A Ridiculously Generous Place
The following sermon is a "Stewardship Message" that proclaims God's generosity. In the sermon, Pastor Aune reflects on the generosity of the congregation he serves as pastor - Augustana Lutheran Church,
West St.Paul, MN.
Mark Aune writes, "I fear that most churches just scratch the surface when it comes to generosity -- it is difficult for us [the church] to model what God does. But that is what preachers are to do."
A Ridiculously Generous Place
March 11, 2007
3rd Sunday in Lent
Text: An Invitation to Abundant Life
"Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord." (NRSV)
It is a modern day proverb. One we've all heard. It goes like this: if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Buyer beware.
And then we show up in church on a Sunday morning and we hear these words -- words that sound too good to be true:
"Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."
In a culture and a country where the price tag is very often the first thing that is noticed or talked about, the words from Isaiah make no sense at all.
In a culture and a country where a premium is placed on earning your way (no such thing as a free lunch; if you pay for it, it will mean more), the invitation from God to buy without money or price is difficult for us to understand.
In a culture and a country where almost every imaginable transaction that takes place between human beings is measured and calculated, even in the church, then we may want to ignore these words from Isaiah 55.
The words of God; spoken through the prophet - Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
It is a contradiction; it is not possible to buy something unless there is an exchange of some sort; you cannot purchase something without giving something in return.
It does sound too good to be true doesn't it? But it is true -- it is a promise given to everyone who is thirsty to come and buy and drink. To buy without money - to purchase without price.
In my mind and heart is a picture of the church of Jesus Christ at its very best -- a place where anyone and everyone who is thirsty or hungry can come and get that which they need -- without any cost at all. Whatever they need.
I would like to have my child in a Sunday school program where he or she will be loved and cared for and will learn about God and Jesus and make friends and be part of a church community.
Come, buy and eat without money or price.
I would like to part of a community that serves the poor and the hungry, a community where there are people who don't just talk about it, but actually do it, with their hands and their hearts and their time and their pocketbooks.
Come, buy and eat.
I would like to be part of a community where for one hour a week I can enter a sanctuary and experience the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God;
a place that will speak to my heart and my life's situation;
a place where I can listen to the voice of God;
a place where God promises to come to me in real and tangible ways;
a place of praise and worship;
a place where the very best that we have to offer is given to God with our hearts and our voices;
a place where I can confess all my frailties and my brokenness and hear a life-giving word of forgiveness and hope.
Come, buy and eat without money or cost.
Is it possible for a church to be a place of ridiculous generosity?
Or maybe the question needs to be phrased this way -- is it a church if it is not ridiculously generous?
People have often asked me why Augustana is the way it is. I always answer the question this way: because it is filled with generous people -- generous of faith, time, talent and money.
For as long as I can remember, before my time here at Augustana, the number one congregational goal each year has been to increase giving, as a church. The only way that happens is for the people who make up the community to be people of faith who have learned and experienced the joy of generosity.
When that happens the church of Jesus Christ will be a ridiculously generous place that always seeks to:
look beyond itself;
give beyond itself;
love beyond itself in any and all circumstances.
And a church that does this will never lack of resources:
A church of ridiculous generosity has discovered that it is impossible to out-give God, and this kind of church knows that the abundance of God has no limits.
As the prophet Isaiah tells us, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
And for those who haven't learned or experienced the joy of generosity and giving, and for those who struggle in this matter, the church of Jesus Christ needs to always be a place of unconditional welcome and grace -- because if God so loved the world that he gave Jesus Christ, then the church of Jesus Christ can do no less.
Our way or God's way; Isaiah puts it in the form of a question:
"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?"
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
The rich food is God's way:
it is the delight of being in relationship with Jesus Christ and living the abundant life he promises;
it is walking in faith and eating the goodness of God
it is seeking first God's kingdom, God's righteousness, and trusting that all things will be given to you;
it is learning to live a generous, abundant life.
When this happens in the lives of individual Christians and they come together as an assembly of believers, what to the world looks ridiculous is in the eyes of God a thing of beauty.
It is the church of Jesus Christ at its finest - Loving, serving, giving, all done in the name of Christ.
Thanks be to God. Amen.