SERMON: Love Grows by Giving

Each day is a gift. Let us find the gift in this day.
Each day is a gift. Let us be grateful for the gift of this day.
Each day is a gift. Let us celebrate together the wonder of this day.
Each day is a gift. Let us use our gifts to make this day all it is meant to be.

As we gather this day, let us bring our gifts to this community so that we may all grow in love, in generosity, in hope, and in Joy.

It is good to be together this day, in this community, so full of strength, so deeply connected, ever-growing and ever-blessed.

by Telos Whitfield, intern minister

Spirit of Life, come and surround us with a sense of your presence. There are green shoots and purple flowers and the sun feels warmer these days. Those brilliant white snow covered mountains encircle us with their beauty. Please remind us of our connection to All That Is, to the creative power that runs through all of us, and through everything.

Spirit of healing, we surround those who are suffering or in pain in our community with an embrace of love. Let us think of people we know and hold them in our hearts with care. May they know, may we all remember that we are loved. May we remember that we can reach out to each other and ask for help and support.

Spirit of change and well-being, let us celebrate with those in our community who have been blessed with good fortune and joy. There might be new life and birth, new work or unexpected healing that bring a sense of spaciousness and renewed hope. May we all celebrate and share in the reality that life is a continual balance of joy and sorrow, hope and release.

Great mystery, beloved holder of all of who we are, what we long for, and what we have lost. May we remember that we are connected, that we can work for justice in all that we do, and that we are not alone in this work, and in our lives. We are part of this community of faith. May we feel the love that is woven into the fabric of South Valley, and may we let ourselves be held by this circle of hope.

May it be so. Amen. Ashé and Blessed Be.

This is a stewardship sermon. That means I am going to talk about and ask you to think about money. I am going to ask you to give some of your money to this congregation. I am going to ask you to give more than you did last year. I am going to ask you to imagine what it would feel like to practice generosity. I am going to do all this (and maybe more) without apology or shame.

Now that you know what you are in for, let’s start with the words of the song by Judy Fjell that the choir sang earlier.

It is not enough that we are wounded.
It is not enough that we care.

We are called to practice loving,

with a skill we hardly knew was there.

What an amazing and honest song. We are called to practice loving. It may seem a long cognitive leap, but that is why I want to talk to you about money, generosity, and giving today. Because we are called to practice loving. It is not enough that we feel wounded, or even that we care. We are called to practice loving…and we are called to grow that practice and grow our love. And one way—only one way, yes, but an important way—to grow in our practice of love is to give—to give generously, with open hearts and gratitude.

I know we live in a time of suspicion and compassion fatigue. I know that you receive, as I do, hundreds (maybe even thousands) of requests for your money. I know that it is easy to become jaded and cynical, and begin to believe that all this talk about love is just a cover—a sophisticated guilt trip—to get you to give more to the congregation. I know this because I have had to grapple with that same suspicion as I began to write this sermon.

Over the years, I have come to value this pulpit. I don’t mean this space or the particular podium that holds my notes as I preach. No, I mean this time and the way you honor me with your considered attention as I share my ideas and convictions with you. Each time I enter this pulpit I am aware of the value of the trust that is extended to me by you who listen each week. I don’t take that for granted, and I intentionally and carefully attend to what I say, because I do not want to breach that trust. And so, when it comes time for me to preach what has become an annual sermon on giving, I have to be sure that I believe what I say. I have to consider my words carefully, guarding against manipulation, flattery, or misuse of this pulpit, this time, this trust.

Love grows by giving. I believe this with my whole heart. I have seen it in action, and it is the reason I can ask you to give without shame or guilt or regret. Love grows by giving. How many of us have witnessed and marveled at the generosity of children? I recently read a story of a single mom who lost her job. She sat her children down and explained to them that there would be no income for awhile and that she was sorry she would not be able to give them more than the basic necessities of life. She explained that she would be looking for work and would receive a small unemployment check that would just cover the rent, utilities, and a very frugal budget for food. She explained that there would be no karate or dance lessons, no special treats of fast food or movie rentals, nothing extra. She explained all this with sorrow in her voice and tears in her eyes, because she had always hoped to give her kids a life where they wouldn’t ever feel the stress of not having enough. She told them she was sorry and sad, but would work hard to find a new job.

The next morning, as she struggled a bit to get up and out the door to begin job hunting. She kind of enjoyed being around for breakfast and seeing her kids off to school. Then she got dressed and got ready to go “pound the pavement” looking for a new job. She grabbed her purse and was shocked to find she could hardly lift it. Wondering if one of the kids had filled it full of rocks, she looked inside. Her purse was full of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Her kids had emptied their piggy banks and pockets, and left a note. “Dear Mom,” it said, “We hope this helps, so you won’t be sad. We love you.”

That story is not so unique. Love and giving are connected and children, unjaded by adult cynicism, are able to make that connection quickly and easily. They give everything they can to express their love. Not what is prudent or frugal to give. Not ten percent. No, they dump their piggy banks and pockets and give extravagantly. They give and love generously.

A colleague of mine, Rev. Victoria Weinstein, wrote:

The purpose of the church is to encourage all who gather there to grow more generous in spirit and in action. This is the great end of all the world’s faith traditions: to bring the human being closer to the divine by acts of creation and compassion.

I think she is on to something.

Giving is an act that combines creativity with compassion. It requires us to take note of several important things. First, we must develop compassion enough to notice the needs of those around us. Second, we develop creativity by assessing our own gifts and connecting what we have or can do with the need we have seen. Compassion and creativity are the building blocks of generosity. And generosity is simply a habit of giving. And giving is an opportunity to be part of something that does good and feels good, and that nourishes love by reminding us of our connections and our ability to make a difference. Love grows by giving because we grow when we give.

Giving is central to religious traditions throughout the world not because they are greedy, but because generosity is a powerful act of love. The Buddha taught,

“If you knew what I knew about generosity, you wouldn’t let one meal go by without sharing it.”

What an amazing testament to the power of giving. “If you knew what I knew about generosity, you wouldn’t let one meal go by without sharing it.”

In the monastic communities of Buddhism, a monk is not allowed to barter, trade or buy anything. Instead, they live entirely in an economy of gifts. According to Thanissaro Bhikkhu, a Buddhist teacher and scholar:

Ideally — and to a great extent in actual practice — this is an exchange that comes from the heart, something totally voluntary…You give what is appropriate to the occasion and to your means, when and wherever your heart feels inspired. For the monastics, this means that you teach, out of compassion, what should be taught, regardless of whether it will sell. For the laity, this means that you give what you have to spare and feel inclined to share. There is no price for the teachings, nor even a “suggested donation.” Anyone who regards the act of teaching or the act of giving requisites as a repayment for a particular favor is ridiculed as mercenary. Instead, you give because giving is good for the heart…

Giving is good for the heart. But why give to this congregation? Why not give all that you can to other organizations that fight hunger or racism or environmental degradation? Why give to South Valley when there are so many other places to give?

My answer to that has two parts. First, because as stewardship expert Herb Mather puts it, “We are not giving money and raising funds to perpetuate an organization, but to bring hope, health, and salvation to a world in need.” South Valley is a congregation that brings those things—hope, health, and even salvation—to the Salt Lake Valley. Each week, as we tell people “You are welcome here,” we stand for something true and good and are an example of the power and healing of diversity within community. We offer a haven for people to heal, to grow, to become leaders, and to give back to help make the world a better place. South Valley is important and it too is an economy of gifts. It will take about $135,000 this year to maintain South Valley’s presence and our voice for justice, kindness, and diversity in our community.

The other part of my answer to the question, “Why give to South Valley” is that love grows by giving. If you invest your time, your money, and your enthusiasm in South Valley your love for this community will grow and you will find you get more in return. I urge you to go beyond our society’s expectations that you will simply be a “consumer” of South Valley’s services. Instead, you can be part of making South Valley what it is and what it can be. Love grows by giving, and we can only benefit from more love here at South Valley. In the next year, my family will grow our financial gift to this congregation to $5,400. We will give in love and I know we will watch our love grow. I hope you will do the same.

I end where I began, with words from this morning’s song:

Serving others with gratitude
for the bounty in our lives—
we are called to practice loving,
with a skill we hardly recognize.

Let us continue to grow together in love and in generosity, this day and every day.

Amen. Ashé. And Blessed Be.

By Rev. Gary Kowalski

Go in peace, speak the truth,
give thanks each day.
Respect the earth and her creatures,
for they are alive like you.
Care for your body; it is a wondrous gift.
Live simply. Be of service.
Be guided by your faith and not your fear.
Go lightly on your path.
Walk in a sacred manner.
Amen. Ashé. And Blessed Be.