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.
St. James Blog
Periodic notes and updates from the staff of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mason City, Iowa