University Congregational Church
Oct. 8, 2017
“The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life: Giving”
Acts 20:35; 2 Cor. 9:7
5 years ago, I made a monumental life decision. I had been in ministry at a variety of congregations and was serving a church where I was happy and could stay for the rest of my career. I was approaching my 50th birthday and was giving considerable thought to the rest of my working years. A new challenge sounded enticing, but it had to be the right one. About that time, I got an inquiry about my interest in applying at UCC.
After I met with the search committee a couple of times, I had to decide. Was it worth leaving our church of 18 years – where we had friends and memories and a strong connection – to start over at UCC, with an unknown future? We made the jump, with some uncertainty and a lot of hope. And we are so grateful!
Here are some things we love about UCC:
• The people! There are people here who have fascinating life stories, work histories, world traveler experiences, intriguing perspectives, and open minds.
• The outreach programs, including the Hygiene Pantry and the Music Scholarship relationships. It is especially heartwarming to see the new partnership with Gammon Elementary School!
• The social gatherings – which goes back to loving the people – and getting together with folks in small groups. We wouldn’t miss a fellowship dinner or a small group gathering. Cooks Night Out and Revelations and other events where we get to enjoy food around a table and visit with you are integral to our lives.
• The commitment of the members and friends of UCC, and your willingness to share your time, your wisdom, your leadership, and your generous support of the church.
I am so grateful to be your minister and to celebrate 5 years of ministry with you this month! This is an extraordinary place.
For the last few weeks, I have been talking about the Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life. We’ve been exploring ways to find spiritual renewal in what God has provided around us. Today’s topic is how to find spiritual enrichment in giving. I think St. Francis said it simplest and best: “It is in giving that we receive”.
It is not just a spiritual reality that those who give are happier – it was actually scientifically tested at the University of British Columbia, Canada. A group of undergraduate students were randomly chosen and given either $5 or $20. Participants’ level of happiness was measured. Then half of the participants were asked to use the money they received to get something for themselves. The other half were asked to use the money to get something for someone else.
Participants’ level of happiness was measured later, after they spent the money.
The group who spent the money on someone else reported a higher increase in their level of happiness than the group who spent the money on themselves. Elizabeth Dunn and colleague Michael Norton conducted similar experiments in different contexts and in different parts of the world. They consistently found that giving increases happiness more than receiving. Their results were summarized in their book Happy Money: The Science of Happy Spending.
One of the nicest compliments that I can receive is when someone says that UCC is a special place. I believe it is true. What makes it such a special place? Frankly, it isn’t all the things I already mentioned – although those are important. It is much deeper and significant than music or worship or social gatherings. I think it stems from this: whenever we are faced with a decision, we sit around a table and we ask ourselves… “What is the best, the most generous, and the most loving thing we can do?” And then we do precisely that – or at least we try to.
What does this mean in the most practical sense? It means that we are committed to be and do the best we can…
• That’s why the Deacons serve us coffee and snacks each week – on real plates and in real cups. Not just amazing cookies, but healthier options too.
• That’s why we have a spectacular Christmas party with a variety of meats, great entertainment, and real conversation around the tables.
• That’s why we pay benefits to our church employees. We want to do the best, be generous, and provide a reasonable package for people.
• That’s why we took care of our maintenance this year and replaced windows, the FH ceiling, added a family bathroom, and improved the steps outside FH. We want to be good stewards of this property.
• That’s why we have a hygiene pantry, and offer to our neighbors the things that they need and cannot buy with food stamps. We want our neighbors to have soap and detergent and toilet paper.
• That’s why we bought new curriculum this year for our children. We looked for resources to help our teachers and provide them with the best progressive Christian material available.
• We seek to do what we do well. And beyond that, we seek to be generous and loving while we do it.
When you make a commitment to UCC financially, I think you know what you are doing. You’re making a commitment to being a part of this culture of generosity and love. As II Cor. 2:9 says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” You’re making a commitment to support our ministries and missions. You’re supporting Paul and me as we:
• write sermons,
• pray with people who need a voice of calm and peace,
• as we lead worship,
• and teach classes,
• as we wade into situations with no small amount of fear and trembling and hope that we can somehow bring a sense of God’s peace,
• as we reach out in the community, and getting people to think theologically in new and different ways.
You’re supporting our Deacons as they try to create space and time for us to fellowship together. Lifelong friendships and new relationships are being renewed and formed each week.
You’re supporting our Trustees as they care for our property, and do their best to keep this lovely building in shape so that it will be here for future generations.
You’re supporting our children as they learn and grow in faith. We are teaching them that they are beloved children of God – a precious gift that has lifelong impact.
You’re supporting our music program, which gives us moments of delight and inspiration, not only to us, but to our visitors and friends who are seeking spiritual enrichment.
You’re supporting our Outreach board and the Wichita community as we reach out to neighborhood children at Gammon Elementary; the blind in our community; the hungry and homeless. We are giving a voice of Christian compassion to these folks who may not hear it from any other place.
Many churches – many, many churches – if they were to disappear overnight, wouldn’t be noticed. But you know that is not true for UCC. Our ministry here makes a difference – not only to you and your families, but to all the people who come here during the week for programs, community gatherings, meetings, and to seek help for spiritual or physical needs. You know that we make a difference. We are fulfilling what the writer of Acts said, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35
Deepak Chopra wrote: “Giving, taking, earning, stealing, squandering, hoarding. These are all human impulses, and we wouldn’t be human without them. Yet on this list only one item — giving — appears in the world’s wisdom traditions. Why is giving set apart? After all, there’s no mystery to why someone might want to earn, hoard, squander, or steal a million dollars. One way or another, most of our daily actions follow the principle of more is better, whereas giving means having less. Do the great spiritual teachers want us to have less? Have they figured out instead a higher way to give that will add increase to our lives? If we bring it into focus, the following becomes true: Giving takes you out of yourself. You expand beyond your limitations.”
In the past, UCC has had some extraordinary givers who made certain that there was enough money to accomplish all of these things. Many of those people have died. Today, it is up to us. Few of us have the means to give at those levels. But we all have the capacity to be generous! Because giving takes us out of our selves, we are actually expanded and growing beyond what we would otherwise!
In the past, UCC has relied on our savings to pay the bills, but that is depleted. And so I am asking you: What is the best, the most generous, the most loving way you can support our church’s ministry and mission?
You’ll have ample opportunities this year to make your commitment – at today’s congregational café; the offering plate each week until Nov. 19th; through the mail. We are engaged in holy work together.
I have a request. Please do not delay in making your commitment. We need to know by Nov. 19th what your commitment will be. Because we need an increase of $85,000 in gifts, we are serious about the date. We want to start 2018 being fiscally responsible.
Thank you for listening to what I had to say today. I love you. I appreciate you. And I look forward to the next five years of doing ministry with you. Let’s all pull together to be the best, the most generous and the most loving we can be.
Pyschecentral.com “The Joy of Giving” By Louai Rahal, MA
Chopra, Deepak. “The Joy of Giving”. Huffington Post. Oct. 20, 2009.