University Congregational Church
Oct. 19, 2014
“Sacred Pathways: The Enthusiast”
2 Cor. 8: 7-8, 11-12
Our own Liam Finan shows us how to be enthusiastic about church! He is downright exuberant to come down the aisle for the children’s message. His parents, Brooke and Brian have told me that they sometimes plan other things for Sunday, but Liam and Clare insist on coming to church. Oh, to have that kind of energy and zeal for Sunday morning!
Enthusiasm—it’s one of the greatest words in the English language! It is a word that is built deeply into the victorious spirit of humanity. The word enthusiasm is derived from two little Greek words, en and theos, with theos being the Greek word for God. So “enthusiasm” literally means, in its root concept, “full of God.” Maybe that’s why enthusiastic people are so often creative and joyful! The Bible uses several different words for this idea of being filled with enthusiasm: ardor, zeal, whole-heartedness. My personal favorite is “eager.” When you are eager, you are enthusiastic about your service to God and others. This idea is taught again and again in the New Testament. We are told to:
- Be “eager to serve” (1 Peter 5:2)
- Be “eager for the gifts of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:12)
- Have an “eager willingness” to finish the work of faith we’ve begun (2 Corinthians 8:11)
- Wait in “eager expectation” for God (Romans 8:9)
- Be “eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14) com
Our traditional word for today is from 2 Cor. 8:7-8, 11-12
Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. Now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.
My friend, Dr. Sharon Watkins tells of an experience she had in Africa. “Years ago, I lived briefly in Congo as a short-term missionary. One Sunday I was in a town called Bolenge. One Sunday I was worshiping in Bolenge. And it came time for the offering. Now in some of our churches, well, let me say it straight, particularly in some of our Euro-American churches, the offering embarrasses us a little bit. We keep it subtle and reserved. We take care that no one knows how much anyone gives – or whether anyone gives.
But not in Bolenge. In Bolenge, it was during the offering that worship really got cranking. Instead of passing the trays quietly down the rows, a deacon stood up front with a bag on the end of stick. The pastor called for the men to come forward and give their gift. This was going to be a bit of a competition, he said – men against the women. The men came forward, and I noticed the bare feet, the worn clothes. And I remembered that most people there didn’t make enough money in a month to buy an aspirin for a head ache. Yet they came forward to give. Then it was the women’s turn. Four women walked up to stand near the deacon, and they started clapping out a rhythm.
Within moments, every woman in the place was on her feet, singing, clapping, smiling, worshiping, rejoicing in the Lord – and coming forward – no! Dancing forward – with offerings. None of us could sit still as the women danced and gave (the Apostle Paul says the Macedonians gave like that, ‘their extreme poverty overflowing in a wealth of generosity’). For this congregation of materially
impoverished people, trusting in a God of abundance, the offering had become the most joyful moment of worship.
But wait! There’s more! They asked the visitors to come forward. We did – in a more reserved manner. We put our offering in the bag. But – wait for it – there was still more. The pastor announced that there had been a hurricane in Central America. With much damage and loss of life. Now, said the pastor, ‘Let us bring forward our offerings again for our brothers and sisters of Central America.’ And so they did. So we did. All coming forward again. To give again. This congregation of Congolese Christians wearing their one extra outfit set aside for the Lord’s Day. This congregation now came forward in bare feet to give an offering for brothers and sisters in need.”
Can you imagine that kind of enthusiasm at UCC? Especially during the offering? The sounds of coins and the rustling of paper bills? The whisper of agreement as a check is written for more than planned – for no other reason than joy? Clapping to the upbeat music and moving forward to participate? I actually can see it!
There is a new spirit here! We are on the upswing. More people are coming; more are participating; more are giving. And I am asking you to continue this good work – even increase it. Step it up! “Step Up Stewardship” is our theme for this stewardship campaign. We’re asking everyone to grow one step on our chart.
If you’ve been giving $100 per month, consider the price increases over the years. “Step it up” – one step and go to $125 or $150! If you have been blessed, if there is hope in your life, if you are grateful – “step it up”! It’s not only that the church needs your gifts – you actually need to give. Imagine how much joy it will bring you to participate at a higher level in what is happening at UCC.
It takes a certain spiritual discipline to learn to see the world this way. It takes
practice; you’ve got to do the reps:
- dwelling on stories of God’s abundance in scripture;
- noticing the evidence of God’s abundant life all around us;
- in the joy we take in the presence of beloved family and friends;
- in the rotating seasons bringing life anew each year;
- in the mercy that God shows to us again and again.
It takes practice, but when we focus our minds on gratitude, we begin to find our hope. A discipline of hope focusing our eyes on God’s abundance.
NPR had an interesting story last week. According to IRS charitable deductions from 2006-2012, those who earned $200,000 or more a year cut their fiving by 4.6%. But, those who made less than $100,000 gave 4.5% more! And-those who earned $25,000 or less had the biggest increase +17%
A Christian enthusiast doesn’t need to don cheerleading outfits and pom-poms. Living in expectant hope doesn’t require exuberance every moment of every day. Believing the positive doesn’t involve a Pollyanna attitude. It’s not any of those things. Christian enthusiasm indicates a deep faith. As Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”
Today kicks off our stewardship campaign! Before you fill out your pledge card, consider the joy of giving and make an enthusiastic gift from the heart. A gift that honors your faith and our church. Are you willing to “step up to stewardship” and increase your pledge for 2015? Are you an Enthusiast who enjoys a deep faith and is willing to step forward in joy?
I would like to close with a quote from author Deepak Chopra: ”The mystery of giving is revealed only when you crave the ecstasy that has been glimpsed. Then a realization hits you with full force. I must give myself away. Without realizing it, you have been trying to do that all your life. In giving away yourself, you open a conduit for the kind of happiness that no one can ever steal from you. Someone once said that permanent joy results when you can give away your last penny. Actually, the penny is only a symbol. Permanent happiness results when you no longer have a personal stake in the world. When you see through the constant needs of I, me, and mine, no more needs will remain. There is only Being, and then every breath is bliss giving itself to bliss. That’s the rhythm of life. I’m sure you’ve felt it. It came over you the last time you truly gave yourself away. You joined reality once more. You entered the space where holiness resides.”