Thursday, May 24, 2012

Defined by Generosity

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

We celebrated the life of a beautiful person in our church last Friday. Howard was our oldest member of the church, having died two months before his 104th birthday. He was one of my favorite people in the world - someone who I have grown to love dearly.

Funerals have a way of forcing me to both face my own mortality while also imagining my own end of life celebration. What is it that I want to define me? How do I want to be remembered? What can I do today that will cause people to want to celebrate my life at the end?

Howard was defined by his generosity. Throughout the pews of the church sat people who understood the impact he had made. People from the seminary were in the pews, knowing how Howard had given gifts that would help young people be able to accept their call and go into ordained ministry. More than a dozen people came from a nearby geriatric daycare center, individuals who are cared for today because Howard fought for a place for their center and supported it throughout his life. Another person there told me about the impact Howard had on the retirement community's annual gift to a certain cause. Other people in the pews understood how much Howard had given to make our church what it is. Howard was the epitome of someone who supported the church through their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service and their witness. I alone could offer many examples.

When I arrived at the church in 2005, Howard was often ushering. He was in his late 90s but still greeting people.

When we were in the midst of our building renovation in 2007, Howard did his own research on who should restore the stained-glass windows. He wanted to be involved, and he wanted the church to get the best product possible.

When Howard turned 100, his entire family came to town to celebrate his birthday. Yet, he made time to come to my local wedding reception before going to his party that night.

When Howard thought I needed to improve my speaking and "slow down so that old folks could understand me," he brought me a book titled, "Training the Public Speaking Voice."

Howard regularly asked me if there was anything the church needed. I can picture him vividly at the end of Bible study when he had the biggest smile on his face as he gave me his offering envelope to take back to the church.

And, a couple of weeks before his death, Howard took time to offer generous comments that I'll not forget. I was getting ready to leave and Howard stopped me to say "thank you." He then continued to offer thanksgiving for my coming regularly to have Bible study with him, for my always treating him the way I wanted to be treated, and for everything I had done for our church. Those comments were a healing balm for my soul. They are comments to be savored for life. All I could say was, "I love you Howard," as I walked to my car in tears.

There is no doubt in my mind that Howard was abundantly blessed by his generosity. He knew that Paul was right when he said that "God loves a cheerful giver" and that "God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work."

I cannot think of any better way to be remembered than to be remembered by the ways one has embodied generosity - generosity of time, generosity of talent, generosity of resources and generosity of spirit.

What are we doing to be remembered this way? In what ways will we be defined by generosity?

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