Summary: Generosity isn’t something religious fanatics do; it’s a lifestyle of sharing Christ’s love that enriches the giver.
Overcoming Futility—a sermon series on Ecclesiastes
”Generosity” Ecclesiastes 11:1-8 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
I worked for a Colonel who wasn’t very generous with advice. I’d go to his office, seeking guidance, only to leave empty-handed. You don’t make Colonel knowing nothing, but this senior officer wasn’t about to share what he knew. Knowledge is power, and some people like to hold it close. “In order to be successful, others have to fail” is their motto. My experience caused me to be over-generous with advice when I made rank, but I’d rather err that way than be stingy. Ecclesiastes 11 is about generosity, about sharing our light in a darkened world.
The chapter opens with the familiar words, “Cast your bread upon the waters.” This was a well-known Arab proverb. It meant that sometimes we do things for others that may appear to be wasteful, extravagant. Who would take good bread and throw it in the water? This “casting of bread” means that we should be willing to take a chance where we perceive a need exists. This is a faith venture. The bread of charity goes forth, like ships transporting their cargo over the waters.
C.S. Lewis was walking with J.R.R. Tolkien in Cambridge when the two were approached by a shabbily-dressed man asking for money. Lewis fished out of his pocket all his spare change and handed it to the man. Tolkien chided Lewis, saying that the man would likely use it for drink. “Well,” said Lewis, “I’d probably use it for drink myself.” We should give wisely, but sometimes we simply give out of the goodness of our hearts.
In his book, The Power of Generosity, Dave Toycen maintains: “Panhandlers deserve to be treated as human beings. Whether we choose to give money or not, our first obligation in a caring society is to acknowledge their presence. Looking away is a form of denial that diminishes and distances at the same time. Generosity sets a standard that builds relationships rather than destroys them.” Some people who go to the city bring extra sandwiches to give to panhandlers. On the other hand, I saw a t-shirt that read, “No change--don’t ask.” We can be mean-spirited, or we can communicate grace. It’s wiser to give to shelters and soup kitchens, and steer people to them, particularly if we suspect our money may aid someone’s addiction.
Are we generous or greedy? If we fantasize about winning a magazine sweepstakes, what first comes to mind? a) What we could buy for ourselves; or b) what we might do for others? Proverbs 11:24 says, “the world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller” (the Message).
Generosity isn’t something religious fanatics do; it’s a lifestyle of sharing that enriches the giver. I was asked to speak this week on “volunteerism” at the Senior Center volunteer appreciation dinner. I learned that helping others has distinct health benefits. People who volunteer, live longer. When we give, we receive in return…we at least receive some level of satisfaction that we helped others. I’m so impressed with our volunteers at the food pantry. Many of them live for Fridays. What do they get in return? A sense that they are applying Christianity is a very hands-on practical way. We let go of our bread, and “after many days we find it again.” When we invest in charitable work we find it yields high returns. We may have to wait for the reward of our investment to come back to us, but come back it will.
Chuck Swindoll tells a story about his time in the Marine Corps. His barracks mate was a young guy who made it clear he wanted nothing of religion: “Don’t cram that stuff down my throat, OK?” Chuck was involved in a Scripture memory program and asked his Marine buddy to help him review his verses. He was told, “I’ll help you with the words, Chuck, but I ain’t interested in being some kind of monk!” This Marine went along with the plan--he listened, corrected Chuck, even encouraged him, but there was never a glimmer of interest…until 25 years later. Chuck got a phone call one day. “Hey Chuck, this is Eddie, your old bunk buddy in Okinawa. I’m a Christian thanks to you. Remember the verses we worked on? It worked!”
Jesus commended a poor woman who gave to the temple two “mites”, an insignificant amount, yet Her giving received special notice from God. We don’t give to gain favor from God; we certainly don’t do it to get to Heaven. We give because we can’t help ourselves; we’re grateful for all God has done, and we want to give, cheerfully.
We need to keep from limiting our charity; verse 2 says to “give portions to seven, eight”, whatever is needed. 7 is the Hebrew number of completeness; 8 goes one step further. Giving becomes habit, a way of life--in good times and times of disaster. We don’t wait for an earthquake or flood--we give regularly. In verse 3 our kindness is compared to clouds swelling with rain, the natural outflow of a full life. We empty ourselves again and again. Our lives are full with God’s blessings, and we in turn shower others with our bounty. We don’t know what disasters may come upon the land--in other words, this could be our last day, so we’re benevolent.