My family and I often joke that we could go on vacation and only pack the Thrivent “Live Generously shirts” we have in our closets and drawers…and have a full 7-day vacation wardrobe…with more to spare when we got home!
And that’s okay. Because we love these shirts. I mean: A) they are the most comfortable t-shirts I have. But B) Because when I wear them, I almost always get comments on them. Either maybe a “Hey I have one of those shirts too!” from a random stranger in an amusement park—that actually happened at Universal Theme Park in Orlando! Or, quite often, someone telling us what a great message this shirt has.
What is it about this message that people love so much? Well, I think more than anything, THIS message is how people want to live. Generously. This is a vision of what a good life looks like—a life that is generous, meaningful. A life that is helpful. A life that amounts to something.
These two words: Live generously are hopeful and important and matter. These two words: Live generously are about a life centered on blessing. Centered on love. Centered on using our gifts. The outside of the Thrivent box that always houses the 25 or so t-shirts we get for every event around church says things like “We are blessed to be a blessing.” “Positive change begins with your generosity.” “Pay it forward” “Love. Give. Grow.” “It is in giving that we receive.” “Kindness is like honey: Sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” “Live a life of jubilant generosity!” These two words pack a pretty big punch. Live Generously. And people respond because I think most people…at their very core…want to live this way.
And yet…and yet…too often we don’t. God created us with the willingness to be generous—to give: to God and to others. This design is part of our make-up. But there are voices out there competing against it.
The voice of fear: the voice that worries that we don’t have enough. That we need to hoard what we have…what we do…just in case. The voice that tells us that there is not enough to go around and if we share we might lose the precious little we have. Today in our First Lesson we heard about a widow who was asked by the prophet Elijah to share what she had. “Be not afraid,” Elijah said to her. Don’t listen to that voice of fear. “Be not afraid.” Share. Love. Live. Although she had almost nothing, she shared her food with a stranger who had come to stay. She overcame her fear. And the world was changed.
We live with this voice of fear, but big wonderful change can happen when we hear that call, “Be not afraid.” Do not be afraid, but love. Serve. Give. We create a world that is better now, and also for generations to come, when we are not afraid to live generously. We create happiness for ourselves and for the world around us, and for those who will come after us, when we are not afraid to live generously.
It is easy to be controlled by fear. By pain around us. It is easy to be controlled by the division we see in the world, by the negativity, by the bad news we are inundated with every single day. It is easy to be controlled by the fear and pain that come from our own struggles. Our grief, our own sadness or difficult times.
And yet, we know that there is a better way. There is a richness to be found in letting go of that fear and simply living. There is a richness to be found in living a life of gratitude and joy. It isn’t always easy. There are days when it is almost impossible. But there is life to be found and strength to be found and hope to be found when we let go of the fear and truly live.
And live…generously. Hopefully.
Knowing…trusting…realizing that every gift we have comes from God and when we give we are giving back to the God who first gave to us.
Generosity changes our hearts. When we are generous—to God and to our families, friends, neighbors, and others who are in need, our hearts are filled…enlarged. It reminds me of the grinch in “How the grinch stole Christmas.” His heart grew simply by loving and sharing. His heart grew when he changed his life from selfish hoarding and fearful living into a life of community and love. THAT is what generosity does. For each one of us.
Is it scary? Yes. Is it hard? Nearly impossible some days.
But the good news is that we have a savior who came to this world, and in the most generous act of humanity every known, gave his life for the world, so that we wouldn’t have to live in fear. So that we wouldn’t have to be controlled by fear. But so that we can live in hope. With love. We can look at each other the same way Jesus looked at us. And we can share our lives, just as he calls us to. Because of the cross, God has created for us a new kingdom, a new life. And we can help Jesus to bring this kingdom into the world through our lives and our love, as we learn to live generously.
So today you have an opportunity for that. Today, you have been given a giving packet, which is an opportunity for you to think about how you will support the ministry here at St. James and beyond in the coming year. First, there is an estimate of giving card, which can be brought forward this week or next week, or sent to the Church office, sharing how you will commit to the ministry of St. James through the coming year. We encourage you to pray about that, talk about that, think about that as you fill out this card. And think about the ways you can be a part of the way St. James makes a difference in the community and in the world. How you can help St. James live generously.
In addition to the commitment card, you will find in your packet a giving guide to read through. You will find a way to have your gift automatically deducted electronically. Also, you will find a letter about a way you can help retire our Steeple loan. That campaign has been so amazing, and we are very grateful that we were able to do so much with a big project. You made that happen, and you should we proud. And we prayerfully ask your support to complete that project. Your gifts have made a difference. And your continued gifts—for the congregation’s ministry, for the steeple, for other missions in our community and the world—will continue to make this church and the world around us a better place. For us….and for those who will come after us.
Today, I have made a video. Of pictures of ministry here at St. James. As you prayerfully consider the ways you can support this congregation, take a look at our ministry in pictures. The fun we have, the worship we do, the ways we serve and love one another. After the video, you will be invited to bring commitment cards forward. Or again…you can bring those up next week or drop them by the office. Remember that giving isn’t just about the money you pledge, but the work we do together. This video showcases that work. The community. And the ways we share our talents and gifts with one another.
Live. Generously. These words mean so many things. Living and loving. Growing together in the ways you saw reflected in that video. Live generously. These are not just words on a t-shirt. But words to live.
Let us pray: Oh God, we thank you that you have given us life, that you sustain us by the power of your Holy Spirit and that you gave Jesus Christ as an offering for us and for our sins. WE thank you for the abundance that we have in our lives. And we pray that you would help us. Help us, O Lord, to honor you with our gifts. Help us to care for the poor and those who are in need. Help us to recognize that it is more blessed to give than to receive. We offer ourselves to you. Guide us now as we prepare to fill out our commitment cards and think about the ways we can share our gifts of time, talent and treasure to further your kingdom on earth. Help us, O Lord, to live generously. Lead us, we pray. In your holy name. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last Christmas, I had ONE thing on my Christmas list that I wanted above all other things. I wanted…an instant pot. The best new kitchen gadget for busy families, I’d heard. A safe pressure cooker type of appliance that makes things fast and good.
It was the ONE thing I wanted above all other things. And I made that pretty clear. I circled it in all the ads. I told Sid every time a sale on them popped up on Amazon. I started pinning instant pot recipes and would read them to Sid every time. I put instant pot cookbooks in our amazon cart. I wanted it. And I just KNEW I would get it.
Then Sid started putting presents under the tree. And none of the boxes were the shape of the instant pot I wanted so much. I pouted a little…but then in my head thought…well SURELY he is just keeping it downstairs until Christmas morning so I will be surprised! So Christmas morning got here. It wasn’t under the tree yet. But I waited patiently.
I opened all of my other presents. And they were wonderful. I have to say…Sid really did a rock star job with presents last Christmas. This beautiful Scripture scarf that I wear so many Sundays was under the tree. Tickets to a show were under the tree. Clothes I wanted…coffee stuff…pretty stuff. I had a very good Christmas!
But…no instant pot. And I have to admit…even with all those lovely presents, things that any other year would have made me feel so spoiled…even with all of those, I was left disappointed. I immediately got on pinterest and deleted the recipes I had saved. I may have even snuck into my room and cried a little. Not my proudest moment.
It was the ONE thing I wanted above all other things. And it wasn’t there. And I was disappointed. Until…about two hours later…when my parents showed up for Christmas brunch, with a brand new beautiful instant pot all wrapped up!
DIScontentment. Until I opened that instant pot, THAT is what I felt. In spite of all of the wonderful things I had received, the beautiful Christmas I was having, I was simply not content with what I had. I wanted that ONE more thing. Have you ever felt that way?
We all have things we want. Look at the lottery craze going on right now. 1.6 billion dollar jackpot, I think I heard? People are just dreaming about what they would do with that money! Because we all have things we want. Stuff we need. Dreams we want to live.
Although, frankly, the truth of our society is that even if we get EVERYTHING our heart desires, we will probably STILL be discontent. Even a BILLIONAIRE might be discontent. It seems it is how we are wired. See, as much as I wanted that instant pot, and as much as I use it…a short time later there was something else on my list that was the ONE thing I wanted or needed above all other things.
That is the way the world works, right? We open that gift and we love it for a moment. And then we move on to the next thing. We go on the perfect vacation and a day after coming back are ready for a different one. We find a good job and then get restless.
Just look at our disciples today. They have been with Jesus and witnessed so many of the awesome things he had done. They saw him teach and preach and perform miracles. They have heard his teachings about money and power and how greatness is found not in that but in service. And they have witnessed the joy of this service firsthand.
But they are not content. They want one more thing. Above all other things. It isn’t possessions they are looking for. No. It is glory. “Teacher,” they say, “we want you to just do this one more thing for us.” “What’s that?” Jesus says. “Grant us to sit one at your right and one at your left, in your glory.”
Serving, experiencing, joyfully following, witnessing…that wasn’t enough for these disciples. No. Now they wanted glory. They were discontent with what was in front of them and what was to be. They wanted more.
But Jesus had other ideas. Because he knew that such earthly glory was temporary and unsatisfying. His true mission…and the one he was calling them to follow…was eternal and lifegiving. “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant. Whoever wishes to be first must be slave of all.”
WE live as if our life depends on what is right there in that moment. On what NEED we have in that moment. On what DESIRE is filling our hearts. My life depends on getting this instant pot. This toy. This good grade. This vacation. This job. This glory.
In the Enough Stewardship series we are currently talking about, the writer calls this “Restless Heart Syndrome.” In the same way that Restless leg syndrome causes twitches and contractions in the legs, Restless Heart Syndrome causes twitches in our hearts…or in our souls. And its primary symptom is this discontent. We find that we are never satisfied with anything. The moment we acquire something or experience something amazing, we scarcely take time to enjoy it before we want something else.
And while yearning for more can be God-given…yearning for love, yearning for a deeper relationship with God, yearning for a deeper prayer life…or being discontent with the way the world is so we can work harder for more…more justice, more peace, more love. While those yearnings and discontentedness can be God-given, those tend NOT to be the discontentments that drive us.
Instead, we are driven by our discontentment in our job or our marriage or our possessions or life in general. God must look at us sometimes and feel the same way Sid did when he gave me all those wonderful Christmas gifts and I cried for the instant pot. Because often in life it is as if we are saying, “I don’t like what you have given me, God; I want to trade it in and get something better.”
Today, God is calling us to a different way of life. To find contentment in what is eternal and life-giving, rather than what is temporary and unsatisfying. “Life doesn’t consist in the abundance of possessions,” Jesus said in Luke 12. Life is far bigger than that.
So where do we find contentment? There are may ways to try: living with a grateful heart, discerning the satisfaction you might get from that thing you want above all other things, looking for the good in every situation and everything you have or don’t have. Those are all ways we can begin to find contentment.
But for me, it is found in what Jesus was teaching those disciples. Not only in today’s lesson, but over and over again. That true contentment is found in resting your soul in God. Saint Augustine says, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” Our hearts are restless until we rest in God.
The truth of life is that we spend an awful lot of time thinking we have to have more, do more, be more. But if we are living the life God has called us to, we have truly found enough. Jesus said that the two most important commands we can keep in this world—the two most important things we can do in life—are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. If we keep our focus on those two things, we will find satisfaction for our souls…and lasting contentment. Because ultimately, loving and serving God and our neighbor is what is life-giving and eternal.
And we might even find, as we let go of all of that other stuff, that we will find our true joy. Not enslaved to this world’s desire for us to have more and be more and do more. But content with what we have. With who we are. With God. And with the love around us. Ultimately, isn’t that the most important thing we need? Isn’t love the most important gift we have?
THIS changes everything. It changes our schedules—learning what we can say yes and no to. Spending time with the people and things that matter. Cultivating time for self-care. It changes the way we treat one another. Putting love as our primary goal. Relationships as our best possession. It changes the way we treat money. Thinking about how we use it, how we spend it, how we share it. Simplifying our lifestyles so money isn’t our God. It changes the way we serve. Realizing that the call from God is what is eternal. Not glory or riches or power. But self-sacrificing love and service and mission.
Ultimately, THAT is what Jesus did. Jesus gave up everything for the sake of the Gospel. He gave up everything for love of this world and each one of us. And because he did that, we can do that too. Contentment is resting in that promise from our Savior. The promise that the cross is everything. What Jesus did is everything. And everything else—is extra. The cross leads to love and service. The cross means that no matter what we have, what we do, what we experience…God’s love never changes. God’s love, shown in Jesus, belongs to us forever. As we rest our souls in THAT promise, we find everything we need.
This month, we have been embarking on a congregation-wide study and worship emphasis called "Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity." In October and November, we will look at some of the financial challenges facing us as a nation and examine our own spending, saving, and giving habits. In addition to exploring biblical principles of financial management, we will learn ways to assess our financial situation and develop a financial plan that will allow us to experience the true joy that comes through simplicity and generosity. At the end of the emphasis, we will have the opportunity to make personal commitments of giving for the coming year. We will consecrate these commitments on Sunday, November 11 and 18, You are encouraged to join the Enough small-group study on Wednesdays at 6 PM.
There are files below containing the letters we have sent out, in addition to other information related to this study. Please check those out! And keep checking back here for new resources and more information!
This is the handout we distributed on Sunday, October 14:
Six Key Financial Principles
to Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity
1. Put God first in your living and giving. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
2. Prepare a spending plan and track all expenses monthly. (Proverbs 27:23-24)
3. Simplify your lifestyle; live below your means. (Matthew 6:19-33)
4. Provide immediately for an emergency fund. (1 Timothy 6:9-12)
5. Pay off all credit card debt and use cash, not credit cards. (Proverbs 22:7)
6. Practice long-range saving and investing habits. (Luke 14:28)
In the Annual Report, one of the goals I set for our year of ministry was “FUN!” We love to share the joy of the Gospel here at St. James and have fun doing it. This summer will be a summer of lots of fun activities and events!
You will find a note below about our Summer of fun worship. After such a long winter, it is exciting to get to move outside and have worship under the trees. We have beautiful worship services planned for the summer. We hope you will join us and bring your friends and neighbors!
On several Sundays, we will have activities for all ages after the worship service. Some weeks, we might play kick ball or croquet together. We will learn about the Labyrinth one week. We might go for a bike ride one week. Stay after worship and enjoy fellowship and fun with your church friends!
We will also celebrate the Ordination of Bryan Odeen this summer. We will have our ALWAYS fun VBS. We will send youth off to youth gatherings and Bible Camp and hear about their experiences when they come home. And celebrate many other surprises and events!
We love summer here at St. James! Use this summer to Proclaim and Practice Christ’s Love! Join us…and invite friends!
SUMMER FUN WORSHIP!
We Begin our Summer OUTDOOR Fun on June 3rd! Join us at 8am for Potluck Breakfast with worship following at 9AM! During that 8am hour, you will be able to enjoy food, coffee, music, and lots and lots of fellowship!
If outdoor worship isn’t for you, there will be a chapel service at 10:30am.
Adding to the fun will be several special services! During the 9am services we will:
This year, as we have done every year for the past several years, we will have a beginning of the year meeting for our council members and board members. That meeting was scheduled for Sunday, February 12, but was postponed until a later date. It will be a great day to celebrate a new year of ministry at St. James!
If you are not on council or serving on a board this year, I ask you to pray for these new leaders, pray for the meeting that day, and volunteer to help our boards and council
out when you are able. The ministry in this place isn’t just done by the boards, by the
pastor, by the council, or by the staff. It is all of us working together to do God’s work in this
place and out in the world. If you are serving on a board or on council, I ask you to join us for the meeting that day. This is a good time to brainstorm new ministry ideas, to get to know your board and other boards better, and to see how ministry works in this place. Please work to get as many of your board members here as possible. Brunch will be
served, and childcare will be provided. The great thing about not only this meeting, but a new year of ministry in general, is that it gives us a time to reflect.It gives us a time to think about the bigger picture. It gives us a time to plan new things. I hope this work will get started at our meeting, but it is really something everyone in this congregation can do.
Where do you see new ministry that can happen? Where would you like to serve? What ways can you imagine reaching out to our community and to the world? A new year is a good time to think about that...and then to put those thoughts into action! Talk to me, to a staff member, or to a board or council member if you want to get something started. Ask for support...and then make it happen!
The last couple of Sunday sermons have been about sharing the Gospel — being evangelists. And how we all have the gifts necessary to do that very thing. You don’t have to serve on a board or on council to be an evangelist. You don’t have to be a pastor to be
an evangelist. Everyone here can share the Gospel. Everyone here can invite someone to
church. Everyone here can use their hands and feet and hearts and voices to proclaim God’s love and God’s grace to a world that needs to hear it.
So join us and pray for us as we plan our new year of serving God and God’s people!
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:20
I have been considering what makes St. James a unique place. What would make people come to St. James, find a church home here, and become members? What would keep bringing people to our doors and into our sanctuary?
Although we have some wonderful music, I’m not sure that’s it. Our newly installed Senior Pastor Jeni gives some beautiful sermons (and Heaven knows I try my best), but I don’t think that’s what brings people to us. We have a lovely facility, but I don’t feel that’s what does it either. The answer, I think, is that the community of St. James is what makes it unique. It’s not anything that we, the staff at St. James, can do. Instead, it’s what all of you do. Without you and your welcoming words to visitors, your presence in our space, and your role in our community, St. James changes.
I’m currently studying the New Testament letters for one of my classes and one thing that Paul writes about often, more often than worship or buildings or anything else, is community. I hope, like Paul does in 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 “that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
It’s easy to think that community is defined by a place, but I would suggest that community is an act. Community is experienced we experience life together, with all of its joys and pains, all of its grief and laughter, and it’s in those experiences that St. James becomes more than a building. It becomes a community – a community which serves its neighbors, prays for all humanity, and practices and proclaims Christ’s love to the world.
This year, we asked congregation members to participate in a Lent Photo a Day Challenge on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter. The first picture is some of the words we were asked to create pictures for. The rest of the pictures are just a few of the many submissions we had. Thanks to all who participated!
We will posting the Gospel and Sermon's on their own page from now on. If you look to the left, you can click on 'Sermons' and it will take you to the full list of available audio sermons. Thank you for listening!
A new exciting thing is happening at St. James! We now have the ability to post an audio file which you can click on to listen to the Gospel and the Sermon!
Please share and let others know!
St. James Blog
Periodic notes and updates from the staff of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mason City, Iowa