Rev'd Susan’s sermons: Generosity
This sermon about Generosity was given in June 2021 after several months of churches being closed. That period coincided with the installation of the new stone floor in Harston Church.
St. Paul’s second letter to the Christians at Corinth, chapter 8:
You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ - that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich… So we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has - not according to what one does not have… It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need…
We sit here on a wonderful example of generosity from everyone here. Last year we made the decision to go ahead with the restoration work during the height of the pandemic knowing that we could only ask our own congregation to give - and give you did! And we are so enjoying the result. I am not giving you a sermon today on generosity because I am going to ask you for money. Instead I want to talk about generosity and poverty….
First, some words from The Moor, a poem by RS Thomas:
It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.
In order to be generous it might be tempting to think that what is needed is a certain confidence in one’s own resources, as it is out of those that we will be giving. There is, as Paul says: ‘a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need’.
But that is not the whole picture. Confidence in one’s own resources can bring a generosity of pocket – and that is not all bad at all… But as God said to Samuel when he was searching for the king to replace Saul, God looks on the heart. God takes note of the spirit in which we do the giving. That is what we will take with us to the life beyond this life.
Perhaps you can think of a time when you have visited a natural place, a wood, a mountain or a moor. And perhaps because of the light of dawn or late afternoon… you were stilled, and somehow humbled: there was a sense of God which you enjoyed and which changed you, just a bit, and certainly for that time. However, you may have seen (as I sometimes saw in Norfolk, or Cornwall) loud people in a landscape. Yes, they were there in theory to enjoy the particular offering of salt marsh or surf, but they were talking loudly of their own achievements and plans. They had entered the place confident of their own resources, and their senses were dulled in the noise and importance of their own life story at that moment.
True generosity of spirit needs humility, rather than a confidence in one’s own resources. We need humility because in a state of our own weakness and awareness of our own limitations we can receive something quite intangible. It is a sense of being placed in equality with others – and of humbly being able to give out to others who also need…
Resources alone are not enough. A connection with God is vital. And when that is gone, what is there? A humility of spirit is what God wishes for us, and what we will take on with us eternally…
Finally, the words of another poet, Myra Schneider, on generosity of spirit – or a lack of it:
At first you rejoice in the amplitude:
room opening into high-ceilinged room, the gravity
of leather in the library, the shine on newel posts,
views from your turret. Wandering into the garden
you marvel at artichoke heads sprouting
thistles, onions bulging beside marrow trumpets.
In the greenhouse a transistor playing Vivaldi
to heavy tomato clusters enchants you.
Re-entering, you notice gilt crucifixes
long as daggers at every turn and red slashes
across cigarettes which shout, ‘Thou shalt not!’
An elderly woman barks you into the herd
she’s driving into the Victorian dining-room.
In the grey hush she intones grace gracelessly.
At a refectory table you suffer two fishcakes
in lurid jackets, peas from the freezer,
the director’s welcoming speech: a timetable
of his holy life rolled up with intricate instructions
for locking doors and slapped in your face….
At home in your cluttered suburban kitchen
you sit eating doorsteps trickling honey, finger
the jar that collects up light, returns without stint
a series of glinting ellipses, pinhead suns. Licking
sweetness you recognise what you believe in
is laughter, arms held wide, the kiss
of kindness that succours the first feelers,
supports stems, nudges open petals.
Yours is a creed of auburn shall, crimson will.
Prayer O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide
we may so pass through things temporal
that we lose not our hold on things eternal