EXTRAVAGANT GENEROSITY
THE ART OF LOVE

 

By Pastory Martha-Jean Fitch

May 5, 2019
TEXT:    John 13:34-35

 

 

 

Today, as we continue our series on extravagant generosity, we are being called to follow Jesus’ example to love completely.   Get your Bibles out and go to John 13.   John is the 4th Gospel in the New Testament, kind of near the beginning.   Jesus and the disciples are in the upper room, where they are having the last supper together – sharing the bread and the cup.    Luke’s Gospel tells us that the disciples actually argued there at the table about who was the greatest among them.  It seems that their focus was on themselves and making themselves better.  But Jesus shows them that whoever is great among you is the one who serves…and loves completely.

 

    Let’s begin reading at the first verse of chapter 13:

“Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.”

 

            Jesus knew when His time had come – the time when He would be arrested and crucified.   The end was near.   So how did He spend that time?   With His closest friends – His disciples.   And look what He did – He LOVED them to the very end.   Jesus poured His love out on His disciples all the way until He died and rose from the dead.   He didn’t start loving them and then get frustrated half way through and only love them 50%.   He didn’t stop loving them when the going got tough or when they betrayed him.   Rather He loved them 100% - all the way to the end.

 

            Jesus knew He had authority and He was returning to God.   But He didn’t get puffed up with pride – instead at that meal, He humbled Himself by kneeling and washing the dirty feet of the disciples.   But why did He have to do that?   Why didn’t the disciples wash His feet?   Well, some believe that since they were arguing about who was the greatest, they were so focused on themselves, they didn’t think about it.   William Barclay says it may have been their argument that made Jesus act as He did.1 This was a teaching moment for them – as well as an act of love.

 

Look at what He says to them after he’s done.  Skip down to verse 12:

 

12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.

 

And then, let’s read verses 34-35 together – as seen on the screen.

 

34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

 

            If we are to live our life to its fullest – the life that God created us

 

to live – then what we must love completely – like Jesus!   Jesus loves us so much that He paid the ultimate price and sacrificed His very life so that we could experience a relationship with Him.   Relationships are very important to God – the love that we show to Him and to others.   And this is not some partial, half-hearted loving – it is loving completely.   Jesus summed this up in a couple of verses in Matthew 22, saying: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.   This is the first and greatest commandment.   And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Loving God and loving others.   Loving each other like Jesus loves us.   That is to be our life.   In fact, some have said that if you are never living until you are loving.  And that you’re not loving until you’re giving.

 

            We love because God first loved us – with an extravagant, generous love!   And others will know we are His disciples because of the way we love – and give! 

 

            This whole series of extravagant generosity is focused on the ways we have been blessed by the love of God – and how He has been at work in other people and the church.     And we are highlighting that through what we are calling “heart cards.”   Last week, you shared about things you love about our church.  It was really wonderful to read about your responses.   I invite you to find the large heart in the small hall and read some of those that were written last week.   I just want to share with you some of the comments – I have a slide here that shows some of the words that occur most commonly throughout the cards– words that people used to describe what they love about our church.

 

            Let me share with you just a hand-full of the cards:

 

            Someone wrote: “I love the way we share our love to all who are in need.”  “The prayers our elders and caring ministers and congregation send up to God” “Weekly Bible Studies”

 “Our willingness to be involved in the community” “I love how people include me” – and “God is moving here!” - “We are a family where everyone is accepted and loved unconditionally.”

            This is who we are as a church – this is who God called us to be – disciples who follow the example to love others as Christ has loved us.  To give and to share so that others can grow in their faith – and know the love of God.   It is through the giving of ourselves – as God has given to us – that we help the body of Christ flourish and grow. 

 

            You know I am so amazed as I reflect over the history of First Christian Church that spans 147 years!  We are the heirs of a wonderfully rich history.   And we have received love from those generations of people that have gone before us through their financial gifts that have left a legacy here.   Every wall, every window, every corner of this church is a result of someone’s extravagant generosity.  People throughout the decades have again and again given of their resources so that the word of God could be preached – the love of God shared in Galesburg.   They generously gave of themselves – so that we could know the truth of Christ’s love ourselves.

            And I realize that I am today who I am as a Christian and as a pastor as a result of someone’s generosity.   I think of my parents of course, who loved me and taught me of God’s love.   But I also think of the many people in the church who gave of their time to teach me in Sunday School and Bible School -  who prayed with me and encouraged me in my call to the ministry.

 

            I think particularly of a woman named Etta Skinner, who believed in my call to ministry when I started college.   She provided a scholarship for me to help pay for my tuition.   And she wasn’t the only one.   There were numerous individuals who provided scholarships in seminary for Greg and myself, so that we could get our education.  And as we have served as pastors in three different churches over the last 3 decades, we have literally made a living and raised a family because of the generosity of faithful Christians.

 

            This week we got a chance to write down names of people who have made a difference in our lives – people who have given generously to help make you be the person you are today.  Some of the cards were turned in last week and have been posted up here on the big heart.   As you read some of the names you find out that the people who made a difference gave of their time, shared their talent and their faith to make a difference.   The ones who made a difference had a listening ear, a helping hand and unconditional love.   They gave extravagantly in the way they went out of their way to show love and forgiveness – loving like Jesus does.

            Who is it that you have in your life that has shown you extravagant love and generosity?   How have they done that?   I want you to turn to the person sitting next to you and share them one person who has made a difference in your life.

 

SHARING

 

            How wonderful God has worked in our lives in sending so many people to make a difference – to show us God’s love!   This is a time to celebrate the people who you have received love from – whether you wrote their name down on the card or not.   If they have made a difference in your life spiritually, tell them that!   Say thank you – directly in person – or send them a note of appreciation, through the mail or email or even a text.   Let them know you have seen God’s love in and through them.

 

Now it is time for our third heart card to be passed out.   If the deacons can now pass those out.   On this week’s card, we are going to explore what you would like to see happen in our church for the coming year.   What is your greatest hope and best vision for God’s work through this congregation?   God has called us to First Christian at this particular time in history to make a difference and love others as Christ has loved us.  We have been given a wonderful legacy from those who have gone before us, to practice extravagant generosity and help others know the love of Jesus.   How is God calling us to make a difference – what is your vision and goal for 2020?

 

And then in a couple of weeks, you will be given the opportunity to make a decision for our annual giving.   I invite you to pray and ask God, “What does extravagant giving look like for me and my family and our finances?”  “What would it look like to show that extravagant gift of love with our community and beyond?”   How can I grow in my giving so that others may came to know the love of Jesus?  What percentage of my income does God want me to share for the ministry of His church in the ear ahead?

 

When we work together as a congregation, we are able to do so much more than any of us could do on our own – and can truly change lives – even to the coming generations.

 

So, be praying about how you can give – consider how God is wanting you to extravagant generosity.    Ask God for wisdom and discernment about what extravagant generosity means for your finances.  How does God want me to share my time and talents and treasures?   Search your heart and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you His power at work in you and show you the way to give.  And pray for the church to flourish in our ministries in to children  and youth, adults, members and strangers near and far.

 

On May 19, when we come to make the declaration of our hearts through our pledge cards, we will be having one worship service together at 10am.   It will be a day of celebrating God at work in our congregation. We will look to the coming year with great anticipation and hope as we renew our pledge to show God’s love to our neighbors and fulfill our mission to help grow Christ centered and spirit filled disciples of Christ.  After our combined worship, we will have a fellowship dinner together.   You won’t want to miss this time celebrate our church family and our ministry together!

 

            This past week, in our devotional readings about Extravagant Generosity, we read about John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, who taught about extravagant giving.   He taught that we are to eat all we can, save all we an and give all we can.   When we give, we deepen our relationship with God and make a positive impact for His kingdom.   As we close, I’d like us to with reading together Wesley’s covenant for giving.  As we follow Christ’s new commandment to love one another, as He has loved us – let us make a covenant together to:

 

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can,

In all the ways you can, in all the places you can,

at all the times you can, to all the people you can,

as long as ever you can.   ~John Wesley

 

            And may our giving bring glory and honor to God – both in this day and age and in generations to come.

 

            Let us pray:

 

PRAYER

            God, we thank you for your incredible gift of love.   You gave 100% to us – giving us Your everything.    Forgive us for the times when we are like the disciples of old, focusing on our own interests and greatness – rather than being generous with love toward others.   God please grow in each and everyone of us the desire to be extravagant in generosity to others – as You have been so very generous with us.   Help us to know Your will and create in us a willing and giving heart.   In Your name we pray.   AMEN

 

INVITATION

 

RESOURCES:

 

1William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 2. , page 161.