July 9, 2012
Mark 5: 21-43
II Cor. 8: 7-15
The Gospel of Mark records Jesus teaching about the Kingdom of God and has many stories of Jesus healing people. In these stories of how Jesus healed people, he usually orders the people to not tell anyone about what he has done. In the gospel lesson today of the older woman and the young girl, the older woman tried to be healed secretly, without talking to Jesus or the disciples, but Jesus felt the power go out of him and asked for her. When she came forward, he did not criticize her, but simply acknowledged her faith had cured her illness and told her to go in peace. With the young girl who was presumed to be dead, the family’s astonishment at her healing was overwhelming, so Jesus strictly told them to stop talking about this miracle healing.
Why? Maybe because it was getting hard for Jesus to travel freely if there were crowds of people wanting him to stop and heal them. Maybe it took a lot of energy from him to cure disease. Maybe he didn’t want to attract the attention of the Jewish or Roman authorities. Maybe Mark wrote his gospel to focus on the fact that Jesus practiced compassion and generosity without claiming the credit for these amazing miracles. Humility, rather than creating a rock star reputation, may have been his goal.
In Paul’s Second Letter to the community he had created in Corinth, we read about compassion and generosity from one church to another. Paul is asking the people in Corinth to send assistance to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Paul is not saying “Give ‘til it hurts”, nor “Give until it feels good!”, he is simply asking them to give what they can afford to give. Paul wants them to share willingly and according to their means. He is apparently writing them from Macedonia, where he notes (in the section of Chapter 8 just preceding today’s scripture,) that the churches in Macedonia were in the midst of severe trial and deep poverty, yet they experienced great joy and abundant generosity. Paul is describing a Generosity of Spirit, an attitude of giving willingly, which creates a healthy community.
What would a Generosity of Spirit look like in our community today? I suspect that both the Gospel stories and Paul’s letters may give us some good perspectives. As children we probably learned that it is a good thing to be nice to our friends. We grew from being primarily self-centered, to recognizing that when we helped our friends, they were likely to reciprocate. This is a good first step for children to learn, as greedy, selfish kids are not pleasant to be around! When we mature as individuals and as a community, we learn that generosity means more than simply doing nice things for our friends and expecting them to do nice things for us. We learn to balance being responsible for taking care of our own needs, while also being able to share our surplus resources with those in need. We discover that being able to help others makes us feel good, and that being part of a generous community helps create a better quality of life for everyone. We begin to grow into an awareness that helping others is valuable, even if it does not lead to immediate rewards for ourselves. We begin to develop an attitude of caring about more than our own individual comfort and security. When Jesus felt the power leave him, and learned that the woman had been healed, he did not give her a lecture about trying to steal a blessing, but was able to validate her faith and say, “Go in peace.”
When we encounter someone who exemplifies this Generosity of Spirit, we recognize their spiritual maturity, and it inspires us to grow beyond the limits of our self-centered perspective. We may feel more compassion, we may feel more creative, or courageous, and it often expands our perspective on what life is all about. So, do we ever encounter people who have displayed this Generosity of Spirit? I think we can identify more people than I have time to name, but I will try to give you a few examples, just to point out the range of generosity within our congregation. Certainly generosity means sharing our financial resources, but I think we also have great examples of this Generosity of Spirit in people who share their time & talents, their creativity and compassion, their wisdom and their courage. To begin with, as we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July this week, we think about those who have served our country and the cause of freedom by giving of their time and talents in the military. Would Bob Fulton and all the veterans in our congregation please stand at this time? Serving your country through your military service is an example of generosity; thank you. You may be seated.
Generosity of Spirit is also shown in the compassion of everyone who has waited with a family in a hospital while a loved one is having surgery or tests. Would Rachel Harvitt, Chris Reist, Stan & Dottie Moore, and all who have ever gone to a hospital to support a family or visit a patient please stand? Your generosity of Spirit during a time of pain & stress is certainly appreciated. You may be seated. Generosity of Spirit is also shown in how we share our talents. Curt Scott and everyone who has shared their musical talents, and Curt Scott & all who have shared their teaching talents in any Sunday School Class, and Curt Scott and everyone who has gone on a Mission Trip, will you please stand at this time! We have a variety of talents & abilities, and sharing our talents is indeed a sign of having a Spirit of Generosity; thank you. You may be seated. Jamie Curtis is sharing in this worship service by running the sound board this morning, but she also exhibits a generosity of spirit in organizing work crews to do landscaping & gardening around the church. Organizing and motivating people, recognizing needs and designing responses, and working behind the scenes to make good things happen is also a sign of spiritual generosity. Dawn Christenson listened to her maturing spirituality as a volunteer at Hospice, and it led her to pursue what some would call a more traditional path of sharing one’s time & talents by pursuing years of seminary training that will lead to professional chaplaincy. Others in our congregation work in similar fields like hospital administration, social work, nursing, and professions that encourage us to consciously and effectively help others in need. A career in a “helping profession” often begins with a sense of a calling, an awareness of a developing Generosity of Spirit, and it is our challenge to continue to nurture that emerging spirit and avoid allowing the challenges we encounter to burn out our true desire to care for others. Whether we work in a field that directly calls for nurturing our spirit of generosity, or whether we volunteer our time and talents to help others, it is easy to recognize role models all around us who live their faith by demonstrating their compassion & generosity.
When you think about it, this is really one of the most important things a person can do to live a deeply worthwhile life. Nurturing your Generosity of Spirit while grounding yourself in humility may feel like pretty tough challenge, but it is actually what really counts in the end. Sharing our material resources as well as our time and talent is not an unrealistic, unattainable goal; it is something we are all called to do, starting wherever we are on life’s journey. One of the girls who was in our Real Life 101 class at the Alternative Ed. High School, a young lady named Stacy, goes over to volunteer at a local nursing home every week; she is not doing it because she has to, but because she knows it is the right thing to do. The youth of our church have frequently recognized over the past decade that one of their top priorities in becoming involved with this church, is the opportunity to help others. I’d like to close this morning by raising up for all of us the memory of a member of this congregation who exemplifies a Generosity of Spirit that pervaded her entire life. A woman who will continue to inspire us to grow in faith. A woman who demonstrated that each of us does have the capacity to mature and become more compassionate and generous, without losing her sense of humility. Connie Miller showed us what it means to live your faith and serve Christ by serving others. Connie was not the first woman from this congregation to be a role model, and I think we can honor her memory by making sure she is not the last person from our congregation who puts their faith into action every day. We are all called to nurture our emerging Generosity of Spirit, wherever we are on life’s journey.
Grace and Peace to you this day.