the community, and none of the kids had books at home. We thought about having a fund-raiser, but our meeting was pretty broke at the time – we were barely paying our own heat bill.

So we started looking around for books. People started getting excited, and they found 25-cent books at yard sales. We hit a jack pot when the public library had their annual sale, and they let us have first pick, before the sale started, for free. The librarians got so excited that they started pulling books aside for us.

We got children’s books, and two complete sets of encyclopedias, and books about health and science, and study guides for jobs, and all kinds of stuff. The next trip the school director came up to visit us from Alabama, we loaded his truck till it was right down on the springs. They had a library now!

That’s what I mean about creative giving. We knew there was a need. We didn’t have the money. But we didn’t give up, and we found a way.

Another time – I was head of the Missions committee of the yearly meeting for a while – I asked the doctor at one of our Quaker hospitals at Lugulu in Kenya what they needed most. The hospital was in a rural area, and people sometimes walked 60 miles to come there for treatment. None of the patients had any money, and the hospital was located in a drought area where the well sometimes dried up for half the year. Can you imagine running a hospital without a water supply?

Dr. Bob Carter told me that one of the things which worried him most was that they had to re-use a lot of medical equipment where here in the United States we would use just one time and dispose of. The supply situation has gotten better now, but at that time, he said that they were cleaning and re-using catheters as many as 15 or 20 times, even though they knew there was a risk of infection. It was that or nothing.

We didn’t have the money to go out and buy several thousand dollars’ worth of medical supplies. But we had a new attender at our meeting who was a salesperson for a big international medical equipment company. He told me that he wasn’t satisfied just putting a donation in the plate on Sunday. Was there anything else he could get involved with?

We talked and did some research, and he was able to locate several large crates of surplus equipment in a warehouse in Germany, including hundreds of catheters. They put it on the next flight out to Nairobi, and the hospital truck came and picked it up and took it all up to Lugulu.

That’s creative giving. It’s finding a way to help, when we didn’t have the money. But we listened, and prayed, and looked for something we could do. And it turned out to be more than what we ever could have hoped for!

Our shoeboxes may not fix everything for the kids who will be getting them. We know that! They probably need lots more. But they’re kind of like the cup of cold water – a small gift that makes a difference.

I remember when worked in Indiana, our meeting helped to welcome a Quaker family from another country. The father had come here to work in the mission office at Friends United Meeting. The family had four kids, all school age, and they arrived with just two suitcases for the entire family.

One member of the meeting found them a house they could afford to rent, and had it cleaned for them. The whole meeting got together, and filled up their cabinets with food and dishes, because they had nothing when they arrived.

Joyce and I took the family shopping for school supplies. We bought all the notebooks and 3-ring binders and pens and stuff that were on the school’s list of required supplies. And we bought hats and mittens and winter coats and boots for all the kids.

We brought everything over to their house, and set the bags down on the table. And instead of grabbing it and fighting over all the nice new things, the oldest son, who was only in about 7th grade, said, “No! Before we do anything, let us pray in thanksgiving for all these good things, and thank God for providing for our needs.”

How many kids do you know who would stop and do that? We felt that we hadn’t just given to this family – they gave back to us, with their attitude and their prayers. They never forgot, and we stayed friends for many years, even after they moved to another state.

That oldest son is now an admissions director at a large Christian university, another son is a minister, and another son is a physical therapy assistant. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!

I could tell you lots more stories. My point is, that giving isn’t just about writing checks. A lot of the time, it’s about finding ways to give creatively.

If Diane had said, “Let the meeting write a check for two or three thousand dollars, to help 100 children do better in school and be cleaner and healthier,” I don’t think this would have gotten very far.

But Diane asked and persuaded, and lots of different people brought in this thing and that thing. Sometimes it was only half a dozen bars of soap, or a couple of toothbrushes.

One family got excited and found a bunch of the soft toy animals. Other people found things at the back-to-school sales.

And this is where we are! And every box that goes out to every child, has a message of love from our meeting, for the child who opens it.

I don’t know if we’ll ever hear back from any of those children. It’s sort of like a message in bottle kind of thing – you throw it out there and hope someone reads it. Or it’s like planting seeds, but these are seeds of love, and we’re sending them in the name of Jesus.

The important thing is that God has planted this idea of the importance of giving in each of our hearts. We know we can’t fix everything. But we can do something. And we tried to do it well. We did something beautiful for these kids, and that means we did something beautiful for God.

And it’s not done. It’s never done. I don’t know what we’ll do next, but it’s never done. And we can rejoice, we can be glad, because we always have something to give, even if it seems pretty small. Once again, we were creative, and God helped us. And bit by bit, one small piece at a time, we did something wonderful.

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