Good morning, and blessings to you from the Horner family. Apologies for my voice, as I used it a bit too strenuously cheering for Laurel School in the state soccer finals yesterday in Columbus. Our team lost, but gave it their all even when they were down 5-0. The final score was 5-2. It would have been easy to take for granted that a 5-0 deficit early in the 2nd half was a loss waiting to happen. They instead chose to view it as an opportunity to score two goals and finish strong.
Generosity is not an easy theme in life. I hope to share with you this morning my own learning curve, warts and all, on generosity. I think it begins for me in understanding how dangerous it is to take things for granted, so I'll start with a story.
Some years ago the Chancel Choir performed a piece of music called "The Holocaust Cantata" by Donald McCullough. It is essentially a song cycle depicting a variety of themes associated with the Holocaust. Some called for full choir, while some were solos, and Bill Foley asked that I sing one of solos in the piece. I casually looked at the note range, and relatively thoughtlessly decided "no problem". I didn't look at the solo again for a number of weeks. Approximately 2 weeks before the performance, one of my fellow tenors Gerry Stueber nudged me and asked if I had read the narratives that Mr. McCullough and others had written into the score as preambles to each song. I hadn't, and placated Gerry's comment as idle chatter. During the dress rehearsal, Gerry mentioned the narrative again, and again, I largely ignored him. My particular solo was about the herding of people on railroad platforms into freight cars to be shipped off to concentration camps. As horrible as this was, it was a story I thought I was familiar with.
On the morning of the performance, with mere minutes to go before singing my solo, Gerry wished me luck on what he thought would be an extremely emotional piece. Since I had a few free minutes (probably during the sermon...sorry Hamilton!), I finally put my eyes on the narrative associated with my solo for a "quick read-through". I was absolutely stunned to find out that the song was about more than just rail platforms and camps, it instead depicted the practice of separating children from parents and used the song to show the perspective of a father running along the platform waiving to his frightened daughter pulling away in a railcar....assuring her everything would be OK when he knew it wouldn't!....assuring her he would see her soon when he knew this was likely the last time he'd ever see her face!!! I was COMPLETELY emotionally unprepared for what I had to sing in several minutes, having taken for granted for weeks the song's content, and having ignored several nudges I clearly then knew were from God (through Gerry Steuber).
With my jaw on the floor, I looked up to the coup de grat, my own smiling 8 year old daughter in the front row....oh the cruel but well deserved irony. Needless to say my rendition of that solo, if it was good at all, was exceedingly better the second service than the first.
Generosity for me unfortunately requires dealing with the uncomfortable truth that the resources we have are not of our own making, but are gifts of God. I am a steward, not a star performer or investor or banker or whatever. We tell ourselves "how can this be when Joe has this much but Sally has so much more?" It must be that Sally worked harder than Joe, or was smarter than Joe, or even was luckier than Joe. But the reality that I am slowly coming to believe is that it is not because of these things. That's not to say that the Lord does not recognize the difference between hard work and no work, as the text from the parable of the talents tells us. But if I recognize the resources which are in my hands only as rewards for my work - that is recognizing them only for their stature in our human world. Attempting to recognize that God has the majority hand in the provision of my resources has been key to my learning curve as it relates to how to be generous. And I confess that at almost 50 years old, I still have far to go along that curve. Resources in Gods eyes are not money, or currency, or buying power. Instead they are opportunities to share with other children of God.
Generosity requires faith - you have to be willing to lose control. For me, It can't be "I'll give them some of my money and then see how they do with it, and if they do OK then maybe ill give them some more..." It can't involve my judgement. We must have faith that in returning to God what she has provided for us, SHE has a purpose! SHE has a roadmap! SHE has a vision!
I believe Generosity is private, and anonymous. I can't be like the Pharisees and scribes of the temple who wanted to be seen giving large amounts so their status would be raised in the community. Ulterior motives are my own human creations and are too tempting to be of God.
I believe opportunities to be generous are customized by God for us. And I believe immensely that Federated Church, for me and for each of you, is a customized treasure trove of opportunity waiting to be realized.
I'll conclude with another story I heard once a number of years ago ... an interpretation of the Lords prayer, the only time Jesus directly taught us how to talk to God. We all learn the words as children and it becomes as rote as the pledge of allegiance or the catholic Hail Mary. The title as written in the program was entitled "THY Kingdom Comma". At first I thought it was an embarressing misprint.
But what the pastor explained was two phenomena that have stuck with me ever since: first the word THY is glossed over in our rote renditions of the Prayer. It is THY kingdom come ... THY will be done. There IS a roadmap, and at the end, there IS a kingdom to celebrate. And each is Gods, not our own.
And second, related the pastor, there was a glaring syntax error! How could Jesus have made such an error? It comes when we ask God to "give us this day our daily bread." The comma, he said, should come after "day". How important is it to remind God to give us a bit food every day? Not very....but to pray for "this day" as an opportunity for service, AND, oh by the way how about a taco or a big Mac every now and again....that is a very different context.
As we hand in our pledge cards today and in the coming days, I will be trying to do so with a sense of not taking blessings for granted, with a sense of passion for the sheer magnitude of what is available to accomplish, with a sense of faith and letting go, and finally with an intense sense of the opportunities that have been customized by God for us through this amazing Federated Church community. I hope you will join me and do the same.
Please pray with me.
Father Mother God, as we each define our feebly human interpretation of generosity, help us do so in a spirit of sacrifice, a spirit of faith, a spirit of opportunity not waited for but SOUGHT OUT, and a spirit of thanksgiving for the fountains of opportunity You give us each and every day. AMEN.