Harvest, Deuteronomy 26:1-15 and John 6:25-35. September 8th 2019.
Sermon theme: ”Generous Community”
”My father gives you the true bread from heaven. … I am the bread of life, he who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never go thirsty.” Gives you.
In John 3:16 – ”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son….” When we receive the bread and wine, you hear me or Thomas or Henry say ‘the Body of Christ’ , ‘the Blood of Christ’, as you receive it, as it is given to you, it points to God’s gift to you. And such a generous gift isn’t it?
It was commented a few months back. When the fire ripped through Notre Dame during Holy Week, how so many wealthy individuals offered donations – millions and millions of euros to its rebuild. It was heart warming. Yet a couple of months later, a report was saying much of this money had not come forward …
God didn’t say he’d give to us and then give less… his gift – the bread from heaven – was precious. The Son of God. God himself. No more precious a gift was possible. And how costly, as the Father would watch the Son be mocked, beated, stripped, nailed, killed… Such wonderful generosity to us who did not deserve it or earn it.
In the OT I’m struck how we see God’s desires for his community to reflect his generosity. Opposite the Promised Land. Through Moses. This is the final crack. The graduation talk. The talk before the game. God seeks his people to be generous – righteous holy just society includes being generous. We spend a few minutes in OT looking at a few examples.
You know if I was planning how to form a nation, what laws to put in place – ceremonial, civil, moral – I am not sure, how high on my list of laws, being generous would be. In fact, maybe you’d think, the plan would be get the nation established and then stage 2, then be generous…
Deuteronomy 15:1-2 – ”At the end of every 7 years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: every creditor shall cancel any loan he has made to his fellow Israelite.”
So Israelite who had fallen into debt was to be forgiven those debts every 7 years. When I finished at University in England, I had taken out a student loan, which was to be paid back in regular installments unless you did not have enough income. They gave you one year after uni before they came calling. So for 7- 8 years, I had to ask the missionary organisation I worked for and then the theological college I was training to write a letter saying ‘ I really didn’t have much money and defer me’ . This student loan company would have continued after me, like a terminator, every year. I was able to pay it off in my first years as a priest.
That is the way it is. Yet God commands Israel to cancel debts after 7 years. The word for cancel debts is shemitta. It literally means ‘make a release’. You finish uni at 22 with debt. 29 the debt is cancelled, you are released. God commands Israel as a community to have a public policy to remove one of the key factors which cause poverty – long term debt.
That chapter goes on.
”There should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to posses as your inheritance, he will richly bless you. (Deut 15:4-5).”
A few verses later:
”If there is any poor among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you [my emphasis] , do not be hard hearted or tightfisted towards your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.’ v7-8.
The vision – no poor among you. The action – be openhanded , lend him whatever he needs. The poor man was not to be given a token handout. Credit and help given to him until he was completely out of debt / poverty. Tim Keller says: ”The generosity to the poor could not be cut off until the poor person’s need was gone and until he reached a level of self sufficiency” (Keller, Generous Justice, pg 27). God gives laws which could have virtually removed poverty. He embeds generosity into his people, towards those in need. His people as they settle in the land, are to live generous lives to each other.
Now, the generosity is taken further in harvesting. We had time studying Ruth, which you remember is a story set at harvest time Ruth and Naomi return at the start of the harvest. There was the law of gleaning. Remember how it worked. Landowners were not gather all the grain. They leave some. The grain wasn’t to be handed to the poor, but the poor, the widows – like Ruth – could come and work and collect these pieces. It is striking how Boaz, doesn’t see that law as the level he holds to, it is a level to begin from, and he gives much more to Ruth than is expected in the law.
Finally. The tithes that were taken. Every three years the tithe brought into storehouses. These tithes from the land, so that the Levites, the migrant – alien, ie non Jew – the fatherless – orphans – and the widows – can come to the storehouse, eat and be satisfied. The migrant, the non Jew, the orphan, the Levite – the one who did not own land – and the widow. So they can eat and be satisfied. Not, survive for the day. ‘Be Satisfied’.
God is giving them the land as we heard – so they are to give to others. He has kept his promises to protect them. He has been generous to them. He commands his people – be generous to each other, generous to the needy and not just your friends and family, generous to those who aren’t like you. Generous even when it costs you.
So is this the same in the NT post resurrection a Body across tribes, languages, nations? Ask yourself. OT. God has delivered his people, freed them from slavery, called them his own… So are we, in Christ, less in debt to God, less blessed than our OT ancestors? Is God’s standards for generosity lower for New Testament Christians than for OT believers?
So. What do we see in the NT? When the first shape of the early church is described, the church of the crucified risen ascended lord, spirit filled, we hear in Acts 2. The believers, devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer. There were miraculous signs and wonders. The Lord added daily to their number. In the middle of this –
”all the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”
Missionary minded, Jesus centred community, prayerful, miracles happening, and there is generosity. What Paul wrote may have been their motivation :
”For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9).
Is this just enthusiasm? Months later. Another summary of church life,
‘all the believers were one in heart and mind – no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had… The apostles preach and perform miracles – Acts 4 says: There were no needy persons among them as from time to time people sold what they had to give to others— reminds us of that vision = in Deuteronomy – ‘ no poor among you’ .
We said that God has intentionally placed us in the BODY – as we look around, we are stuck with each other for eternity in the kingdom through Christ. His intention that there is a Body and not a bunch of individuals with no responsibility or connection to each other.
However. I believe his intention is that each expression of the Body is a generous community. Now, I could stop there and you’d think this sermon was all about us giving more to church or charities.
No let’s not stop there. There is much more to this. Generosity is more than giving money.
Acts 2 we looked at. Going back to it. We see other expressions of generosity.
‘Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.’ Worship.Teaching.Prayer. ‘They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.’ Now we are going to eat together soon – hopefully with glad and sincere hearts too. But ate together. Homes were offered. Christian churches were not full of the rich and powerful. It was a mixture of all ages, all sorts, all backgrounds, slave and free. Acts describes the generosity – was to share what they had – their home, their space. They invited in people who they did not know very well and they ate together with ‘ glad and sincerity of heart’ . Not my home my castle. Rather, they looked at their brothers and sisters, ”my home, is your home’. Generosity – they gave what they had. Generosity with their space, their lives, their privacy you could say.
A few days later. Peter and John go to the temple. They meet the man who cannot walk. Peter says: ‘Silver and Gold I do not have, but what I have I give you, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Walk.” Listening and guided by the Spirit, they see God’s plan for healing. But consider. ”What we have, we give you.” What has the Lord given you? What can you give to others?
We are called a Body. And Paul describes what type of body. He says:’A person cannot say because they aren’t an eye they aren’t part of the Body, or if all were an ear where would the sense of smell be..’ So not only are we made a community by the Lord. But he makes us in such a way we need each others talents and gifts.
Being a generous member of a church community. Think of that image of Peter and John. ”What I have I give you.” What has God given you? That is what Deuteronomy was about – they bring the first fruits, they give it to the priest, they state what they believe, which has only been possible because of the Lord being faithful to them, that he gave them the land, and having brought them there. They can only give what the Lord has given to them.
So what can you give to this community? And what can you give to those outside this community? This may be a time to review your financially giving prayerfully? From time to time Jolanda and I review what we are giving, to whom and how much, and consider as new opportunities arise if we will give to them.
Paul when he describes the Body, doesn’t focus on wealth. He focuses on what they have through the Spirit saying they all have something to give, by God’s plan. God has given so much to you. What about your spiritual gifts, talents, abilities? For example our pastoral care team – Marianne and Jolanda. They use the gifts and talents they have been given, they offer their time to visit and listen and pray with people.
We have the bible reader, intercessions, stewards training coming up. Can you give in those areas? We have the prayer ministry teams – can you serve there? We have the many who serve in our Sunday School, creche, coffee, set up, altar servers. Can you give in those areas?
There may be ways you want to be generous to this community because of how the Lord has given to you, and you don’t see a way to do it. Please have a chat with me, or the wardens or a member of the council. We want to be a community that reflects the generosity of its members, and that may mean we start some things up or change how we do other things.
But can I say, what God has given you, talents, spiritual gifts, experience, personality, skill, money, this place may not be where he calls you to give. It may be in his world. I think of three people in this church who give time and energy to helping refugees who have been given status or who are at the AZC. It could be offering your Dutch or English, as we have two people here teaching migrants English and Dutch and perhaps could use some of your natural language – to be Dutch may be one of your gifts from God?
How can we be generous?
This harvest. We seek to be a generous community because we worship and enjoy and know a generous God, who has been so generous to us in Christ.
We give to Him, we give to his people, because he has given to us…
Shall we pray…