This is my annual every-member-and-friend sermon about money. It’s not that I’m reluctant to talk about money – to talk about how the church depends on the generosity of its members and friends to continue to exist.
I’m not reluctant, but I am careful. Appeals for money can make you want to change the channel – or the church!
Among the reasons I’m careful about talking about money from the pulpit is that most of us have been turned off (to say the least) by the religious hucksters, the Elmer Gantry-types who weep into the television camera convincing the folks P.T. Barnum assured them were out there, ‘one born every minute.’
Today we hear the intimate details of the lives of millions of people on the internet…face book, blogs and so forth. We hear about people tweeting, texting and sexting.
Have you ever heard of someone talking about their personal finances…how much they spend on the various aspects of their lives – food, clothes and mortgages on their home or boat?
It’s not that I pay close attention to the internet stuff beyond emails and Google searches, but talking openly (and honestly) about personal finances is still a kind of taboo in our culture.
I asked the staff to greet you this morning as a visible reminder of where most of your financial contributions go.
A couple of weeks ago in this space the folks from ABC in Westport had an auction, some of which was a service auction – people offered to make dinners, take photographs and so forth. So I had the idea of auctioning the staff, one at a time:
“What am I offered for Ed Thompson, Minister of Music? Shall we start the bidding at $10 a week, $500 toward this year’s pledge? Do I hear $20, for a thousand-dollar-year pledge for Ed?”
“What about Perry Montrose, our Director of Religious Education? Do I hear $10 a week, $500 for the year? So you’re up to $1,500 for next year’s budget.”
“Jamie Forbes gets our young people involved in work projects, promoting awareness of social justice as part of their growth…helping them to think beyond their own want, creating a sense of generosity.”
“Jan Braunle – who holds things together in the office, fielding questions, helping with circles of care…and working with the shawl ministry”
“David Vita – now here’s a one-of-a-kind gentleman who promotes social justice work which is so central to our sense of who we are…and does it without beating us over the head…but reminding us of our covenant: service-law”
“Lili Rappaport – who works with our high school youth, promoting peer support, raising their awareness, sensitivity and empowerment…engaging them in shared leadership.”
“Bobby Santiago – who keeps us ship shape during his nearly 20 years as sexton – but who goes above and beyond, as he’s doing today with the hot-dog and hamburger (and veggie burger) picnic following the 11 a.m. service.”
“John Carroll our business manager for the last four years, who is singing in his own church’s choir today. When I remarked to him that those four years seem to have flown by he said, “Time goes by fast when you’re having fun.”
“Nick Cundy, our Sunday morning man who pulls things together on Sunday mornings. Say hello to Nick”
“Debra Haffner is part of our staff serving as Endorsed Community Minister; Debra just got our Association’s Ministry to Women Award which honors individuals or organizations that have ministered to women in an outstanding manner. Debra serves without salary as one of ways she lives out her commitment to congregational life.”
This congregation has never in its history had such a full staff…I doubt there’s a more devoted, competent and dedicated staff in any of our Association’s 1,000 congregations.
Now, have you kept track of your bids? By now you should be up to at least $100 a week – a $5,000 pledge.
My personal pledge is now over the $6,000 mark, and has been for several years; I’m not asking you to do something that I don’t do…but if we are going to be ‘called to generosity’ we need to talk openly about money.
Our Board of Trustees is heading up this year’s canvass – they chose the name: Called to Generosity.
I asked Board members what they think my canvass message should be. One wrote:
“The theme that always comes to my mind for these appeals is ‘ownership’. If someone feels they have a stake in something they want to sustain it — to invest in it. This relates to both money and helping to ensure that the church is as good as it can be. That’s my two cents.”
Isn’t it interesting that he concluded his comment about the need to have a sense of ‘ownership’ with the old idiom about money: ‘my two cents worth.’ Money talks!
This phrase is meant to lessen the impact of a statement of opinion that may be contentious – it shows politeness and expresses humility. “Well, that’s my two cents worth.”
There’s some speculation about the origin of the phrase – one popular notion is that it comes from playing poker – you have to put ante before getting new card to begin the next hand. “I’m in!”
The shortest canvass sermon I can think of is ‘ante up!’
But what I want to say is that generosity is a spiritual practice…it’s at the heart of what it means to be a fully-developed person.
Generosity isn’t only about giving money, or giving your time – it’s about the spirit in which you live your life – it’s like your posture or gait – how you carry yourself — it’s about something inside that moves you; it’s part of what we loosely call your ‘spirituality.’
Generosity is generative – it like a motor that charges the battery that lights us up; it generates the thing in us we call ‘spirituality.’
It’s about the use of what we call free will; it drives the decisions we make every. It’s about who we really are.
There are reasons why we are generous, or not; there are psychological reasons and biological reasons; there are cultural reasons having to do with the influence of our family of origin and the climate of compassion (or lack of it) in which we have lived.
But that’s left-brained stuff, and important as it is to examine it (as in ‘the unexamined life is not worth living,’ ala Socrates’ speech at his heresy trial) …as important as that examination is, a spirit of generosity has its origin in the right hemisphere – it lives beside a sense of appreciation; it occupies the same territory as basic kindness and human compassion – it responds to music and poetry more than prose.
There are reasons for generosity and kindness in a person …and reasons for a mean spirit…an angry, overly-critical way of being in the world.
Each of us goes through stages of psychological development and stages of moral development, some of which are complicated and some simple and obvious
You wouldn’t be here if you were not interested in and ‘invested in’ your own spiritual/moral development – your growth. Generosity is one of the lively virtues, and one of the reasons for this gathering is to provide what Emerson called ‘supplies to virtue.’
You know as well as I do that generosity, kindness and compassion are desirable characteristics…virtues.
Every act of kindness adds to the quality of life on earth; the quality of individual’s lives and the quality of the collective life we share.
Every act of generosity generates a sense of appreciation, both in the recipient and in the giver: ‘the gift is to the giver,’ Whitman says, ‘and comes back most to him.’
Compassion flows naturally out of the stream of little unremembered acts of kindness that touch our lives.
Many in our congregation are giving as much as they can possibly afford – giving at a sacrificial level. We want to express our appreciation for those gifts, whatever the amount.
But (listen up) many folks in this congregation could give much more than they give, partly perhaps because they don’t understand the need, and partly for other reasons that may be hidden from them as well as from us.
There is ample evidence that kindness, respect and generosity are directly proportional to one’s self-esteem
Scrooge had a self-esteem problem – in his dreams he took a journey into his unconscious mind and got in touch with the reasons for his lack of generosity – his lack of self-esteem that made him a ‘squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching covetous old sinner,’ as Dickens described him, ‘…hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire.’
Scrooge’s stinginess with his money defined him, but he was also a responsible person with regard to his personal finances for which he deserves at least one, if not two, cheers. He doesn’t deserve the third cheer though – the third cheer is not so much about money as it is about motive, not so much about the amount as the illusive thing we call ‘spirit,’ the care of which is called ‘spirituality.’
Scrooge was the biggest beneficiary of his new-found generosity. He was transformed from an unhappy miser to a happy man.
Generosity is more than the willingness to give money, or to share resources…one’s time and talents. Generosity has a spiritual quality, if you will. It’s about the human potential for nobility. The French root of the word generosity means ‘of noble birth.’
The nobility of kings and princes and dukes and duchesses is inherited as a birthright. But another kind of nobility is born of caring – it’s about empathy, it’s about simple acts of kindness and compassion. It’s what makes us human; so it’s as close to a sacred ingredient as we can get, and as close to the ‘divine’ as we can get.
I’m not saying these things to get you to give more money; I’m saying them because it’s the essence of what makes this a religious community…it’s the essence of us.
So my purpose is to praise that part of us – the development of those parts of our character – the qualities that distinguish us as ethical and moral individuals, and as agents of morality and ethics in our world.
Just as kindness begets kindness…just as courtesy is contagious…and love begets love…so does generosity beget generosity.
Spring is the season of generosity – the daffodils are generous in their bright yellow blossoms; the birds are generous with their songs; the trees generously sprout green leaves again and the sun’s rays warm the earth again.
Be generous in your giving, and no matter how much money you are able to pledge, be generous to those who are putting their time and effort into the canvass by pledging right away – today, for example…be among the first to fill out a pledge card – it’s an act of generosity.
E. E. Cummings has the final words on the subject:
when faces called flowers float out of the ground
and breathing is wishing and wishing is having-
but keeping is downward and doubting and never
-it’s april(yes,april;my darling)it’s spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be
(yes the mountains are dancing together)
when every leaf opens without any sound
and wishing is having and having is giving-
but keeping is doting and nothing and nonsense
-alive;we’re alive,dear:it’s(kiss me now)spring!
now the pretty birds hover so she and so he
now the little fish quiver so you and so i
now the mountains are dancing, the mountains)
when more than was lost has been found has been found
and having is giving and giving is living-
but keeping is darkness and winter and cringing
-it’s spring(all our night becomes day)o,it’s spring!
all the pretty birds dive to the heart of the sky
all the little fish climb through the mind of the sea
all the mountains are dancing;are dancing)