19th Sunday after Pentecost: Generosity as Discipleship (2/3)
Other sermons in this series
“Generosity: the Core of Creation”
Scripture: Luke 5:15-20
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the fact that you are present in worship today because you don’t need convincing to be generous. My guess is that there are quite a few among us who suspect that the purpose of the annual stewardship campaign is to somehow persuade people to do something they don’t really want to do: part with their money. But that’s simply not true. Not in the least. Because the truth is you don’t need persuading or convincing or coaxing to be generous. The fact that you’re at worship of your own will tells me something, which is that you don’t need to be convinced to be generous.
Why are you here? You’re here because of a personal encounter. At some point in your life, you had a personal encounter with God. Or at the very least, an encounter with something or someone that got you moving in the direction of God. And because of that encounter, your life went in a new direction.
One part of that new direction had an external application, which was connecting with a local church, a place where everyone’s trying in their own way to respond to their own encounter with God. Another part of that new direction had an internal effect, which is a transformed heart and mind, which then resulted in an ever-changing perspective on all matters of life. You began to see the world through different eyes. So, you’re here because at some point in your life God touched you and changed you from the inside out. And just to be clear, it wasn’t a sermon that changed you, or motivated you, or challenged you, or made your life different. It was the Holy Spirit. So, I want to be very clear with everyone listening that it’s not my intention to try to convince you to do something that the Holy Spirit has already impressed upon you to do. My role here is to proclaim the truth—God’s truth, the truth found in God’s Word—and then trust that you will respond out of the faith with which you’ve already been gifted by God.
The truth I want to boldly proclaim today is that generosity is an expression of Christian discipleship. In fact, I’ll take it one step further and say that it’s our natural or innate expression of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. It’s our natural expression of faith because it’s built into our humanness by the One who is himself generous by nature. Generosity is a natural expression of discipleship. That is the truth. And it’s a truth that we spend our human years trying to live out as faithfully as we can.
So, when we speak of human generosity, we’re really talking about discipleship. But, what do I mean by discipleship? Well, let’s first get clear about what a disciple is. While there are lots of different definitions of “disciple” out there, a disciple can simply be described as someone who 1) believes in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, 2) intentionally learns from him, and 3) strives to be more like him. Discipleship is the word which describes the disciple’s journey of spiritual growth. Discipleship the life-long journey of learning from Jesus and becoming more and more like him. That being the case, there are markers of a developing discipleship. One of those markers is generosity. It’s the way God’s designed it. To grow and mature as a disciple of Jesus Christ is to simultaneously, and with increasing effortlessness, become more generous in all aspects of life.
With that said, generosity is only one marker of discipleship. And that’s because discipleship is about the whole of one’s life of faith. As we follow Jesus Christ—day in, day out—everything we do throughout each day is a reflection of our discipleship. Everything, not just the “religious” stuff our lives. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to get to the place where we’re compartmentalizing our lives between the sacred and the secular. The sacred includes going to church, being in a small group or Bible study, volunteering at the food kitchen, serving on a church committee, going on a mission trip, listening to the Christian radio station, giving money to the church, and so on. Everything else—all the non-religious stuff—that’s the other part of me. It’s easy to think that as long as I’m doing well with the religious part, then I’m doing well in God’s eyes—because it’s the religious part that matters the most, right? But the fact is, there is no separation. God’s not only interested in the so-called “religious” aspect of our lives; he’s interested in every aspect of our lives. Jesus is Lord of the whole of our lives. The whole of your life and the whole my life must be submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Now, it probably the case that as it concerns the whole of our lives, we’re “better” in some areas of our discipleship than other areas. That’s normal. But the goal is to submit the whole of ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ so that when we give [our money], it’s not in response to fear, guilt, or shame, but in response to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
In this life, do you know what God most wants from you? Here’s a hint: it’s not your money. What God most wants from each of us is flourishing relationship. Jesus said that the reason he came into this world was to give us life in abundance. And experiencing that abundant life comes through a personal relationship with the life-giver, Jesus Christ. Experiencing an abundant life is a significant aspect of discipleship. Discipleship, then, is born out of a relationship with Jesus Christ wherein we’re learning to be more like him and less like ourselves.
Today’s story from the Gospel of Luke gives us a good picture of what discipleship looks like. Jesus is inside a house, teaching. We’re told that his audience was dense enough that eventually it became impossible to get in to see him. Also, though it’s a large crowd, Luke specifically identifies two groups of people who were present and listening to Jesus, the Pharisees and Scribes.
Scribes were educated men whose business was to study the Law and write commentaries on it. They were also hired on occasions when the need for an interpretation of a legal point was needed. nScribes not only studied the Law, but they also preserved the physical Scriptures. They would copy and recopy the Bible meticulously, even counting letters and spaces to ensure each copy was correct.
Now, whereas the Scribes interpreted the law, Pharisees taught the law. They were leaders of the synagogue, sometimes as priests, and were the ones who made sure people followed the law and, when necessary, handed out punishment when the law was broken. In Jesus’ day, both Pharisees and Scribes were highly educated, well respected, and very influential in daily Jewish life. As one commentator put it, they were the “Who’s Who” in the crowd that day.
Anyway, right in the middle of the sermon, some of the material comprising the ceiling falls on the floor in front of Jesus. Everybody in the room looks up and sees that somebody’s cutting a big chunk out of the roof, after which a man is lowered down through the hole on a mat. It turns out this man was paralyzed and in need of Jesus’ healing touch. But the crowd was so dense they couldn’t get through to see him in the normal way, so they figured out a different avenue to the healer.
Though the rest of the story wasn’t included in today’s reading, most of us know it ends with Jesus healing the man’s paralysis. But do you know whose faith it was that prompted Jesus to forgive and heal the man? It wasn’t the faith of the paralyzed man. It was the faith of the 4 men who brought the man to Jesus. Verse 20 says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” Their faith in Jesus incited Jesus to forgive and heal the man.
Let’s do a quick review of the main story characters who were in the crowd. On the one hand were the scribes and Pharisees—the most religiously knowledgeable persons in Jesus’ midst. They had a depth of knowledge and understanding of the Law and the Scriptures that far surpassed everyone else. They were the Who’s Who? in that crowd. Then, there are these four men who partnered together to get this man to Jesus. They were Who’s Not? in the crowd. They were nobodies. But notice the difference. Present that day were people who had religious knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures that far surpassed anyone else, and yet they were unable to understand that Jesus is who he says he is. But these 4 nobodies knew exactly who Jesus was, and that he would be the salvation of the paralyzed man.
The bottom-line difference was that the 4 men had what really matters. They had a willingness to be available to the workings of Jesus, which is far more important than having an abundance of resources, which is what the religious leaders had plenty of. Being willing to make ourselves available to the workings of Jesus through our lives is what God most wants from each one of us.
The good news is that God uses the foolish and broken things of this world to accomplish his purposes. We could go through every person in the Bible who was responsible for doing great things for the Kingdom and identify their brokenness. We could add our names to that list, right? God’s not looking for perfect people. He’s looking for people who are willing to submit the whole of their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ so that he can accomplish his purposes in this world.
Those 4 men were living out their discipleship. No doubt, each of them had had a previous encounter with Jesus and it began to change their perspective on all matters of life. They responded to the paralyzed man’s need out of that encounter with Jesus. Also, while it’s an assumption on our part, it could also be suggested that one of their perspectives that was being changed was their view of neighbor. Love God and love you neighbor. According to Jesus, the entirety of the Jewish law boils down to those two things. And I’ve heard it said that it actually comes down to one thing, because loving our neighbor is how we best love God. So, these four men had a growing sense of love for neighbor. A growing capacity to connect with people they didn’t know, and maybe even people they didn’t like. Who knows? Maybe the paralyzed man was an absolute jerk! So, one of the ways we express our discipleship is through a growing heart for others. Having a generous heart for others.
Here’s what I believe. I believe that you have had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and that he’s been changing your perspective on all matters of life ever since. I believe that the Lord’s been working on your heart, and that you do have a growing capacity to live your own life for the sake of others. This morning, I’m simply reminding you of this fact, and encouraging you to choose the way of generosity as a way of expressing your willingness to be available to the workings of Jesus Christ through your life and your resources—all to the glory of God. Let’s pray.
Our heavenly Father, as the heavens declare your glory and the sky proclaims your handiwork, so we also lift up our voices in praise to you, declaring your glory to all the world. We want the world to know that you are God and that you alone created all that is. Nothing in all of creation came into existence out of chance or happenstance. No, you intentionally created everything, and everything has a purpose whether or not we know what those purposes are. But what we believe is that you’re behind it all, and you called it good. Unfortunately—and this is our confession—we took what was good and spoiled it with sin. When we turned away from you, we turned away from life itself, and that brought death into our world. But out of your unending love and grace and generosity you sent your Son Jesus into our broken world to heal us and draw us back to you. Through him we have life again—abundant, full, and overflowing life. Though we’re subject to diseases of the body and mind, we nevertheless are whole in you, Jesus. Depression can’t separate us from your love. Cancer can’t separate us from it. Suicide can’t separate us from it. Murder can’t separate us from it. Loneliness can’t separate us from it. War can’t; enmity can’t; nothing can. That’s what your Word tells us, that nothing in this world can separate us from your love given to us in Jesus Christ. Thank you, God! Help us to never take this truth for granted. And give us the courage to not only believe it, but to live it every day. To proclaim it to all.
We thank you for your generosity, and for designing us to be generous as well. Even though we know it’s how we’re designed, we confess that it’s not always easy to be so. We too easily get distracted by the glitz of this world and think that we need it. Forgive us, God, and speak your tender word of hope into our hearts so that we might once again choose you and your ways. So that we might live generously for the sake of people we don’t know. Today, we open ourselves up to you anew to work through us. Use us to accomplish your purposes. Enlarge our capacity to order our lives according to the needs of others more than ourselves. Father, make us want what you want. Make us to seek after what you say is important. Help us to trust you even when the way before us looks impossible. Where we see a mountain, give us the faith to say “Move!” Where we see a dead-end, give us eyes to see beyond that point. Where we see dry bones, help us to know that you’re about to pour out your Spirit upon those bone and call them back to life!
Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, resurrected and gloried, we lay our church at your feet. Provide for us in all ways, dear God, including our finances, so that we can provide the kind of ministry that’s needed in our community. So that we can provide the leadership that’s necessary for these ministries. Bless this stewardship campaign such that you receive all the glory, for it’s not about us, but all about you.
We pray not only for ourselves, but for others. We’re especially mindful of the violence taking place in Israel and the West Bank. So we pray for them, asking that you intercede. We’re bold to believe that you can bring peace to our war-torn world, and give thanks that someday, when you return, Jesus, your eternal peace will come. but until then, we rely on the peace you pour into our hearts and work for a peace between all people. We pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace…