A couple of months ago, Penny and I were in Vienna, West Virginia shopping. When we made the turn to get on the road that gets you on that toll bridge, we noticed that it was really backed up because they only had one lane open. There was a little parking lot with cars trying to get out.
Penny and I waved for one of the cars to get in line ahead of us. We didn’t think a lot of it, but when we got to the toll booth to pay the 50 cents to cross, the toll booth guy waved us on and said the guy in the car ahead paid it for us.
He was the guy we had let pull in ahead of us. Penny and I couldn’t get over how nice that was for him to do. For that whole trip home, I thought about that guy’s generosity.
That’s a warm fuzzy story, isn’t it? We helped a guy pull out in front of us. He then pays our 50 cent bridge toll. So sweet. That story could make it into the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”
But here’s the thing. I ended up breaking the chain because a couple of days later, I was walking down Court Street toward my car here in town, and a young man, probably a college student walked up to me and politely asked if I had 50 cents? 50 cents the same amount of that bridge toll.
Now, as a practice, I don’t hand out money on the spot like that, plus my hands were full at the time, so I went to my default response which was, “I’m sorry, I don’t.”
At the time, I knew for sure that I had zero change in my pockets, but I did know that I had a few dollars in my wallet that I could have easily spared, not to mention, that I had a kagillion quarters in my car which was a couple of blocks away. For those of you who don’t know, I have a quarter fetish.
But back to the story. So after I started walking away from this guy, it hit me like a thunder bolt, that I had missed the perfect opportunity to pay it forward. I had broken the generosity chain.
But then I thought, well maybe if I hurry to my car where my quarters were, I could drive a block ahead of the direction this guy was walking and roll down my window and give him as many quarters as he wanted.
Sorry to say that this story doesn’t have a happy ending. He was nowhere to be found. I drove on realizing that I failed to live generously in that moment. “Lesson learned, Robert,” I thought to myself.
I thought that story was over and done until I started working on this “Living Generously” sermon series. It dawned on me that I had made a promise two years ago to donate my precious quarters above and beyond my annual pledge.
So, here’s a picture of me a couple of years ago, during worship, taking my bag of quarters up to the altar in front of the entire congregation. How many of you remember when I did that?
So, to help bring closure to my missed opportunity a couple of months ago, to pass on those 50 cents, I feel nudged by God to give away all my quarters again.
Here is my bag of quarters! I don’t know how much this huge bag of quarters equals, but I know it’s a lot. I am going to place them on the altar where they belong.
(Pastor Robert places large bag of quarters on the altar.)
During these past several weeks in following Frank Donovan as part of our Living Generously sermon series, I’m realizing that I’m more like Frank than I’d care to admit. I want to be generous, but like, Frank, I often want to hold back for whatever reason.
Actually, I think God used that guy at the toll booth and that guy who asked if I had 50 cents on me, to teach me something about what it means to live generously.
We take notice of when people are generous, don’t we? Living generously has a positive ripple effect.
Often times when Jesus healed someone or performed some miracle, we are told that the people were amazed and in awe. We are drawn to generosity.
Whenever somebody does something generous for us, it makes us want to do something kind for somebody else.
In our DVD story that we have been watching over the last four weeks, Frank Donovan and his family have embarked upon a spiritual journey learning about generosity. They have been learning about giving God their best and not just their leftovers.
Though Frank did give to charitable groups, he realized through a crazy dream in a court room, that he was not putting God first. He was guilty of loving the bread more than the baker. And then, as his family helped out at a local soup kitchen, we all learned that a spoon is for feeding ourselves, while a ladle is for serving others.
Frank was learning that people are valuable, and serving others in Jesus’ name is more than just writing a check. After Frank’s wife, Cassie, was mugged and hospitalized, Frank understood for the first time that his money he counted on for security, was only an imaginary wall. His gardener, Rea taught him that God is our strong tower and where we should place our trust.
In today’s final episode, Frank is going to take some risks with his time, his talents, and his treasure. He is going to involve his entire family in making some decisions regarding their future generosity. Frank is going to sow some seeds and trust that God will grow them.
Let’s watch the fifth and final episode of the Donovan family.
[Due to copyright issues, we are not permitted to post the video.]
If you have been watching these episodes in church each Sunday morning, you have probably noticed a significant change in Frank’s view of generosity. When he saw how others were experiencing joy in their lives by being generous, he wanted to become more generous as well.
Sowing seeds of generosity is contagious. When you see someone being generous, it makes you want to become more generous.
I think this is what the Apostle Paul was talking about in our Galatians scripture reading. Paul says that if we sow seeds to the God, we will reap eternal life. And if we’re patient, we will enjoy a wonderful harvest.
After he says that, Paul goes on to encourage the Galatians by saying, “Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”
Paul is telling us to do good whenever we have an opportunity. Our acts of generosity add up and are making an eternal difference. You might not have realized it at the time, but that one thing you did or said to help someone along in their faith was what they needed to not give up.
Paul is telling us to keep sowing seeds of our faith. They will take root and they will grow and there will be a wonderful harvest.
It is often said that there will be two questions that will be asked of us in heaven. The first question will be how did we respond to the invitation to receive the good news of Jesus Christ?
In Matthew, chapter 13, Jesus shares a number of parables regarding the Kingdom of heaven. He talks about the kingdom of heaven like treasure hidden in a field and someone sells everything he has in order to buy that field. He also compares the Kingdom of Heaven to someone who comes across a fine pearl and is willing to sell everything in order to buy that pearl.
The Kingdom of Heaven is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is the treasure in the field. It is the pearl that is priceless.
How have we responded to the good news of Jesus Christ?
But it’s also been said that there’s a second question we will be asked in heaven. That question is, “What did we do with the gifts that God gave us?” Did we share them with the people around us or did we keep them to ourselves?
Jesus tells us that even if we sow a tiny mustard seed into the ground, the smallest of all the seeds, it will grow to became a tree where even the birds of the air will be able to make their nests.
Many of us are aware of the incredible stories of faith about Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity who have worked with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India.
Mother Teresa was 36 years old when she was riding a train in India and experienced a call within a call to help the poorest of the poor. Just think of how many people the Sisters of Charity have helped in the 133 countries where they are now located?
Mother Teresa had very little resources when she began her ministry but in 1979, she won the Nobel Peace Prize and has spoken with dignitaries from around the world. The world takes notice when we sow the seeds of the good news of Jesus Christ. It just goes to show that you don’t have to have a lot of resources to make an impact on the people around you. All you need is a little faith, even the size of a mustard seed.
In a few moments, we are going to be invited to bring our completed 2018 Living Generously cards forward to the nearest station and place in the basket. These were sent out to our congregation this past week.
We have extra estimate of giving cards in the pew pockets if you need one. If you are a guest with us this morning, we certainly do not expect you to complete one of these cards. This is a commitment that our church makes around this time every year as we prepare for a new year of ministry.
As we come forward to hand in our Living Generously card, I want you to use your imagination a little bit. I want you to imagine that your 2018 Living Generously card is really a handful of seeds that you are plant to help grow God’s kingdom.
We are all called to sow a variety of seeds. Seeds like serving in a new ministry to help people know that God loves them. Seeds like making a financial estimate of giving to help our many ministries grow and flourish.
For some of us, these seeds will represent our desire to give 10% or more of our income or what the bible refers to as the “tithe” to the work of Christ and his church. For others it might mean growing closer to tithing this year. All of us have seeds to plant for this coming year of ministry at First United Methodist Church.
Just think what a difference it will make in our community as we the sow the seeds that God has given us. That’s a powerful thought. Just think of the harvest that we will enjoy a year from now or maybe two years from now or even farther down the road as we intentionally sow seeds of love and hope, right here in church this morning.
Let’s think of 2018 as a year for sowing seeds, a year of living generously.
Living Generously: Sowing Seeds
Galatians 6:1-10 & Matthew 13:31-46
October 22, 2017
Pastor Robert shared how the person in the car ahead of him paid 50 cents toward his toll bridge toll. A day later, someone on the street asked him for 50 cents and he missed the opportunity to help that person. In that moment, he realized that he was more like the stingy Frank Donovan in the early part of our video series rather than the generous Frank Donovan that he is becoming.
Share a time when you had the opportunity to “pay it forward.” If you missed the opportunity to be generous, remember, God always provides new opportunities for us to offer our gifts and be a blessing to others. Just ask Pastor Robert about “his” quarters!
In the last video episode of Frank Donovan, he decides to get together with his family so they can decide how they can live more generously. They are learning that generosity is contagious!
Who has been an example to you in what it means to live generously? How has that person helped you to become more generous toward God and others?
Jesus tells us that even if we sow a tiny mustard seed into the ground, the smallest of all the seeds, it will grow to became a tree where even the birds of the air will be able to make their nests. Jesus can use our quarters, our time, our talents, our passions, and our gifts no matter how small we may think they are.
How can we encourage and help each other to remember to sow the seeds we have been given by God so they will be able to grow and be a blessing to others?
As we complete our estimate of giving cards for a new year of ministry through the church, offer this prayer:
God of abundant love, we come to you this day in the midst of a season of great growth and coming harvest. All around us are signs of your many generous gifts. Remind us that the harvest we see today has been made possible because of the seeds that have been planted this past spring. You have already given us the seeds of love and hope to plant for our next harvest. Free us to live generously as we prepare to offer our gifts for a new year of ministry. We offer this prayer in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.