Sermon for May 12, 2019 -- DOING WHAT WE DO BEST


-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 5-12-2019 Pardeeville

(Matthew 25:14-29 and Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-10)



     Mention the book of Leviticus to most people and you’ll either get an eye roll, a sour expression come over their face, or suddenly they will want to be elsewhere…doing just about anything else including listening to the sales pitch from a life insurance agent or finally getting that root canal taken care of.  In some ways, that reputation is earned.  Leviticus is filled with rules, rules and more rules…a bunch of stuff that Moses laid down well over 3,500 years ago.  As you might imagine, some of those rules no longer make sense to 21st century Christians.  The book of Leviticus contains rules and regulations for how priests are supposed to dress, what foods are okay to eat, and who people were allowed marry.  And, believe me, there are much worse regulations waiting for you should you dare to peruse the pages of Leviticus…but let’s not dwell on that!

     The passage we heard this morning is a delightful change from typical Leviticus.  These few verses are nothing short of an oasis in a desert of dos and don’ts.  What we heard this morning is, in fact, a rule that should be a guiding force in our lives.  This particular rule has traveled across the millennia since the time it was first put forth by Moses…yet it still describes a practice we should be striving for today.  Today’s Leviticus passage is right in the middle of a section that has come to be known as “The Holiness Code”.  There are ten chapters of actions the people of God are to follow, in order to be considered holy before God.  While many of the other parts of the Holiness Code are paraphrases of the Ten Commandments, verses nine and ten are slightly different.  These two verses urge people to think about others in a special way.  Listen to them once again:  “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your fields, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  You shall not strip your vineyard bare or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard.  You shall leave them for the poor and the alien.  I am the Lord, your God.”  These are pretty important words…an important rule to guide the way we should live our lives.  I say they are important because they appear again, just about word for word, four chapters later in the book of Leviticus.  And the very same thoughts are written down in the book of Deuteronomy, in Chapter 24.  So the idea of not harvesting your entire field and not going back a second time to glean what was missed the first time around sounds pretty important to me.

     What these words drive us to be doing in our lives is…to be generous.  We are not to be so selfish in the way we live our lives that we grasp for anything and everything that we feel we can lay claim to.  God asks us not to hoard all that we feel entitled to but rather we should learn to give something away.  I’ll share one example.  A wealthy businessman who was the owner of a very successful company received a call from a volunteer one day.  The volunteer, representing the Red Cross, asked the man to make a substantial donation to the work of the Red Cross.  The businessman listened attentively as the volunteer presented his case.  Then he said, “I can understand why you have approached me.  Yes, I have a lot of money and yes, yours is a very important cause.  But are you aware that I have a great deal of demands on my money?  Did you know that my mother needs 24-hour care?”  The volunteer sheepishly answered, “No, I didn’t know that.”  “Did you know that my sister’s husband was killed by a drunk driver and is now left to raise a family of five children on her own?” the businessman continued.  The volunteer replied, “No, sir, I didn’t know that either.”  Once again the businessman asked a question, “Did you know that I have one son in rehab and my other son is doing volunteer work overseas?”  The volunteer felt very bad as he answered once again, “No.”  Finally, the businessman shared this, “Well, if I don’t give any of my family members so much as a dime, what makes you think I’d give the Red Cross anything?”  Needless to say, this is not even close to generosity!  In the spirit of our Old Testament passage, the businessman was harvesting every last grape.  He was not willing to give away the borders of his life.  Contrast the businessman’s attitude toward generosity with this…in his book, “Run with the Horses”, Eugene Peterson tells about the day he saw birds teaching their young to fly. Three young swallows were perched on a dead branch that stretched out over a lake. "One adult swallow got alongside the chicks and started shoving them out toward the end of the branch. The end one fell off. Somewhere between the branch and the water below, its wings started working and the fledgling was off on his own. Then the second one, in just the same way. The third one, however, was not going to be bullied. At the last possible moment, his grip on the branch loosened just enough so that he swung downward, then tightened again, bound and determined to hang on. The parent pecked at those clinging talons until it was more painful for the chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying. The grip was released and the wings began pumping. The parent bird knew what the chick did not yet know—that it would fly—that there was no danger in making it do what it was designed to do." Peterson’s comment to all this was, "Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have talons and can grasp a branch securely.   But flying is their characteristic action and not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully and beautifully. Giving is what we do best. It is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. Some people try desperately to hold on to what they have, living only for themselves. They look so bedraggled and pathetic doing it, hanging on to the dead branch of selfishness and self-centeredness, afraid to risk themselves on the untried wings of giving. Yet many people don't think they can live generously because they have never tried."  It would be hard for me to resist telling you right now…to try.  We learn to be generous and we act generously because God is generous and we want to follow God’s example.  And, to put it into the terms of these two verses in the book of Leviticus, to be generous is to give away the borders of our lives…to share something we plant, care for, and work hard to grow…but something we choose to give away so that others may have enough.  Start to give and, in time, generosity will show up in every area of our lives. 

     Oswald Golter was a missionary in Northern China during the 1940s.  He had served there for ten years and was returning home when the ship he was on stopped in India.  While he was waiting to get going again, he noticed a group of refugees living in a warehouse by the pier.  These folks were unwanted by anyone else but Oswald Golter went to visit them.  It was Christmastime and he asked the refugees what they wanted for Christmas.  They replied that they weren’t Christians and did not believe in Christmas.  “I know,” said the missionary, “but what do you want for Christmas?”  The group described a particular kind of pastry they liked.  Oswald Golter cashed in his ticket and used the money to buy baskets and baskets of those pastries.  He delivered them to the group of refugees and wished them a Merry Christmas.  Years later, he was recounting this incident to his class and one of his students asked, “Why did you do that for them?  They weren’t Christians.  They didn’t even believe in Jesus.”  And Oswald Golter replied, “I know…but I do!”  We are generous because God is generous.

     Generosity is by no means limited to adults.  Kameron Smalls was only 8 years old in August of 2016 when he watched a report on television about a boy named Ethan in Louisiana who had lost everything in a flood.  Cameron decided to do something to help.  He wrote a letter to Ethan and read it aloud in church.  He collected $200 that day but he didn’t stop there.  He continued to raise money for Ethan, a boy he had never met…only watched on television…a boy who lived about 800 miles away.  People also donated toys…lots and lots of toys.  The story continued when Kameron and his mother drove to Louisiana with $4,000 and a whole lot of toys and presented them to Ethan.  By the way, Ethan shared what he received with other children in his neighborhood…generosity breeds more generosity.  When asked why he wanted to help a stranger, young 8-year old Kameron said, “I thought I should do something for Ethan because if I had a flood in my room, I’d be sad.”  Helping the poor and the alien…something that began in the book of Leviticus but continues to this day and will continue as long as there are generous people. 

     I like to think that once people show generosity to someone else and find out how good it feels, they continue to be generous for the rest of their lives.  In Mauston, I’m reminded of Edna McNown.  When I first met her, she was in her 70s but even into her 80s she volunteered at West Side School, a kindergarten through 4th grade building about a half a block from her house.  She would grab her cane three mornings a week during the school year and slowly make her way down the block to the school building.  There she would read to students, help other students with their homework, and give of herself in a way that makes one only stand in awe of what she was able to do.  Edna is no longer with us but she left a lifelong legacy of generosity.  Generosity that drove her to continue to volunteer her time long after she had every reason to stop.  She never thought to keep all of her time to herself.  She gave away the borders of her time.  She didn’t harvest those borders for herself but gave them away to grateful grammar school children for many years.

     You may think that these are remarkable stories of generosity (and they are!) but we all have the capability to be generous.  It does not need to take place on a grand scale.  In fact, most generous actions affect the life of a single person or a small group of people.  God takes the generosity that we offer to others and does some remarkable things with it.  Think for a moment about a time when you were generous.  How did it make you feel to offer your time or your skill or your hard-earned money to another person…to take some time with a child or a grownup and offer them something?  I’ll bet it made you feel pretty good.  And I’ll also bet you’re doing these things all the time.  It is so cool when generosity takes over our lives and we offer ourselves to others almost without realizing it.  Remember though that every generous thing we do for someone else is blessed by God.  It makes us feel good and it makes the other person feel good too.  We’re not generous in order to brag about how wonderful we are.  We’re generous to give glory to God who calls us to be partners and to reach out to others.  By doing what we do best…what we were designed to do…may we begin at an early age and may it continue our whole life through!  Thanks be to God!



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