Our Sunday services were filled good spirit and amazing members of the Calvary community.
Due to issues related to Bay to Breakers, we were unable to film the morning service. The video below is from Rev. Joann H. Lee’s sermon at our evening service. She spoke about generosity: is generosity the same as giving, what does true generosity look like?
Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
These past several weeks, we’ve been talking about the “fruits of the spirit”. That phrase comes from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians as he encourages them to live and be guided by the Spirit of God. And he lifts up nine words that capture what it means to live by the Spirit, to live as people who have a long view of life, to live as those who trust God and are secure in God’s grace and love for us.
That being said, these fruits of the spirit don’t come easy for most of us. There may be one or two that are inherently easier for some of us, simply as part of our nature, but more often than not, these words, have to be practiced, lived out, cultivated and chosen again and again.
We’ve talked about words like joy and peace, patience and goodness. Practicing peace, choosing joy, living out goodness, and cultivating patience. These are not easy things.
But they are what we are called to do.
And this morning, we look at the word generosity.
The passage from the Gospel of Luke is often the way we think of generosity. In it, John the Baptist, the one who would later baptize Jesus, proclaims to the people that their actions rather than their lineage is what matters most, that having Abraham as an ancestor is not enough, but that the people should “Bear good fruits.” Sounds a lot like Paul’s “fruits of the spirit”.
So the people ask him, “Well then, what should we do? How should we live? What are you asking of us?”
And John answers: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
Generosity in its simplest form is sharing. It’s looking at the abundance of what we have, and if we have more than we need, giving the rest away.
The problem is, our definitions of “need” vary. What do you really “need”?
For John the Baptist having two coats meant you had one too many. Of course, he wore camel’s hair held together by a leather belt, and ate locusts and wild honey, so I’m not sure I would take fashion advice from him.
But all kidding aside, while many of us don’t take what he said literally into practice, this notion of giving to those who have less, or don’t have what we have, still shapes our understanding of generosity today.
When Stephen Colbert, for example, gives money to educating our children by funding all the grant requests made by South Carolina public school teachers on the DonorsChoose website, we say, “Wow. That’s generous.” And it is.
Giving is a large and important part of generosity. But generosity is more than just about giving.
Our second scripture lesson is taken from Acts 2:42-47. This passage from Acts speaks of the early church. This community of believers primarily met in people’s homes, and they met each other’s physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.
They sold their possessions and shared among each other. A verse in Corinthians says:
“Those who had much didn’t have too much, and those who had a little, didn’t have too little.”
They shared not only their things, but their very lives with one another. And our passage for today says, they had “generous hearts.”
A “generous heart” is more than just giving. It’s “Generosity as a way of life.”
It is the ability to give not just our money or our gently used items to those in need, but to give of our time, talents, energy, and attention. It’s about making space in our lives and in our hearts for other people.
Kahlil Gibran, the author of The Prophet writes this:
“You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
Having a generous heart is about giving, but it is also about getting to know and sharing your life with those who are supposedly “receiving,”
Because it is through those relationship that the giving actually becomes mutual, and all are able to receive.
Generosity is about making space in our lives and in our hearts for other people.
Cultivating a “generous heart” often means that you no longer “feel” like you’ve been generous because you have opened yourself enough to receive as well. And no longer is there some dichotomy between those who give and those who receive, but all are giving and all are receiving, and a community of mutuality is created.
Cultivating a “generous heart” is generosity as a way of life. It is about making space in our lives and in our hearts for other people.
We may know some amazing examples of people who’ve done this with the entirety of their lives. Last week we heard from Rosie Thandu. She and her husband while living in the U.S. felt called to start an orphanage in India where children could learn and be nurtured. At first, their vision and financial giving helped make this ministry possible, but soon they chose to go and live and be with these children, to share not just their resources, but their lives and their love. That is the embodiment of generosity.
Other people like Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero come to mind.
And maybe some of you are being called to that kind of comprehensive life work alongside those living in poverty. But for most of us, God’s call to generosity will keep us right where we are, in the same city, in the same line of work.
But it will invite us to imagine a different way of being, a different day to day reality and awakening to God at work in the lives of those whom we often dismiss or ignore.
God’s call to generosity will break open our hearts to be filled with God’s love and provision for all people.
Our generosity can make a difference in our everyday, ordinary lives. It can make a difference in this city, and in our neighborhoods.
Calvary Presbyterian Church has imagined and visioned an initiative to “Break Cycles of Poverty” in the city of San Francisco. It is a lofty goal, and one that probably won’t be complete in our lifetimes. But it is a worthy one, too. And one we cannot do alone. I’m so glad this church recognized that.
We partnered with four organizations in the city who were already working to break cycles of poverty in their own, unique way: New Door Ventures, San Francisco Achievers, Don Fisher Boys and Girls Club, and Raphael House. We have committed to walk with and work with these organizations. And as a congregation we also made a financial commitment to each of them, which is by society’s standard’s generous. But we know that generosity is more than that a financial commitment.
We have the unique opportunity, as members of this congregation, to get to know these organizations and the people they serve, to build relationships and to give and receive mutually. This past week, there were two occasions to do so.
SF Achievers held their annual awards ceremony this past Tuesday, and on Thursday some Calvary members played, and tutored, and got to know some of the children at the Boys and Girls Club. All who attended would probably say that they received more than they felt like they could ever give. But that is how a “generous heart” is cultivated in our lives. By showing up, by giving of our time and energy, and by building relationships rooted in mutual love, learning, and giving. There will be more opportunities to serve: on May 21, there is an opportunity to cook and serve supper at Raphael House, and your bulletin insert includes several other ways.
While opportunities to cultivate a “generous heart” abound at this church, they don’t have to be scheduled through Calvary. These opportunities exist daily in our lives, if we are just willing to notice them. Who on Fillmore St. might help us cultivate a generous heart? Who at work or at school might help us cultivate a generous heart? Who on our commute might help us cultivate a generous heart? Who might need us to share our time, attention, and lives with them? How can we go beyond giving to embrace the fullness of generosity?
In these next moments of holy silence, consider:
How you can give of yourself, so that generosity in its fullest form may blossom and bear fruit in your life?