Sermon “I Like Giving: Ripples”

On All Saints Sunday, November  3, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached a sermon titled “I Like Giving: Ripples.” The Scripture for the week is John 6:1-14

As she continued her focus on acts of generosity,  she looked at the story of Christ feeding five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes. There was this boy ready to share a little, and in the hands of Jesus, his act of generosity produced ripples that continue to this day.

Do you ever wonder about this boy with the five loaves and two fishes? Did he have grandparents who taught him generosity? Or was it his idea? How did he get that food in the first place? Did he catch the fish himself? Or was it packed for him lovingly to go on this journey? What did he imagine would happen as he handed his food to Jesus? What did he think when 12 baskets were collected? What difference did his act of generosity make? His life most certainly was changed that day. The miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand changed these people’s lives on that day. They all ate and were satisfied but most importantly, they must have told the story to many others who also recounted it to still others and impacted their lives as well. Might our presence here right now in these pews be a ripple effect of this little boy’s offering 2000 years ago?  

That day reminds us of repeated scenes in our lives too. Look around and see the enormous need in the world. Hungry people. Unending gun violence. Countless people without homes. Refugees. Far too many children in orphanages and foster care. So many homes destroyed by fires, hurricanes, earthquakes.  Desperate people have given to despair. What are we going to do about them? When we lift our need to God, God is asking, “what do you have?” We reply, “not enough.” The end of our human understanding, knowledge, resources, is the beginning of love’s understanding and knowledge. Love’s knowledge multiplies our seemingly meager resources and makes a way where there doesn’t seem to be a way. Love’s understanding is enough to feed all the people and with leftovers. When placed in the hands of Jesus – hands full of love’s knowledge – our gifts, as limited as they might be (even generous giving can feel like a drop in the bucket) become abundance, more than enough.

God calls us to is not just generosity, but generosity as Ministry, as an act of love. Ministry is about multiplying resources in the hands of love, Jesus’ hands, so that what might’ve been just a social hand-out becomes a revelation of God’s amazing Grace, leaving behind transformation, healing, restoration, life, justice. God’s love changes people and societies.

As the names of the deceased were read, a dove was placed. Each family was able to take home a dove

As we come to the Table today on All Saints Day, let us bring, with thanksgiving, the memories of the saints who taught us not only generosity but how God multiplies resources? Let us remember that at the end of our understanding, love’s knowledge takes over.

The sermon is a podcast on this webpage under the category worship. Here is the link

For the complete video of the November 3 service, found on Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page, click here

Sermon “I like Giving: Change”

On Sunday, October 20, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached a sermon titled “I Like Giving: Change.” The Scripture for the week is Luke 19:1-10. She focused on acts of generosity while looking at the story of Zacchaeus, that wealthy tax collector who is radically changed, ready to put right the wrongs he had done, and eager to give half of his possessions to the poor.  

Pastor Jenny at Princeton UMC
Sunday Service, October 20, 2019

Generosity is very complex. It comes easily in some ways but in other forms, not at all. People’s feelings, lessons learned, money, sadness, fairness, fear, and responsibility are all involved. But being generous to the point of extravagance is a crucial attribute of God, and thus of discipleship.

Indeed generosity is a significant theme in Luke’s Gospel, especially at a time when the rich keep their riches for themselves, believing they are given to them by God. Luke is concerned about wealth and what happens to the poor. He believes in distributive justice, and consequently, he is hard on the rich and how they use their money. Closely tied to the theme of welcoming outsiders, the poor and the marginalized, are money, and generosity of spirit. We could be generous with our money but also with our thoughts, words, time, energy, and love. 

Zacchaeus’ story is straightforward but still challenging. Something is stirring in Zacchaeus’ conscience at this time of his life. A tax collector, wealthy, involved in exploitation, extortion, and taxing, who has this desire to come and see this one with the reputation of being a friend of tax collectors. Zacchaeus is so eager to catch a glimpse of Jesus despite the mumblings of the crowd, who, no doubt dislike him, that he climbs up a tree in an undignified manner. The people are shocked to see that Jesus sees him, calls him, names him, showers him with love, and then invites himself to his home.   

God sees him, loves him, and claims him as his own – and this immediately transforms Zacchaeus. He receives the generosity of God’s presence and forgiveness – and it spurred him to action. He must, therefore, fulfill his obligation of theft and right the wrongs he has done. Reminded of God’s abundant gift of grace, he is moved to extravagance – giving away half of his wealth. 

Salvation comes not only because he is repentant and changes his ways but also to heal his brokenness. Now, marginalization is a thing of the past. God has freed him. In God’s company, giving back after defrauding the poor, changes the relationship and brings joy, eagerness, humility, and reconnection. Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Lack of generosity lies with the self-righteous observers who are mumbling, judging Zacchaeus and Christ. It keeps people on margins – withholding grace, love, acceptance. They act superior as they desire to maintain their reputation. They deny that people change. But God’s grace brings healing and transformation. God’s grace transforms us into more generous people. Acting in generous ways also brings us closer to God. When God saves and heals us, we are no longer broken. 

The story is asking us what lack of generosity, or attempt to stockpile wealth is keeping us apart from God and others, stifling our joy and leaving us broken? On the other hand, what longing for Christ is stirring in us? What joyful reactions to God’s grace are we experiencing? Eagerness, welcome, hearing our name called, looked upon with love? What change comes as we respond joyfully to Christ’s love, call, and presence? Let us now return God’s extravagant grace with our extravagance in giving.

This week, I invite you to try one big generous act in your own life. Also, pay attention to what you are worried about, like fear, excuse, debate, judgment, discomfort, violation of fairness, debt, time, need a reward, or what else is happening in your life. Jesus is saying, “I see your generosity. Give just 10% of your wealth.” Ask God to stir up your heart and make your spirit willing.

The sermon is a podcast on this webpage under the category worship. Here is the link

For the complete video of the October 20 service, found on Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page, click here.