Monday, November 22, 2010

Defined by Generosity

Our fall stewardship season concluded yesterday. For the last four weeks, we have journeyed together through Adam Hamilton's book titled "Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity." It has been a great experience to gather with all kinds of people from all walks of life to talk about what it means to live a life of simplicity and generosity. The conversation has pushed me to second guess many purchases while also forcing me to stand inside my closet, looking at the many things I have accumulated. I counted my purses for the first time, for example, but have not yet had the courage to see how many dollars I have invested in these bags of all shapes, sizes and colors! (Seriously, does anyone need more than a dozen bags including two pink ones and one green one?)

Our sermon series ended yesterday as I preached on being defined by generosity. Having been the presiding pastor at a graveside service for someone I did not know this past week, the thinking about the kind of legacy I want to leave behind was fresh on my mind. The thought of having a pastor stand and describe an empty or busy life when referring to me was a terrifying thought. I had been thinking all week about how I want to be described when my obituary is written one day. I concluded, along with many others, that I want to be defined by generosity. My mind is now creatively engaged in a process of discerning what this life looks like.

How can one be defined by generosity? The possibilities are rather endless.

One of the individuals in our study shared last Wednesday night how when he was 17-years-old and a rising high school senior, he learned that one of his classmates might not be able to finish high school in their private school. Her family did not have the money to pay for her tuition and she was being forced to finish at the public school instead of at the small Christian school she had attended for more than 10 years. My friend shared how at 17-years-old he came to the decision to use his savings and secretly pay for his friend's tuition. Generosity!

One of the defining practices that has shaped and transformed Mount Vernon Place UMC is the act of sharing coffee, snacks and conversation following each worship service. Every Sunday, more than half of our community gathers in the Narthex and lingers over a cup of coffee and something yummy to eat. For almost a year, the same person came early to prepare the large pots for coffee and hot water. She then patiently cleaned the pots following each time of fellowship. Not many people offered to help. I'm not sure how many people even acknowledged her gift. She simply did a job that needed to be done - a thankless job that made all the difference in the world when it came to our being formed as a community. Generosity!

I worked in seminary admissions for four years prior to returning to Washington. While at Duke, I got to know so many amazing people all around the nation. One of these individuals is a pastor in Florida. He has written many books. He is responsible for a large church with hundreds and hundreds of people. He is a busy person with a full life. Yet, in all the years I have known him, he has stopped often to name my gifts. He has the uncanny ability to make more of me by pointing out the gifts God has given to me. He makes time for me whenever he is in the area. He wants to read what I am writing. He has been a sign of God's abundant love cheering me on. Generosity!

From the place I sit in our church, I have a wonderful view of people coming in for worship. Two weeks ago, I watched as one of our greeters did not just say, "hello" and hand a first-time visitor a bulletin but instead actually led this individual into the sanctuary and sat her next to a church member who was also by herself. The greeter worked hard to establish an immediate connection for this person. When worship was over, I watched as another church member introduced himself to this visitor and then personally accompanied her to coffee hour where he introduced her to many other people. The greeter did not have to lead her into the worship space and find someone with whom the person could sit. The church member could have gone first to people he knew and catch up with them. But, both of these people went out of their way, going the extra mile. When I had coffee with this visitor last week, she told me how these two actions made all the difference in the world. Generosity!

We have countless opportunities to practice generosity. Imagine what it would be like if we all started to see what we could do to live a more generous life? I invite you to try a few things this week:
  • Pick out someone in a restaurant where you are eating - a couple who appears to be having a dispute or a woman eating by herself who appears to be lonely. Tell one of the servers that you want to secretly pay for their meal without them knowing who paid for it.
  • Call your pastor and ask who makes the coffee at the church each week. Ask if you can sign up to help. If there is a person who does this every week, tell your pastor that you'd like to give that person the month of December off so that you can make the coffee each week.
  • Write a note of gratitude. Think about someone who has made a difference in your life and then take time to write them a note - a handwritten, stamped note - letting them know how thankful you are for their presence in your life.
  • Rather than getting caught up in the consumerism of Christmas and the need to buy, buy, and buy, think about how you can give, give, and give. I know one pastor who tells his congregation that they can spend as much as they want on Christmas as long as they bring an equal gift to the church - a Christmas gift that is then invested in a clinic in Africa where lives are being saved through much needed medical treatment. This church has actually built an entire clinic with their Christmas gifts!
  • Rather than buying gifts only for your family, imagine a person in your life who makes all the difference. It might be the person who cleans your office at night. It might be the person at the gym who greets you in a way that makes you glad you came. It might be the person dressed in red who you see picking up trash in the streets of the city. What about surprising that person with a gesture that shows them how much you value their work.
  • When you go to church next week, work extra hard to find someone sitting alone. Sit with that person, introduce yourself, tell them how glad you are that they came. If you cannot find such a person on your way in, do whatever you can to find them on your way out. Your greeting them could make all the difference in that person's day and even their life.
  • Walk through the streets of the city with your head held high and say, "Good morning" to everyone you pass. Try it on the Metro, too. People will look at you with strange looks but it will be fun to see a few people smile, too.
What else comes to your mind? What are your thoughts on a life defined by generosity - on going out of your way to share with others what you have been given? I'd love to hear them! Comment away!

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