31Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
Imprison me within Thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.
These words, written by George Matheson in 1890, came in a devotional book that I started using this week. The book came to me by at least two different acts of generosity. I was at my intern cluster meeting, where all of the ELCA interns and their supervisors from IL and WI met in Rockford, and someone came with two bulging bags of books from a retired pastor who wanted to see some of their books go to new, soon-to-be pastors. Generosity. Then my supervisor saw the book, recognized it as one that she owned and found profound, and thought that I would appreciate it as a source of devotion and inspiration. Generosity. Then, at the same retreat, I was asked a question that is so timely for our stewardship series that I couldn’t even stand it. I wrote it down on the whiteboard earlier in the fellowship hall. I was asked, “Who taught you to be generous?” There it was again. Generosity.
Combine that the with fact that today we celebrate the 499th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Thesis by Martin Luther, the 499th anniversary of the symbolic beginning of the reformation from which we, as Lutherans, and most other Protestant denominations get their genesis, we see a pattern. We see that we are living on the shoulders of some very generous people. This building was built as an act of generosity and hope in the future. The families we came from, the legacies on which we are building our legacies, however imperfect, however broken and humble, all contain acts of generosity. Indeed, the very gospel of Christ is one that proclaims a generosity beyond our wildest imaginations.
The gospel of Jesus shows us that Christ emptied himself and became like a slave in order that he could serve us. Us. We, who could never repay, have been the recipient and the receiver of an act of generosity which we could never begin to comprehend. We, who sin and fall short of the glory of God. We have been made holy by the precious blood of Christ. You are loved beyond your wildest, most passionate dreams. You have been set free.
You are free from the need to pay your own way. You are free from the need to look out only for yourself. In our gospel, Jesus tells the crowd that the truth makes you free. And the truth of the matter is that, regardless of who you are, where you come from, and what you have done, you are justified by his grace as a gift. You are the recipient of the highest act of generosity.
Because of this, you are free to follow that generous Spirit. You are free to follow Christ’s example. You are free to make mistakes, learn from them, and live a generous, faith filled life. But the thing about generosity, is that it also requires some sacrifice. We see that in God’s generous love, we see that in Christ’s generous sacrifice, and we see it in the Holy Spirit’s generous gifts. We feel it in baptism and we taste in communion. We look at the gospel and see a model for this generous, outpouring life. But, following this model sometimes requires us to look at our lives as tools to be used, not as heirlooms to be preserved.
The most generous people in our lives are often the ones who gave, even when it was uncomfortable, sometimes even when it seemed a little foolish to do so. They didn’t do it to log hours or boast about what they accomplished. They didn’t do it for recognition or to receive a card in the mail. Often, they did it because of a deep seeded sense of love and that love carried them to do things that have made a world of difference to the rest of us.
Now, as we embark on a stewardship series, we are challenged by Jesus’ words to live a free life. Now, we embark on what will become the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we take a look at how we are continuing to reform and continuing to live generous lives as a congregation and as people living in God’s amazing grace.
So, today, I want you to consider who taught you to be generous. I want you to find a neighbor, preferably a neighbor who you don’t know super well, and answer that question. Who taught you to be generous? Take a few minutes, each of you to respond.
*5 minutes later*
Something I think that’s important to remember, about these people who we remember today, about living generous lives, is that the end goal is never, never to get something back. It is always about giving a blessing to others. It is always about wishing the best for other people. As your spend your money, your time, and your skills, a generous life doesn’t ask, “What am I receiving?” but rather, “What are they receiving?” Often the most generous givers didn’t even realize it, often we don’t realize it at the time, that their acts of generosity meant so much.
As we celebrate the Reformation, as we celebrate those who came before us, as we live on the shoulders of people who came before us, my hope is that we can be a generous people, showing God’s love and grace in every way possible, through the way we spend our money, use our talents, and manage our time. We are truly set free by the grace of Christ. As freed people, let us be generous people. Amen.