James 1:17, Matthew 6:19-21; 33, Luke 4:18, and Gen. 12:2-3 CEB
Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all.
“Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed.
I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse; all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you.”
If you missed any of my previous September sermons, you’re in luck, you’ve made it to the most important one! For it does not matter if we gain all we can “without hurting either yourself or your neighbor” and save all we can “by cutting off every expense which serves only to indulge foolish desire” and wasting nothing if we do not go to the next step. John Wesley’s third rule is to “give all you can,” as every message and lesson from the previous sermons is pointless if they do not lead us as Christians to practice generosity as part of our Christian discipleship. Generosity is a fundamental quality of God’s character, and we see it in all the ways God acts in our lives and in our world. Generosity is also a fundamental part of our character, and it should be seen in the ways we act. We give all we can of all that God has given us, and through our generous acts, we teach the world what it looks like to be generous and grateful people.
At the core of Wesley’s sermon, “Use of Money,” we find a Christian and Biblical understanding of everything we have. As James puts it, “Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above,” so we need to understand that we have not been put here on this earth to own but to steward. God has “entrusted you, for a season, with goods of various kinds; but sole property of these still rests in him.” Look around and see God’s generosity! Do you see the natural mountain beauty? What about the hot thermal waters of our springs, have you soaked in them? Have you seen the wildlife? Have you tasted the bounty of God’s creation? There’s no denying that these are good gifts from God’s hands, so what about the money in your wallets? What about the stocks in your investment portfolios? What about the property you hold? Do you also see these as gifts from God? What about yourselves? Do you understand that you are “not your own, but his”? We can see and feel God’s generosity, and God calls us to be generous as well, with all that God has placed into our hands, not because we deserve these gifts but because we have received them by our Lord’s unparalleled grace.
God calls us to live lives of generosity, and when we do become more generous, strangely, we do find that we are happier and healthier than before. Two sociologists, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, surveyed over 2000 Americans, collected materials and conducted in-depth interviews to understand generosity. What they found was quite extraordinary. Americans who consistently practiced generosity through financial giving, volunteering, caring for family, and caring for their neighbors found themselves “happier, healthier, and more purposeful in life.” Throughout their study, they found a “clear, consistent, and statistically significant” positive relationship between generosity and well-being. Smith and Davidson are not religious scholars and did not just interview Christians, but I believe we Christians can answer the why behind this positive relationship. When we stop collecting “treasures for [our] own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them” and instead “collect treasures for [ourselves] in heaven” of course we see a benefit. We are being more fully who God has made us to be in the first place as we pursue the kingdom of God. Rather than this being the quid-pro-quo of a prosperity gospel, this is the impact of you and I actually living as the people of God.
Think about it, after all, what do we consider sin to be? At its core, at its fundamental level, sin is missing the mark of what God intends for people and creation. Sin cannot bring life and it cannot bring blessing. Sin can only bring brokenness and death. It makes sense then that when we become the people, the disciples, God has called us to be, we see life and blessing. I mentioned in my first sermon in September that Americans gave “$499.33 billion to charity” in 2022, and it is an amazing number. What is even more amazing is that a 2008 study determined that “if American Christians could somehow find a way to move to practices of reasonably generous giving, they could generate, over and above what they currently give, a total of another $134.4 billion a year.” Reasonably generous giving, they determined could go on to support “5 million microenterprises, and sponsoring 20 million needy children worldwide through Christian organizations” in addition to feeding and clothing the poor and hungry. When we live as God has called us to live, we can transform the world, not someday down the road but today.
That’s what the church is here to do, after all, transform the world. This is so essential to the nature of the church, that the very mission statement of the United Methodist Church states their purpose as making “disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” One of the chief ways we transform the world is by showing the world what generosity looks like. We believe in a generous and loving God, so we are called as disciples and as a church to teach generosity to everyone across the face of the globe. We are called to be a blessing. God blesses us as stewards to be a blessing. We hear those words echoed in scripture all the way back into Genesis when God tells Abraham, “‘I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse; all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you.’” Tell me, if the church does not do this work of teaching generosity, of showing people what that looks like, who will?
I want to ask, how many of you remember our mission statement? I shared it at the beginning of September, and I want to share it again today: “To serve God through hospitality, passionate worship, faith development, missions, and teaching generosity.” Do you notice that “teaching generosity” is right there in we define why our church is here? How better to teach than to show people what generous living looks like? My hope is that you have been watching the pictures and listening to the words from our committee members this past month. How many lives do you think we touch each week, each month, each year? 50-75 for community meals, 100 or more for cantatas, 15-20 for Food Pantry, and we cannot forget the 80-100 we have in worship each week. That’s not exhaustive at all, it only touches the tip of the work this church is doing and wants to do. We had 50 children join us for Vacation Bible School, something we had not had in many years. We helped over 50 children and youth have winter coats, hats, and gloves in just the past two years. Since we started the Cookie Jar Auction Fund, we have donated about $2000 to needy folks in our community. Your generosity allows the church to be generous and to transform lives here in Thermopolis and beyond.
Not just your gifts either, but my family and I make it a point to practice generosity as part of our Christian spiritual discipline as well. Each year, Caitlin and I sit down and we look at our finances and determine how much we should give. For the past many years that has been consistently at least 10% of our combined income. Right now, we donate at least $800-1000 every month to church and charity. We donate to this church, we donate to a church-start in Colorado, and we donate to help fund the income of a friend of ours involved in a Christian engineering ministry. I say all this because I want to invite you all to do the same. Go home. Look at how you give. What does it look like? What would it look like to be reasonably generous to Community Federated Church and help us transform the world today?
I am not here to give you absolute numbers or totals that you should reach, and I am in good company because John Wesley rejected that kind of giving as well. Wesley said “Do not stint yourself [...] to this or that proportion,” instead “‘Render unto God,’ not a tenth, not a third, not half, but all that is God’s.” 10% is sometimes lifted up as a good reasonable giving benchmark, but it is certainly not the only one. There’s no one measure or exact amount, but we all must honestly explore what it means to practice stewardship and generosity consistently as part of our Christian discipleship. For instance, do you ensure that your gift makes it to the church even when you do not? Do you give online or through your bank? I do give online, so even when I miss church next week, my gift won’t. There are so many different ways that we can be generous, and so help the church be a transformative presence in the world. God has called us all to live generously, to imitate, and to echo the generous nature of our Creator. A Creator that did not even deny us the gift of his only son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Transformer. Amen.
 John Wesley, Sermon 50 “Use of Money” in The Works of John Wesley, ed. Thomas Jackson, WordsOfWesley.com (Accessed May 11, 2020)
 Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014),12.
 Ibid., 13.
 Ken Sloane, “5 Factors That Affected Your Church’s Income in 2022,” Discipleship Ministries, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/five-factors-that-affected-your-churchs-income-in-2022 (accessed September 2, 2023)
 Christian Smith, Michael O. Emerson, and Patricia Snell, Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 27.
 Lovett H. Weems Jr. and Ann A. Michel, Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance: A Transformational Guide to Church Finance (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2021), 22.
 The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, ❡120
 Community Federated Church’s Mission Statement
 John Wesley 2020
Pastor Paul Grossman