2-4-2024 Sermon

    02.09.24 | by Jennifer Parks-Snyder

    February 4, 2024 Sermon: Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Extravagant Generosity  by Pastor Jenn Scripture:

    Malachi 3:8-12, 2 Cor 9:6-8, Luke 19:1-10

    It's been an enlightening Epiphany, hasn’t it? As we recognize it’s a church season that encourages us to share the light of Christ with others, we’ve studied Bishop Robert Schnase’s book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, practices that help to foster sharing that light of Christ in healthy ways. So we began learning from the story of the magi how passionate worship fills us and inspires us to experience new journeys. We heard Jesus tell us to take risks and serve others as if we were serving him. In reviewing Deuteronomy, we were reminded of God’s radical hospitality to the generations of Israelites, and how Christians have a history of continuing that life changing hospitality. And last week we recognized that our intentional faith development is what Jesus offers, a journey to always learn, always grow, as his student.

    Today we wrap it all up with extravagant generosity. Bishop Schnase writes, The practice of Extravagant Generosity is the fruit of maturation in Christ, the result of God’s sanctifying grace that molds our hearts and changes our values and behaviors. Generosity supports the other four practices, helping the church fulfill its ministry to make disciples of Jesus Christ in robust and fruitful ways, opening the message of God’s love in Christ to more people now and for generations to come. P.202 In each of our lessons, we are encouraged in our giving, recognizing giving is part of our relationship with God.

    Such an act began in Genesis 14:20, when Abram gave a tenth of everything to God when Abram was worshipping and honoring God. Throughout Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the practice of tithing and first fruits continued, as an act of celebration, of trust, of prayer, and honor. And eventually it was named as a law under Moses. So the texts we heard today each offer a lesson on giving as part of a relationship with God.

    In the lesson from Malachi, God challenges the Israelites to test God, and see what God can do with what they give God, a tenth, a small portion of what they have. With that, God can change the world, as God was changing the nation of Israel.

    In 2 Corinthians, Paul is teaching that as Christians, we carry on the Jewish tradition of giving to God, and Paul is teaching the Corinthians that God wants our gifts to be given with gratitude and trust  because through your giving, Paul states, you trust that God will be using it for good works, good works you can see and celebrate. Both lessons teach us, giving to God, is again a form of worship, a form of trust, trusting that God takes those gifts and uses them to bless, enrich, and change lives for the better.

    As for the story of Zacchaeus we see two lessons on giving that reveal extravagant generosity.

    First is the understanding that when tithes are given, people can be in ministry to change lives.  How else was Jesus able to go around to preach, teach, and heal? People gave him a tithe of food, of money; they gave him and his disciples places to sleep and rest. Because when people saw him, they saw God at work, and so he and his disciples lived on those gifts, that were a form of worship and trust in what God was doing in and through Jesus. Which, in essence is a lesson to us today, God takes our gifts, and this releases the work and spirit of Jesus to change lives. 

    The other part of the story is we learn how as followers of Christ we can emulate that work of Christ and be open to where the Spirit leads us to be Christ for others, to change lives and communities. And this lesson is really inspiring because in it notice Jesus does some pretty wonderful things. While the story starts out introducing us to Zacchaeus, a tax collector, who was not a favorite person to be seen in the community (as taxes were quite a burden for the Israelites, often times corrupt), we learn Zacchaeus is small in stature, but he truly wants to see Jesus and will do what he needs to do, even climb up a tree. Now notice what Jesus does, Verse 5, When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Jesus saw Zacchaeus, knew him by name and Jesus affirmed his value. I must stay at your house today Jesus says, in other words, Zacchaeus, I see you and you are valued by God, and I want to get to know you.

    And what happens next? Zacchaeus is changed, he converts, he becomes a disciple, who carries on the ministry of Christ to know the names of others, to value them, and bless them with God’s love and grace.

    First UMC Hershey that is our role, to be of Jesus work and Spirit to see all people, to value them, get to know them, and in so doing help them live into the life God hopes for them. Because love and grace changes lives. And when we give to the church, we give to the work of that transforming love and grace.

    I asked two members of our congregation to share a bit about how this church saw them and valued them, and how they are in return living out a generous spirit with their time, talent, and offerings.

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    Bishop Schnase writes, Many churches do not have enough money because they don’t provide sufficient ministry and mission. Rather than becoming obsessed with income, survival, and maintenance, they must continually return their focus to changing lives, reaching out to new people, and offering significant mission. By growing in ministry, giving increases. P.201

    Our ministries are growing because of the extravagant generosity you all provide. And each quarter, the Finance Committee along with myself and Pastor Lew, will be releasing a report that we hope will be transparent to all of you and what your giving is being used for, and what you are continuing to support with your tithes, talents, and prayers.

    Today’s report you can take with you at the end of the service, as the ushers will be offering them to you on your way out.

    On the front page you will receive a note from me highlighting the recent changes in our church. From staff accomplishments and transitions to reflections on the growth of ministries, and even numbers in attendance and membership. Such as we received 13 new members this year and our average weekly attendance went from 142 in 2022 to 172 in 2023 (the average weekly attendance in the Harrisburg area is 78). I also share the exciting offerings in this quarter with studies from Pastor Lew, Craig Fasnacht, and two new teachers, congregational members Michelle Miduri and Bill Moffett, offering short term studies. Plus the development and re-igniting of women’s and men’s groups. 

    And on the back of the report, you will see our budget and how it is broken down into subsections.  This past year, the committees of this church worked diligently to make cuts that would not affect ministry, but increase proper stewardship, so that we support and foster more mission and ministry with our offerings.

    And moving forward we will continue this review, so again, quarterly you can understand where we are as a church. So next quarter we all can see where we are with income and our budget.

    In James 1:18 we read, “[God] chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” I give thanks for your extravagant generosity that are the first fruits that reflect what God has and is doing through Jesus Christ who sees all, values all, and with the Holy Spiri, blesses and leads us to do the same.

    As we close this sermon series and season of Epiphany, I invite you to join me in this prayer:

    Litany of Generosity

    Extravagantly generous God give us generous hearts to share whatever gift it is that you have given to us. 
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 

    To acknowledge you as the giver of all good gifts...
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To give without counting the cost...
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To share without expecting something in return...
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To be wise in the way of caring for ourselves and others...
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To hold all of our treasures and values with open hands...
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To have gospel priorities and to align our life, love and time in their light...
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To be gracious and unbegrudging in our giving...
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To recognize the abundance of blessings in each passing day...
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To know the freedom that comes with true extravagant generosity. 
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To experience the heart of the converted Zaccheus…
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To accept our talents, whether many or few, and to use them in service of the Kingdom. . . 
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To grow in giving thanks for everything. . . 
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To be happy with having what we need and to be wise enough to know what it is that we want and do not need.
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 
    To fall more deeply in love with the God of all generosity so that our hearts are strong enough to give away freely whatever is asked. 
    Gracious God, give us generous hearts. 

    Loving God, who so generously lavishes our lives with goodness, create in our hearts a deep center of gratitude, a center that grows so strong in its thanksgiving that sharing freely of our treasures becomes the norm and the pattern of our existence. Remind us often of how much you cherish us, of how abundantly you have offered gifts to us, especially in the hours of our greatest need. May we always be grateful for your reaching into our lives with surprises of joy, growth, and unearned love. And may we share your light with others to see, value, and know them as Jesus does for each of us. We ask this as we join in praying the words Jesus taught us…. Our Father…[1]

    [1] https://www.forefrontnyc.com/blog/2014/9/12/the-litany-of-generosity