Sunday, November 14, 1999


Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Galatians 5:22

El Aqueducto

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord? To acquire such a taste for kindness, especially in 1999, especially for you, will mean a rejection of lesser tastes, and willingness forever to leave behind the little treats that mean-spiritedness does afford. A taste for life means a distaste for death.

The middle of one ancient Spanish town, Segovia, is parted by the hundred foot high remains of an ancient acqueduct. The Romans built the duct before the birth of Christ, and it channeled water through barren Castille until 1914. It stands now, parting the village and attracting tourists, its many stately roman arches raised like hands into the sky.

Beneath the acqueduct, at the corner of the town square, you find a small restaurant, "Los Alamos", which has little space, little atmosphere, little distinction. On Sundays they serve a roast lamb, a local specialty, tasty and rich. Some years ago a young American writer frequented "Los Alamos", writing in the afternoons on the broad pine tables, then sharing the town's evening paseo and conversation from the restaurant's porch. A writer's life is necessarily a lonely life, a constant and draining scrap with his craft. This writer found the evening comraderie, underneath the silent acqueduct, just the elixir his mind required, and in "Los Alamos" he wrote a great novel.

At the same time, as the novel progressed, he quit smoking. Writers and nurses seem to smoke more than anyone else, and quit less often. Underneath the two thousand year old Roman arches and carried along by a kindly people, the writer wrote his masterpiece and at the same time gave up tobacco.

Years later, Ernest Hemingway stood on the porch of "Los Alamos", just beneath the Segovian acqueduct, and remembered the writing and the fun, the tables and talks, and his newfound break from addiction. He was asked about the year he spent there, writing For Whom the Bell Tolls. "I remember at last having the will power to stop smoking. The local people were so kind. The local wines were so fine. The book was going so well. I realized one day that to live well and to write well and to be able to taste the wine as it deserved tasting, I would have to give up smoking."

A Torrent of Kindness

A native of Rocky Mount, NC, and a victim of Hurricane Floyd, wrote this fall about seeing his hometown underwater: traffic lights blinking red and green underwater; furniture and unearthed coffins floating underwater; homes full of childhood memories underwater. He wrote for the NY Times (10/2/99) though under the theme, "a torrent of kindness": "We Southerners invented the phrase 'the kindness of strangers'. But nobody ever talks about—the strangeness of kindness. I mean the curious intuition that lets one person imagine what might, right this second, help others the very most. When those jeopardized are our friends and neighbors, whatever class or color, when we see them stranded screaming in treetops, and if we happily own a boat that hasn't left our garage for eight months, and if there is gas sloshing in its outboard, we still know, not why this happened, but what to sort of do. In our millennial paranoia, we suspect that the Book of Revelation's last days are now quaking up among us, fault-finding. If you're scared the world is ending in fire, reconsider. May we, the waders of North Carolina (all these snakes) half-reassure your? It'll probably be water. But even in this catastrophe's toxic wake, we're inching toward the high ground of a glum communal hope. Some 19th century willingness to act is yet there, if called upon. People are still imagining each other so they can rescue each other. A strange, radical thing, kindness."

The Taste of New Wine

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord? You have no doubt acquired some habits along the way. The spiritual nicotines that we confront. Looking out for number one. Some secret pleasures. A lazy willingness to take the short view. A nursed and venemous grudge. Television. Delight in the downfalls of others. A willingness to minimize the good in others. Savoring gossip. A trained and rancourous irreverence for reverence. The arrogance high. We have our spiritual nicotines, which offer a present excitement at the expense of corruption to come. They make it hard to taste the fine wine of love. Your lips and tongue and psyche get so coarse that the good taste no longer differs from the bad. Mean words and thoughts, conversation and daydreams, cause us to lose over time a taste for God.

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord? Without such a taste you are dead, or nearly so, even now. With this taste alone, you come alive to real life. You can rejoice when you should and weep when you should and be patient, patient, patient with all your circumstances.

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord?

Kindness and Scripture

The Bible says that God is kind. The Bible is our measure for words about God, being itself the word of God. Hence our interest in the Bible, weekday and Sunday. A love for Christ and a love for Scripture go always together, siamese twins. A person who scorns the Bible scorns also Christ Whom Scripture attests. Said John Wesley, "Let me be a man of one book!" The Bible says that God is kind.

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord? You may be a member of the church, and yet not really turned on to kindness. You may be teaching children, and yet not convinced by kindness. You may be in the choir, a lover of the muses, and yet skulk daily in meanness. You may be a clergyman, and yet in all an unkind whited sepulchre. You may be new to the church, and waiting to test the church's kindness. You may be a hearer of sermons and a clever religionist, and yet still addicted to the nicotine of vicious spirits.

God is kind, says the Scripture. God is good, so sing to his name, for he is gracious (Psalm 135). He is a Mighty King, a lover of kindness and justice (Psalm 99:4). He is A God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Nehemiah 9). With everlasting love God will be kind to us (Isaiah 54). God is kind and merciful (Joel 2).

Jesus looks us in the eye from the pages of Luke and says, "Be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish."(Luke 6:39)

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord? I wonder.

Kindness in our Time

I wonder how deeply we trust that God is kind. I look out at the great sea of life and see much harshness, and of course this harshness washes over you, day by day. It is a rough and tumble world we are building. In our construction business, we are all to some degree in the world construction business, do we trust that God is kind? Is this kind of construction what pleases a God of kindness? Harsh realities surround us. Abducted children. Rancorous marriages. Abortion for sex selection. Child abuse and neglect. Racial misunderstandings and hatreds. All in the shadow of a nuclear arsenal that still could make this world silent and dark, darker than a hundred midnights down in a cypress swamp.

It is no wonder then that on this harsh cultural sea, the religious sailing ships of our time have a harshness to them as well. These past ten years have seen the rise of harsh religion, the success of unkind religion. Violence in worship that parallels musical and political violence. We have grown gradually accustomed to religious talons and fangs, expecting such meanness as a price for success in the religious market. So, American Protestantism with Methodism its largest denomination, seems slightly antiquated in the new age. So much so that some, across our church, seem ready to discard the diplomatic arts of kindness in favor a more warlike approach to difference.

God is kind, yes. But have you really tasted his kindness? Isaiah had his lips tinged with holy fire when at last he saw the kindness of the Holy One. How about you? Are your lips seared?

Have you become convinced that no matter what else, at home or at work, your life is saved for the Master Jesus, and not meant for meanness? Paul says, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as also God in Christ has forgiven you." (Ephesians 4). God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.

How will I know if I have tasted the kindness of the Lord? Ah, here the Scripture answers with gusto. When at last this taste for the fine wine of loving kindness overtakes you, you will fall to repent, and so you will know. It is a shock, a mortal blow, to realize how terribly kind God has been to you. When it comes, then you know for you want to repent, leave off the nicotine, in favor of another finer taste. Paul says, "Do you think lightly of the riches of God's kindness? The kindness of God is meant to lead you to repentance." The kindness of Almighty God is meant to lead you to a kindly life.

Vision and Mission

We can become so invested in our own activity that we lose a taste for the New Wine of God's love. The moon of human mission can temporarily eclipsed the bright Sun of divine vision, the fruit of the spirit, today named kindness.

Every so often we sing:

Like a mighty army moves the church of God
Brothers we are treading where his feet have trod

We might better sing:

Like a festive party moves the church of God
Filled with royal kindness, all have tasted God.


A while ago we had lunch with a college student who was struggling through a conflict. A teacher with whom she studied was causing her grief. It was humbling to listen to her careful step through the reasons why, as far as she could tell, she could not manage to work well for this one professor.

"It's not just the willfulness, nor do I mind the rigor and demand, and it isn't even the aloofness. I guess what really bothers me is that there is no kindness, no kindness. I was raised with kindness, so I guess I expect to find it in others."

Dear John

John took pretty rough treatment growing up in his small town. People discounted him, and much worse, because they knew his parentage. It scarred him for life, these silent taunts, and much worse, and he grew up and left. His bright red hair and good looks took him quickly through education and into the work world where he made good. But the hurts of grammar school linger. Take heed you who watch out for young children. John developed a quick tongue to go with his congenital quick temper and he used it like a sword whenever he felt the slightest taunt coming his way. Over time the verbal sparring became second nature to him, and he took some energy and pleasure from it. Once, though, in a soft-ball game, something happened. The young pitcher for the other team was mowing down John's side, and mocking John to boot. John stood at the plate and glared at what looked like a younger version of himself. In baseball and in conversation, John liked to swing away, swing for the fence. And in baseball and in conversation he hit some homeruns. He also struck out alot at the plate and in his judgments. The third strike was just called when John threw down his bat and yelled at the young pitcher, "Go back to where you came from you no-good." He saw the boy redden and then turn away. John heard some murmuring and a little laughter from the opposing team's fans. And he recognized, keenly, that he had said more than he meant. This boy was growing up with the same harsh words he had known, and now John was himself delivering the blows!

Driving home, alone, John was overtaken. For some reason, in that one verbal strikeout, he became aware of all the meanspirited living he had ever done. What a thing to say! I of all people should know better! He began to think back a week. To a cute, hurting jest in the office. Back a month. To a play on words at another's expense. Back a year, to a full swing sentence that laid his cousin down in agony. John cried. Hard. The tears of someone that hasn't cried in ten years. He pulled the car over and wept at the wheel. "My Lord, all this time spent in parsimonious and niggardly talking. My Lord. How kind all this while you have been to me, as I, unkindly, have hurt others. I know better. I'm sorry."

Do you presume on the riches of God's kindness? It is meant to lead you to repentance. John left off the nicotine of verbal agility for a finer taste, the taste of kindness.

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord?

The fruit of his spirit is present by grace in persons and churches and nations. Kindness, in the Bible, is just this: It's that great experience of God's love, which is revealed in Christ and shed abroad in the hearts of his people by the spirit (Romans 5:6), and it works itself out in life and the church as kindness toward one another.

Deliver De Letter De Sooner De Better

The fruit of the spirit called kindness is found in people. Joe bears kindness. Joe is a mailman. At age 59, though, he has been a lot more than a mailman to his neighbors. They know his kindness:

"When my son was wounded in Vietnam he waited on the porch for me to get home to give me the news himself. He didn't have to do that."

"I was out at age 69 knocking down icicles. I lay on the walk for almost an hour. Then Joe came by. He saw me and ran to me and put me over his shoulder and carried me into my house. He called the doctor, too."

"I was in college and asked if there were any pretty girls on the route. Joe said yes, he set me up on a blind date. We were married two years later. Joe was at the wedding."

"As a little girl I would walk part of his route with him. Joe was my favorite. I swore that when I grew up I would be a mailman too. And I am!"

The fruit of the spirit is kindness. In people like Joe Corbin, walking his route in upstate N.Y. for 36 years. They call him "Joe". We call it kindness, God's spirit bearing fruit.

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord?

Even in Church

Kindness grows in churches, too. There is no kinder, gentler group of people than those in our own U.M.W. As pastor, I am an honorary U.M.W. member, and proud, very proud, to be so. At Christmas lavish baskets go out to the needy and shut-ins. On Sundays, flowers travel in kindness to hospitals and nursing homes. There is a monthly report made of the number of visits by each circle. But kindness is not just in deeds, it is a spirit, dwelling in kind hearts. Let's get busy and bear some fruit!

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord?


Is there not, though, a "kindness that kills"? An unwillingness to speak the truth, when only brutal honesty will do? An avoidance, for the sake of ease or safety, of the sterner virtues, in the name of this fruit, kindness? A reluctance, even to a dangerous degree, to ruffle feathers, let alone pluck those that need plucking? A distaste for pruning that finally leaves the garden overrun? Is there not a kindness that kills?

Yes, it is so. Odd, though, how we tend to raise this point in the first inning, when it is a ninth inning question.


But kindness is found in nations, too. You have to look a little harder, maybe, and discern a little more carefully. History shows us kindness in nations. Since we began in Spain, maybe we can end there, not far from that same porch and aqueduct, in old Castille, out in the hills north of Segovia. The year is 1938, and war tears the land apart. The Spanish Civil War was as cruel and brutal a war as the world has known, mainly because it combined internecine civil strife with 20th century weaponry. It was Bull Run with bazookas instead of bayonettes. And yet. In that utter darkness, the light of a spirit of kindness yet lived. Hemingway captured a look at such kindness in the figure of Robert Jordan, a teacher from Montana, who joined the Lincoln Brigade and went to Spain to fight Hitler. There he too was entranced with kindly people caught in the whirl of war. And there, in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan died, giving his life as a sacrifice of American kindness, against the mean spirit of Hitler's Germany. (Quote ending?)

How about you? Is it time?

Are you ready to leave the spiritual addictions behind and taste at last the fine wine of Love?

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord?

As Socrates meant to say, "The unkind life is not worth living."

Sunday, November 07, 1999


Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: 1 John 3: 1-3

Prayer: O Lord, give us an appetite for the fruit of your Spirit, we pray. We ask today, especially, for a taste of Generosity—surprising, spacious, seductive Generosity. Amen

Stewardship Sunday Morning…

"But I don't want to go…"
"You have to go. Come on. Get out of bed, and get dressed."
"I don't want to go to church today…"
"You have to go. Get dressed. Come downstairs. Polish your shoes."
"Do I have to go every week?"
"This is Sunday and Sunday is church. You are going to be late, hurry up and eat your eggs, they're getting cold."
"My friends aren't going today—I know they're going on a trip.
"But you have to go. Come on, out the door."
"Why do I have to go?
"Because. You're the preacher!"

So one can feel, especially in the first year or two of ministry. No seminary prepares any preacher for Stewardship Sunday. (Some people who teach in seminaries do so precisely in order to avoid Stewardship Sundays!) You have to learn, if you do learn, on the job. And what do you learn?

"I look back 20 years at that church. There were children in every nook and cranny growing up with God. The youth were loud and proud. Our Sunday school classes spilled out beyond any hope of fitting the already large building. My class met in the boiler room. I can still sing the songs, "I've got the love of Jesus down in my heart.." I can feel the hand of one older woman who sat next to us—she wore a hat with a bow—slipping candy into my pocket during the sermon. Once, in the winter, my parents and others slept outside in tents—I don't know why. I can smell the greens at Christmas and the flowers at Easter. A boy from the north side came to my prom, and of course we were married at that altar. I have my 3rd grade Bible over here on the shelf, and here is a photo of my aunt, at the women's bazaar."

Over time, you learn to love this day, almost more than any other. We savor, today, what the Scripture names as the Spirit's fruit—goodness, or, perhaps better rendered, "generosity", goodness that does some good, generative goodness, AGATHOSUNE, generosity.

This is the day, either literally or figuratively, in which the material world is invaded, assaulted, attacked, by Another Reality. The beachhead of this invasion is unmistakable, as real and sacrificial and human and costly -- and victorious-- as Normandy.

Tom Brokaw has written about the Greatest Generation. Tom Hanks has starred in Saving Private Ryan. But that kind of beachhead, won against frightful gunfire and destructive opposition, is also visible every November even in the lowliest church and even in the poorest parish. It goes simply by the name of generosity, and generosity is a surprising interloper, a fruit of God's Spirit, a visitation from Another Reality. With the enemy fire raining down, Generosity marches on.

Into the teeth of congenital selfishness, cultural stinginess, communal exclusiveness, and congregational sanctimoniousness, Generosity marches on.

Into the terror of rational question, too, Generosity advances. "You can't give like that now, you're just getting started. You shouldn't do that, you have little mouths to feed. Now is not the time, you are paying a mortgage. How can you give with kids in college? Better save now, your hair is receding and so is your bank balance. Your teeth are decaying and so is your portfolio. Your stomach is growing and so is your debt. Your eyesight is fading and so are your options. You'll need resources as you get older." Against all that, Generosity moves forward, into the teeth of the gale, the fierce enemy fire from hidden outposts.

But what is the character of the fruit of the spirit known as Generosity? How shall we know its taste in this season of spiritual harvest?

An Apocalyptic Moment

Last month I did have a Sunday off—what a luxury. We were in Phoenix, with sunshine and 100 degrees. I got up late, skipped breakfast, went to a church service someone else had prepared, ate lunch, and then headed out to see if I could get into a major league football game—Cardinals and Giants. I have followed the Giants since YA Tittle and Del Shoefner and Frank Gifford, but never have seen them live. So I got to the stadium, worried about a ticket. Scalpers had some--$100 dollars. No thank you. At last, the ticket booth, with a little crowd gathered. I stood and waited in line. Suddenly a Phoenix fan appeared, dressed in Cardinals hat, Cardinals shirt, Cardinals socks, Cardinals Buttons. He was a burly bloke, and not overly tidy in his attire. He also was quite a large person. He wore a beverage Container on his back that had a tube running to his mouth. His Cardinal hat was shaped like a bird, and had wings that moved up and down "in flight" as he walked. He wore size 13 Converse sneakers. He stood in the ticket area and said, "I have two $50 tickets that I want to give away. I don't want them sold, I want to give them away."

No one moved. No one spoke.

"I have free tickets here. Two of them. They're on the 30-yard line, 18 rows up. I want to give them away."

I don't know why, exactly, but no one moved or spoke. We couldn't believe it. "There must be something wrong—a catch."

Finally, exasperated, Mr. Cardinal slammed his tickets on the counter, and said to the taker—you give them away, at which point yours truly, not born yesterday, said, "Well, I appreciate your generosity-thanks for the tickets. May the best team win as long as its New York."

But we don't really appreciate generosity. We don't expect it so we don't see it. It stomps up to us and bites us and we still don't see it.

I was given a place at the table, a seat at the banquet, a ticket to the game—space, entrance, inclusion.

So armed, I walked to the turnstile and realized I had two tickets but only needed one. So, I walked over to a group nearby and said, "Listen, I have a free ticket here. I don't want it scalped. Who would like it?"

Guess what? Dead silence. "Hey. This is legitimate. This was given to me-it's yours for free." Nothing.

I turned to leave, when an older man said "OK, OK, I don't know what your angle is, buddy, but hand it over." Which I did.

So on a 100 degree Sunday off in the southwest I was given a free ticket, and also, as the game progressed, and my mind wandered, an apocalyptic insight into the nature of the fruit of the spirit known as goodness, generosity, in three particulars.

Generosity surprises us. Generosity makes space for others, especially for the stranger, the outsider, the other. Generosity seduces us, at last, into offering our own generous gifts.

A. Generosity Surprises Us

For Instance…

An elderly couple who met at Depauw University in 1926, but who never graduated, decided to leave that school their whole life savings, $128 million dollars. 75 students a year will attend that school with full scholarships.

Surprising generosity. A person visits our office and late that week mails in a check for $3,000 to be used "as you see fit". Surprising generosity.

A woman who does not attend our church is inspired by the work of the Dining Center and leaves that ministry a quarter of a million dollars. Surprising generosity. May her tribe increase.

A family needs a place to stay for a summer trip and, hearing the need, a brother in Christ provides a home for the visit. Surprising generosity.

A president is defeated at the polls after only one term, but goes on to live a faith both public and private, the Carter center thrives. Surprising generosity.

Someone is saved from psychic hell through the pastoral care of their church, and chooses to endow the expense of pastoral ministry. Surprising future generosity.

It is in the nature of the spirit to take us somewhat by surprise, and nourish us generously. So the Scripture teaches us.

I have to wonder whether some of difficulties we face in our denomination are due to the eclipse of vision by mission. We get so caught up in what we are doing that we lose sight of the great vision God has designed!

Psalm 33: The earth is full of the HESED (generous goodness) of the Lord.

Romans 15: You also are full of generosity.

Galatians 6:10: Let us be generous to all, especially to those of the household of faith.

Colossians 1:10: Be fruitful in every good work.

2 Cor 9: "The Lord loves a cheerful giver."

Romans 12: "Let love be genuine."

Matthew 6: "If anyone asks for your coat, give him your cloak as well. If he asks you to go one mile, go a second too."

Galatians 6: "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ."

Or think of Jesus' parables of sowing and reaping, of mustard seeds exploding from tiny to great, of talents used and underused, of dishonest but generous stewards and of that haunting and joyous refrain, may it reach our ears at heaven's door! "Well done though generous and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little, we will set you over much. Enter into the joy of the master." How frightful, daunting, awesome, profound is our charge in this life to minister to one another so that we are ready to hear such a sentence pronounced: "…well done, thou generous and faithful servant.."

If we have savored generous surprise, then we may also sense that this form of the Spirit's fruit makes space for others.

B. Generosity Makes Space for Others

Look at Asbury First, flourishing because of the surprising generosity of hundreds of faithful people, who want the world to be a better place, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who understand that as the seedbed for wonder, morality, and future generosity, the church has a prior claim on our giving.

Let me push you a little here. I know it is appealing to give to many particular causes and special projects. But it is Another Reality, the fruit of God's own spirit known as goodness, which ultimately feeds all giving, and to which the church alone bears full witness. I think we run the risk of taking our church for granted. It will prevail into the new millenium only to the degree that another generation of young adults learns and chooses to reflect divine generosity with some of the human variety.

One day a veteran faithful member of our church commented to me about our ministry. In conclusion she said, and the words carried a depth of meaning perhaps even beyond her intention, "We don't want anyone left behind."

But that's it! No one is to be left behind, left out, left off the list, left outside. Not at least for those of us who worship the Jesus Christ of the manger, the wilderness, the borrowed upper room, the cross, and the empty tomb! Jesus lived and died "outside", to remind us on the religious inside of those still outside. So that all might have space, have a seat, have a place at the table. You and I have had seven courses of faith, when others lack even the appetizer. "We don't want anyone left behind."

Asbury First's current growth and future health are fed by Generosity, goodness that does good. Generosity makes space, in this church, for those who are not yet inside. Why? Why more? Why grow? Because God is generous, and we believe in God. Because the need of the county is great, and we care about that need. Because the future health of this congregation depends on our becoming, over a decade, welcoming, inviting and generous, and we love this church. Because when our own generosity is quickened, faith is less a dull habit and more an acute fever.

Amid surprise and extra space, the Spirit can seduce you, even on a Stewardship Sunday.

C. Generosity Seduces Us

For we learn over time. Sometimes the best gift you can give somebody is the opportunity for them to give themselves. That is what this sermon is about. We are trying today, in this season of spiritual harvest, to feast upon the fruit of the spirit known as Generosity. And the best gift you can receive is the chance to give of yourself.

A while ago friends were going on a trip and needed someone to watch their children. I heard the request and did what you would have done. I referred the idea to the spiritual leader of our home. Jan said sure. I wondered a little about it, but the day came and all of a sudden, we had again multiple teenage voices in our home. And what a treat they were, what a joyful presence, what a gift!

But if our friends had not had the courage and taken the risk of asking, of giving us the real gift of a chance to give, we would have missed a little bit of heaven.

So in that vein I am going to ask you to give today. This church can prosper if you will generously support it. It's entirely up to you. I invite you to give, to pledge, to pledge strongly and to tithe. I am aware that this is a very personal decision. And not everyone likes to hear, let alone preach a stewardship sermon. One wag said, "It's not that he preaches so badly about money, it's that he preaches about it at all!"

But the world is not going to be healed by token pledges and convenient giving. This is a giving church. It needs to become a generous one. That is your opportunity today. "Ask not what your church can do for you. Ask what you can do for your church."

Remember your forebears. These are the people of whom Diognetus wrote in the year 130ad

They display to us their wonderful and paradoxical way of life.

They dwell in their own countries, but merely as sojourners.
Every foreign land is to them their native country.
And yet their land of birth is a land of strangers.
They marry and beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring.
They have a common table, but not a common bed.
They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.
They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.
When reviled, they bless.
When insulted, they show honor.
When punished, they rejoice.
What the soul is to the body, they are to the world.
What salt is to earth and light is to world, are you to this country, to this region.

The church stays open for people on whom almost all other doors have closed. For the poor. For the irascible. For the loony. For the difficult. You are sitting in the most open, and generously vulnerable public space in this county.

As Lorraine Hansberry wrote,

"When do think is the time to love somebody most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain't through learning, because that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and can't believe in himself 'cause the world done whipped him so".

The mission may be the bit and bridle, but the great steed, the real horseflesh of life is found in vision, a vision of a healed and loving world, where there is space, real quality space, for all. We dare not let the moon of mission eclipse the sun of vision.

Now we sing

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated Lord to thee

We might better sing:

Take my life and let it be
Shaped by Generosity.

Jane Addams' Warning

In closing, maybe we need to remember the young woman from Rockford Illinois, Jane Addams. She grew up 130 years ago, in a time and place unfriendly, even hostile, to the leadership that women might provide. But somehow she discovered her mission in life. And with determination she traveled to the windy city and set up Hull House, the most far-reaching experiment in social reform that American cities had ever seen. Hull House was born out of a social vision, and nurtured through the generosity of one determined woman. Addams believed fervently that we are responsible for what happens in the world. So Hull House, a place of feminine community and exciting spiritual energy, was born. Addams organized female labor unions. She lobbied for a state office to inspect factories for safety. She built public playgrounds and staged concerts and cared for immigrants. She became politically active and gained a national following on the lecture circuit. She is perhaps the most passionate and most effective advocate for the poor that our country has ever seen.

Addams wrote: "The blessings which we associate with a life of refinement and cultivation must be made universal if they are to be permanent. The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in midair, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life."

Yet it was a Rochesterian who, for me, explained once the puzzle of Jane Addams' fruitful generosity. This was the historian Christopher Lasch. Several times in the 1980's I thought of driving over here to visit him. But I never took the time, and as you know, he died seven years ago. Lasch said of Addams, "Like so many reformers before her, she had discovered some part of herself which, released, freed the rest."

Is there a part of your soul ready today to be released, that then will free the rest of you?

I wonder, frankly, whether for some of us that part is our stewardship life, our financial generosity.

Is that part of you, the wallet area part, ready to be released today, and in so doing, to free up the rest?

I think with real happiness over the years of men who have, just for example, taken up the practice of tithing, and in so releasing themselves, have found the rest of their lives unleashed for God.

Is there, as there was for Jane Addams, some small part of your soul ready to be released today, which then will free up the rest of you?

Deep, real life change comes from apocalyptic insight and cataclysmic experience. "All who enter the kingdom of heaven enter it violently".

A sensual experience can reorient a life (Pablo Picasso). A religious experience can reorient a life (Ignatius of Loyola). A patriotic experience can reorient a life (John McCain). A near death experience can reorient a life (Christopher Reeves).

Sex, religion, nation, death all can produce such a cataclysmic release. All sticks of existential dynamite. Money is another. And today is Stewardship Sunday. "...oh we keep the rest for another day, yet knowing how way leads onto way…" I wonder about the verve and youthful zest of your lower wallet area? I wonder what condition your condition is in?

Is there a part of your soul which, once released, would free up the rest? A catalytic experience or moment? Is it possible, that such an experience is waiting for you, metaphorically speaking, in the lobby outside your bank? Not in sex, or religion or nation or peril, but in…generosity?

Meryl Streep is reminding us that music brings structure, focus and discipline to life. So does tithing, and moreso.

Maybe we can know, in the surpise of Generosity, in the space provided by Generosity, in the seductive attraction of Generosity, what made a man of God out of John Wesley, and helped him to live on a mere 60lbs sterling year by year for his whole adult life, and in the process build a cross continental movement for good, of which we are heirs and debtors. Go, tithers and future tithers, and live his motto:

Do all the good you can
At all the times you can
In all the ways you can
In all the places you can
To all the people you can
As long as ever you can