The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
July 1, 2018
“The Happiest People I Know”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
On Monday, June 25th I heard an advertisement telling us to begin planning for Christmas NOW. June 25th is the mid-point between Christmas 2017 and Christmas 2018. We are now less than 6 months away from Christmas and the retailer that was advertising their product was making us aware of that reality.
The text that was assigned for today, and that I chose to preach on, is usually a reading we pick for Stewardship Sunday – sometime in October, as we prepare for setting our budget for the next year. Stewardship – usually with a big dollar sign on the S, so it looks like this – $$$.
But I want to preach about it now because this really is much more than just asking for money. It has to do with the joy and happiness in our lives.
During the last week, or so, I ran into two people who were not the happiest people around. One knew it, and the other didn’t give it a thought. The first was Noah Bress, Rich and Judy’s grandson. Noah is about 7 and on the last day of Bible School he came to me and said, “I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.” He’s a very smart kid and he knew that he was in a poor mood. When he told his fellow Vacation Bible School students they thought getting up on the wrong side of the bed meant hitting the wall as you were trying to get up. Noah knew what it meant and so did his folks. By the end of the day Noah had woken up on the right side of the bed.
But I ran into a lady, about 25, who was driving behind me on Bowles on Monday morning as we headed east. She was late and I was in her way. I went from driving the speed limit to 5 miles over, to 10 miles over, so that the front of her car didn’t run into the back of mine. She passed me, got in front of me, and gave me the one finger salute. When we got to Santa Fe to wait for a long light she was two cars ahead of me. I have a feeling that the rest of her day didn’t get any better either.
Unhappy people make life hard for others and for themselves. They’re grumpy and complain and are unsatisfied. They snarl and spit. Better look out for them. And if I’m talking about you – better look out for you. Find a bed where you don’t run into the wall before exiting.
The happiest people I know live life differently. Here is a definition that St. Paul gives about the happiest people that he knew, “Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in the service to the saints.” (II Corinthians 8:4) “They pleaded for the privilege!!” The privilege was to give money to the poor people in Jerusalem. A bunch of Gentiles were giving money to Jewish Christians who were facing severe poverty. Giving brought them joy.
The happiest people I know don’t just give money. They have a way about them that is just generous. They sacrifice their time. They go out of their way for others. They look for ways where they can be helpful. They plead for the privilege of helping, serving, giving. The happiest people I know have an attitude that is a little weird – different. It is better. It is good and God-pleasing.
Henry Simon who pastors in Pasadena, Maryland before he preached his sermon about generosity asked his congregation why, at times, they were not generous. He allowed them to provide written responses. I think he let them answer either anonymously (or put someone else’s name on the response). He had a top three that seemed to be mentioned by many. #1. We may be afraid to give away too much. It is hard to be generous with giving money, time, involvement or dedication when this means that there will be less for yourself and your family. #2. We think that we can’t give enough to make a difference. The needs around us are so great and what we have to share is quite small. I get a ton of requests from some very worthy causes, I bet you do too. Can we truly make a difference with what we give of our time, abilities or money? The number three reason why folks said they are a hard time being generous is that they felt that their generosity might be abused. You don’t know if your gift will be used for a good purpose. You sacrificed, gave the gift with a good conscience only to learn that you weren’t given the truth. Your gift wasn’t used in the manner you had been promised. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.”
There are real reasons not to be generous, to be hesitant or cautious. We might even call that being wise. But don’t let those reasons turn into excuses for not being generous at all. We are not called to be greedy but to be gracious – in many ways.
St. Paul, in speaking about the gift that he is asking the church in Corinth to provide, provides the example of Jesus. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (II Corinthians 8:9) Jesus, “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God”, became poor, took on flesh, had to resist temptation and evil, suffered hell when He bore our sins, died a miserable death, then had to be buried in a common way. Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor. He wasn’t rich in material goods. He didn’t have much money and never even owned a home – he wasn’t rich in terms that we normally determine whether a person is wealthy, but He was rich spiritually. And He has made us rich spiritually. Jesus, in joy, with happiness, was generous to us. And He still is.
The English word “generous” comes from a French word meaning “of noble birth.” Our generosity comes because we are of noble birth spiritually. We are children of our Heavenly Father, we are brothers and sisters of the King of Kings, the one who says the cattle on a thousand hills is His. (See Psalm 50:10)
We are of noble birth, we have been treated with great dignity, He has lifted us up from the pit, crowned us with love and compassion. It was God’s delight to treat us in such a way. It brought Him pleasure – I guess I could say, happiness – to do such things for us.
The happiness we have received we give. There is an attitude that God provides. In our reading Paul speaks about this willingness, this desire to help others. “Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.” (II Corinthians 8:10-11) In the next chapter he speaks about this attitude, willingness and pleading for the privilege of being generous in all things. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9:6-8) And just before this he talks about this aspect of happiness and joy when he insists, Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.” (II Corinthians 9:5b)
Happiest people? Generous people. But not just with money. They show it with their attitude, their willingness. and their joy in helping.
This joy and happiness is the result of being a follower of Jesus, doing as He does, following His example. Paul in the chapter – “Just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (II Corinthians 8:7)
Generosity meets a need. Someone actually needs a word from us, our hands to support them, our feet to go to them, our heart to care for them, our eyes to watch them, our love to shelter them. Happiness grows when we get to give it away constantly, regularly and on purpose.
The happiest people that I know live their life as a thanks and praise to God for everything that He has done for them. Psalm 116 asks the question, “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” (Verse 12) We get to spend all the years that God gives us thanking and praising Him for a cup that overflows.
Some of the happiest people I know are you. You know how blessed you are in the deepest parts of your life because of Jesus. You know that by faith in Jesus you have everlasting life. You know His goodness that makes your life good. You know that these gifts aren’t yours to hold, but yours to give.
Blessed, happy, generous people. That’s who we are. Amen!!