Scripture –Luke 17:11-19 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-12 – Thanks & Giving Sunday – Nov. 20, 2016
“Mom,” she said, “I can honestly say it has changed my life!” I thought my daughter was exaggerating. Really? Could it be that good? She said it saved time, eliminated waiting, gave her a new feeling of freedom, allowed her to sail through barriers, right past those who would otherwise force her to stop and open her purse and scour the console for change. “Mom,” she said, “especially you and Doug should get one. You definitely should get an EZ-Pass!”
That was just about two and a half years ago. My daughter was living with her husband in New York and at the time we visited them somewhat frequently, but really didn’t mind sitting in the car in the long toll booth line for CASH ONLY at the Whitestone Bridge. We’d watch other cars sail through the EZ Pass lanes but our occasional pass through toll booths didn’t seem to warrant it. Seemed like a good strategy for daily commuters, but not so much for us. The advice came to buy an EZ Pass just as we were planning our sabbatical road trip in 2014, and, of course, I trusted the source of the testimony, so we went ahead and purchased our transponder and now I cannot say enough about it. It is definitely the best thing ever! It is so worth it! It will change your life!
Besides our own inspiring “moments for generosity” delivered so articulately by some of our members this month, there’s a lot of other testimony available out there. Maybe you’ve noticed, as many of us purchase more and more on line, that the phenomenon of posted written reviews for each product has become an established source of testimony.
“These shoes fit great!”
“This came unassembled but was so easy to put together!”
“Best stain remover ever! I would definitely recommend!’
“You will find no better coffeemaker for the price!
More and more, we are witnessing actual users, readers, consumers offering their opinions on everything from books to appliances to snowboards to restaurants. Our opinions have become just as important, if not more important than the so-called experts. Witness the popularity of “Rotten Tomatoes” as the now much-relied-upon source for movie reviews, offering both the average scores by the professional movie critics as well as the scores by ordinary viewers.
Whether it’s verbal or written, there’s something very compelling about the recommendations we hear from people we trust. Ordinary folks buy a product and use it and if they love it, if it has worked for them, if it has changed their life for the better, there are those who just can’t keep it in: they write about it, they tell their pals, recommend it highly to friends and strangers alike. And it’s usually catchy.
Today is the third and final Sunday of our formal stewardship effort for 2017. Of course, we are called to be stewards all year long and the Season of Generosity is forever ongoing, but at least this formal part of our 3-week annual campaign comes to an end this morning with our offering our pledge envelopes for 2017. Our theme has been “Keep Us Growing” acknowledging our desire not only to meet our financial goals to continue the ministries of our church, but to keep us growing in faith and in serving God and God’s people.
Two weeks ago we observed together that our spiritual desire to grow closer to God can be sparked by a sense of gratitude; and, then last week we noted that as we grow spiritually, we find ourselves led to a desire to live out our faith, to put our faith into action, to serve. Putting our faith in action can then in turn deepen our faith further causing our desire to serve to grow, snowballing to keep us growing ever closer to God.
And that snowball, my friends, gives us joy.
- For some, it’s the quiet joy of finding a moment of peace in a quiet sanctuary or alone in the early morning at home through prayer.
- For some, it’s the joy of serving a meal to someone who needs it.
- For some, it’s the joy of meeting the refugee whose new apartment you just scrubbed.
- For some, it’s the joy of gathering children in a Sunday school classroom and telling them a bible story.
- For some, it’s the joy of singing praises to our God.
- For some, it’s the joy of delivering donated blankets to a shelter.
- For some it’s the joy of piling all those cans and boxes of food which accumulate outside our sanctuary every month and driving them to the local food bank.
- For some it’s tending to the church vegetable garden knowing that every morsel of produce will go to feed the hungry in our community.
- For some it’s the joy of serving Holy Communion in our midst every month.
- For some, it’s the joy of visiting the sick or writing notes to the homebound,
- baking for a memorial service reception,
- knitting a prayer shawl,
- reading scripture on a Sunday morning,
- presenting the certificate and the white rose to the parents of a newly baptized baby.
- For some, it’s the joy of traveling to New London every Wednesday night to tutor kids for whom education is the answer to poverty, to new immigrant status, to language barriers and then watching them graduate with honors.
- For some, it’s the joy of helping the bridesmaids line up in the right order at the back of a church on a wedding day
- or pricing items for the annual tag sale,
- making tea sandwiches for the bazaar.
- For some, it’s the joy of raking the leaves in the memorial garden every fall. For some, it’s folding the monthly newsletter for mailing,
- or providing and arranging the altar flowers.
And what happens with all this joy is that we can’t keep it in. I knew I was called to ministry when I found myself with a burning desire to tell folks that God had worked in my life, that Jesus was real. I was lost and now I’m found as the hymn goes. And I see it and I hear it in all of you: the joy of knowing the goodness of God. The way you come in on Sundays with smiles of anticipation, greeting each other on a brand new blessed day. Like the one leper who saw that he was healed, you come in praising God with loud voices. The way you say, “Let’s post it on our website” or “don’t forget the signs outside” or “does StoneRidge know about our tea” or “can we put the church on Yelp” or “let’s sponsor a Little League team” or “I told them to come here to church.”
You bring your families when they visit you; you bring your friends to share with them what you have found.
You visit the sick and the lonely beyond our membership, you come together to comfort each other in death, all the while carrying that obvious light of God within you, allowing it to shine, sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, showing whomever you meet that your spirituality, your faith, your discipleship changes lives – your own and anyone’s who will allow that Spirit to enter in.
The response to the joy we experience in walking closer to God and serving others is the desire to share that good news, to spread the word, to grow the movement, to tell others how good this life in God is. By doing that, our own commitment grows; we seek more active membership in our faith community; we encourage others to join us, to work with us; and we become willing to not only share our time and our enthusiasm, we find ourselves saying “yes” to putting our own financial resources in to support this incredible movement which has changed our lives and the lives of so many others.
Yes, God loves a cheerful giver and we can’t help but be cheerful when we give – whether it’s time, talent or treasure this morning – because it comes from a deep place: the interior of our souls where God dwells, the recesses of our hearts where Love lives, the holy juncture where soul and heart meet mind and hands and feet, propelling our whole selves to testify that God is good and we are loved and the whole world needs to know.
My friends, EZ-Pass has worked so well that the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority as of the end of last month, removed all the toll booths on its highway. And New York has begun the same initiative. And that viral spread of a good thing is nothing compared to what a God-loving, neighbor-serving group of God’s people can do. It starts with the tiniest seed of gratitude and needs only an inkling of spiritual desire and, with God’s help to keep us growing, we can break down barriers, sail through obstacles, foster freedom… we can change lives. So don’t try to keep it in – tell everyone! It’s that good. Amen.