Attitude of Gratitude - Week Four: Irrational Generosity

Today we're going to conclude the sermon series "Attitude of Gratitude"--a series that is based on this one simple notion:  When you finally realize all that God has done for you, the only true response is gratitude. 

You might be wondering, "How do I maintain an attitude of gratitude... How do I live like this every day?  It seems like an impossible thing to do!"  

Well each installment of this series has been a step toward more fully understanding what it means to maintain an attitude of gratitude in every aspect of your life.  

This morning we're going to be taking our final step as we focus on this one very important idea:  When you have an attitude of gratitude, you practice irrational generosity. 

Irrational generosity is authentic, real and a little gritty.  

Before we dig too deeply into our text today--I need to put this out there.  Sometimes people do the right things, but do them for the wrong reasons.  Here's some examples: 

Those are all really good examples of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.  

And when people act generously for the wrong reasons--when there is a self-serving aspect to it... it's not authentic generosity. 

Generosity done for the wrong reasons is easy to spot.  It looks inauthentic.  

According to a recent study by the Harvard Business Review, over the past two decades,  charitable giving by U.S. companies has declined at an alarming rate, dropping to 15-year lows in the early 2000's and descending even lower to date.

Despite the fact that overall charitable giving by companies has decreased, what has increased is what is known as "cause-related marketing."

In other words, companies will strategically engage in philanthropy as a form of public relations, increasing their brand exposure in ways that will provide positive impressions among consumers as well as increasing employee morale.

While there may be some good that is done through the charitable contributions of companies who are engaging in this form of marketing, it has begun to come off as inauthentic.

According to the Harvard Business Review, cause-related marketing may lead to an overall sense of cynicism on behalf of the public, and can also serve as a distraction from the overall goals of the charity involved.

In other words, there's a difference between true generosity and self-aggrandizing, self-serving charity that often masquerades as philanthropy.

Richard Rohr once wrote:

Remember, you can be doing very good things, but if you are doing them with negative energy, the results will not be life-giving for yourself, for any around you, or for the world.

And generosity also can appear inauthentic when it's coerced either from a hard sell or through guilt.  This is where most Christians live and breathe.  

Those of us who claim to follow Jesus often find ourselves facing similar quandaries.  When our donations of time, talent and treasure become something we do out of duty, or when we give in order to assert influence or control, we cease to be generous.

Diana Butler Bass recently wrote:  

Duty-based gratitude is emotionally empty and causes resentment. Obligatory gratitude rarely has a heart.  Rather, it breeds contempt and fosters injustice. 

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be irrationally generous with ourselves and what we have for no other reason than we should do so as a response to the generous grace of God toward us.  And by irrationally generous, I mean with no thought to what it might cost us... without a sense of lack, of not having enough.  

For those of us who claim to follow Jesus, to stumble after the rabbi who taught that in order to find your life, you needed to lose it... we need to learn what it means to live generously out of abundance and not scarcity. 

And Might that be the problem--that we have substituted a thin veneer of thanks for a radical, transformative experience of wholeness and connection?

It's a good thing we have our text for today, which comes to us from Psalm 112.  We're going to continue our practice of reading this texts responsively today: 

1 Praise the Lord. Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
    who find great delight in his commands.
2 Their children will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in their houses,
    and their righteousness endures forever.
4 Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
    for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
5 Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
    who conduct their affairs with justice.
6 Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
7 They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
8 Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
9 They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
    their righteousness endures forever;
    their horn[c] will be lifted high in honor.
10 The wicked will see and be vexed,
    they will gnash their teeth and waste away;
    the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

This Psalm describes those who are blessed and who “fear the Lord.”  To “fear the Lord” means to be in a healthy relationship with God, where God is in the driver’s seat of your life. 

This passage also lists all of the attributes of those who "fear" God--those who have that healthy relationship with the Lord: Healthy families and hope for the future, a good name, a life without fear... and of course a generous spirit. 

Read verse 9 and ponder the words “they have freely scattered their gifts to the poor.”  What does this mean to you?  Does this describe a radical shift in the way we typically operate in our society?  What would it look like to scatter our gifts freely without expecting anything return, without imposing our will, demanding an ROI...?  Irrational?  You bet. 

Or maybe it's like what Macon talked about last week when he said that the biggest obstacle for some of us is our refusal to submit to God in all aspects of our life, which almost certainly includes our stuff, our money, our talents and time.   There's an inherent selfishness that accompanies that unwillingness to submit to God what belongs to God.  

Theologian Walter Brueggeman puts it like this:
The world teaches us to be selfish and stingy and to look out for ourselves.  But gospel love is grounded in the conviction that all we have is a gift from God who has been generous with us and we are invited to practice generosity alongside the God of the gospel. 
I heard an analogy once that really illuminated this for me. The key to understanding irrational generosity as a congregation requires us to understand the difference between a spoon and a ladle.  When we give up the spoon and pick up a ladle, we are following Jesus example of selflessness.  We feed ourselves with a spoon, but we can feed others with a ladle.

So where do you see our church being a ladle in our community?

And how do we keep moving in that direction?

I think we keep moving in the direction of being a ladle when we ask the right question.

It reminds me of a parable I heard from philosopher and theologian Peter Rollins.  He told of a couple who wanted to wallpaper a room in their house but didn't know how much wallpaper to buy.  They didn't want to buy too much so they went to their next-door neighbors whose house was identical and who had just wallpapered their house.  "How many rolls did you buy to wallpaper your house?" They asked.  They were told twelve rolls, and so they went and bought that many.  They quickly discovered they had six too many and went angrily back to their neighbors.  "Why did you tell us to buy so many rolls we had six left over!"  "So did we!" the neighbors replied.  You asked us how many we bought, not how many we used.

The question that most of us usually ask when it comes to giving to our church is this: "How much does God need for us to be square... so I can be in a good relationship with God?  What's the minimum I can give?   

This limits our vision.  It sets a bar that in many cases is far short of irrational generosity.  The question that we should be asking should be, "What could I possibly give to the One who has given me everything?"

If we are always focusing on need--we lean too far toward scarcity and it's all too easy to fall more in love with the Bread than the Baker, if you know what I mean.  But if we focus on gratitude, and the way our giving should be an irrational response to irrational grace--then we are on to something.

Be generous today and every day going forward.  Give of yourself and what you have freely, without compunction and without an agenda.  Practice generosity alongside God, joining God in God's generous work of redeeming and rescuing, restoring and resurrecting.

Because when you have an attitude of gratitude you practice irrrational generosity.


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