Sermons

Summary: Giving without heart is nothing more than dutiful response in an effort to relieve us of guilt or convince ourselves we’re good people.

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The American Memorial Day weekend automobile race known as the Indianapolis 500 (a.k.a. Indy 500) attracts 400,000 spectators every year! It is probably the largest single sporting event that draws such a large crowd. The race requires many pit-stops – tire changes, fuel, oil, or repairs when engines break down.

This analogy works well for helping our needs today. We are constantly racing in our lives – to achieve, aspire, accomplish and attain any number of realities. This race breaks us down, wears us out, or threatens to do us in. Damages usually force us to take a few pit-stops along the way. These pit-stops are not wasted as they allow God to regenerate or realign us to what the race is about and what the final goal is.

Though the theme is service I won’t be using the word a lot. I leave it for you to pick up on the strands of service implied in what I share with you. To speak of service one can easily get trapped in the tunnel-vision topic and miss the broader evidences of service and leave some people feeling that because they do not or have not done certain things they are not living a life of holiness expressed in a life of service. To avoid that trap I choose to speak to a broader base and leave you to define service in the context of where you are.

As we pull into our first pit-stop Paul shows us

1. Community is at the heart of holiness

Many of us have heard the familiar words of John Donne, 17th century English poet and preacher – “No man is an island entire of itself...any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…” These words are a powerful reminder that we are interconnected and mortal. We need each other and the experiences of other people affect us in the greater scheme of things.

Anyone who lives in isolation or is unmoved by the conditions of the person next to them can never hope to experience holy life. The writer to the Hebrews illustrates this truth as he instructs us to “make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (12:14) or, as rendered in The Message, “Work at getting along with each other….Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God.”

John Charles Ryle, Anglican bishop of Liverpool in the 19th century speaks of holiness. He says, “It is not knowledge…nor great profession…nor doing many things…nor zeal for certain matters in religion...” He continues that holiness is not “morality and outward respectability of conduct…nor taking pleasure in hearing preachers…nor keeping company with godly people…These things alone are not holiness. A man may have any one of them, and yet never see the Lord.”

Holiness finds its life a relationship, not a code of ethics or handed-down values. It is being intimately in love with God and that relationship flows into the lives of people around us that we rub shoulders with here and there.

There is no better example of heart in community than the life of Ebenezer Scrooge in the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. We watch the miserly, pointy-nosed, blue-lipped, red-eyed grouch barely giving his trusted employee Bob Cratchit time away from work on Christmas day to be with his family. When the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future visit with Scrooge, his life becomes a well of generosity and unrestricted compassion for people. A changed heart meant a changed man and as a result changed relationships with his community members.

Holiness reveals itself in the heart we show for other people. We can no more decide we’ll be like God than we can decide to create something and breathe life into it. Service that comes from the heart must have a source beyond itself to drawn on. Oh, we can give – and give generously –but giving without heart is nothing more than dutiful response in an effort to relieve us of guilt or convince ourselves we’re good people. Our text, taken from the Contemporary English Version offers, “God loves people who love to give.” The Speaker’s Bible gives a stinging lesson. “There are some people whose giving is ‘of sorrow,’ as though they were in pain, and the transaction is done to the accompaniment of sighs and groans…The thing is done but it is half-spoil{ed} in the doing!”

As we continue along The Road less Travelled, God gives us another pit-stop lesson. Not only is community at the heart of holiness,

2. Cheerfulness is heightened in holiness

At the time of this writing Jewish people held Gentile believers suspect. They had a difficult time believing the Gentiles could receive salvation. It is in this climate that Paul instructs the Gentile believers about responding to the needs of Jewish believers in Jersualem. The irony of this problem is the Gentile believers in Macedonia, who committed to helping their Jewish brothers and sisters in Jersualem, were having financial struggles themselves. But isn’t that the paradox of giving? Chuck Swindoll compares it to saying “You people on welfare…give to those people on welfare!” The paradox of giving generally shows how the “have-nots” are the most generous people in responding to others’ needs. Reporting on charitable giving in Canada, CBC News showed that the poorest provinces in Canada, Nunavut and Newfoundland gave 11% and 8% respectively, of the charitable dollars given in Canada, for 2001 – 2006.

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