What is faith and where does it come from? How can we get more of it? Through this series in which we reflect on the spiritual practice of generosity, our biblical texts center on questions of faith. There’s a connection between generosity and faith and we’ll excavate to find it. Join us for this journey and see how simple shifts in thinking and practice just might help you overcome some fear and, in the process, deepen your faith.
What Sparks Joy?
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC October 27, 2019, the 20th Sunday after Pentecost. “Fearless Generosity: Deepening Faith” series. Consecration Sunday.
Text: 2 Timothy 4:6-8
Some of you may know the KonMari method of organizing and managing possessions. Some years ago it was quite the craze, based on a book entitled, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” When everyone was talking about it, I wasn’t in a space to pay that much attention, though I picked up the gist through cultural osmosis. But several months ago as I was planning this Fearless Generosity: Deepening Faith series, I was struck by a line from the assigned scripture for today: “I have kept the faith.”. Two questions came to mind: 1. What do we keep? 2. What do we give away?
These questions triggered my mentally stored KonMari folder. So I looked up more about the method—the brainchild of a young Japanese woman named Marie Kondo—that consists of gathering together all of one’s belongings, one category at a time, keeping only those things that “spark joy,” and giving away everything else.
Quite by accident, this past week I discovered the television series featuring Marie Kondo in action, working with American families to declutter and bring order and peace to their homes. I had every intention of getting my peace on that Sabbath day by lying on the sofa all afternoon. But after several episodes, I found myself in my closet dumping drawers of socks, rifling through my closet, picking up items and asking myself, “Does this spark joy?” The result? [bring out bags]
There was a lot of stuff I had been holding onto that needed to go. It didn’t need to go because it is junk (except maybe for the several pair of shoes that puppy Daisy had chewed up that were still taunting me from the bottom of the closet) No, most of the items are really nice and will serve and perhaps even spark joy in someone else. What do we keep and what do we give away?
We began this sermon series in the first chapter of 2 Timothy. Today we read a few short verses from the last chapter of that eponymous letter written in the form of a “final testament” from a dying parent to a faithful child with encouragement to endure in faith through difficulties in life. Today we hear that Paul’s life is “poured out”—given away in service to the message of new life, liberation, and grace in Jesus Christ. Throughout Paul’s letters is an insistence on Jesus’ teaching to “lose our lives” that we might truly find our lives. This doesn’t mean we seek to become martyrs with a reward only in heaven, but rather that we follow in the way of humble service, brave and risky solidarity, and self-giving love modeled by Jesus in this life—and, in doing that, discover what it means to experience true life. One might say that in this context not only what we keep but what we lose—“losing our lives,” “pouring out our lives” in service to God—can “spark joy.”
In just the few episodes I saw of Marie Kondo’s T.V. show, joy seemed to be a result of the whole process. When the people admitted their mess, accepted help, did their part of the work in partnership with a family member, and then gave away those items that would serve others, the results were a sense of personal agency, freedom, and peace. //
Paul has given away his life…and he has “kept the faith.” What does that mean? Well, in part, keeping faith means giving away your life in love and service to God and others. It means trusting Jesus to help you find new and true life. It means holding fast to the promise of God’s love and mercy for you even when you’re a mess. It means trusting that God isn’t put off by your doubts and questions but encourages you to think deeply and wrestle with God, like Jacob at the Jabbok, until you receive a blessing. It means having assurance that as you practice with intention, as you do what you can do, God will do what only God can do—will work in and through you for good. To keep the faith is to serve as you are called, to give as response and gratitude for God’s generosity, and to love as you have been loved. Paul kept this faith.
In the KonMari method, you keep only what “sparks joy.” I imagine Paul would agree that even though he suffered for his faith, even still, his faith was a source of joy. When I think of faith sparking joy I think of a little parable Jesus taught, that “The kin-dom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Mt 13:44) An encounter with life in community the way God intends, an experience of life set free and embraced by God’s love—that sparks joy! And as a result, you do whatever you can do, spend as much as necessary, to hold onto that amazing grace and gift.
Over the years I have witnessed what this can look like in practice. My clergy colleague shares the story of a woman who owned a DC rowhouse that included an English basement apartment. When she first bought the house, she used the apartment as a source of rental income. But, in the midst of discerning what she could give financially to support the growing ministry at her church, she realized that she could make a lot more money—and hence give away more money—if she rented the main house and used the apartment for herself. So that is what she did.
And early on in my ministry at Foundry, I learned that a young couple who were members here, had made a decision to rent out a room in their home—which wasn’t a huge home—in order to be able to make a larger gift to Foundry. Their commitment to the life and future of Foundry was so great that they gave away privacy (!) in order to be able to give more.
Kathleen Walton, member of my former congregation and recently deceased, once said this to me about her significant giving: “I’m just so grateful that I can give! I believe in what we’re doing and it gives me great JOY to be a part of it. I know there are others who aren’t able to contribute as I do, so I want to do as much as I can to support this community for us all.” Her face radiated joy as she spoke.
These examples model for me—and for us all—how to keep the faith through fearless generosity…and all in a way that sparks joy!
It is common in churches to expend a lot of energy worrying about the folks who will be “turned off” by any teaching about money and possessions. As another dearly departed used to say to me on occasion, “Today you stopped preachin’ and started meddlin’!” But it’s kinda Spirit’s job to “meddle” in a way that will push us to go deeper in our faith, hope, and love. So if I have any part in that, I’m good with it. And I’m convinced that giving to faithful, alive, impactful churches like Foundry can be a profound source of joy. I also understand the very tender place that our relationship with money and possessions can hold in our lives, due to personal and family history. If that is true for you, then part of your practice might include grappling with that history—holding it and honoring it in a sacred kind of way and letting go of what no longer truly serves you, in order to be able to give with less fear and more joy. For some, we may not have given much thought to how we actually spend our money. In that case, perhaps a little time reviewing where your resources really go would be enlightening. Does your spending align with your values? With what truly “sparks joy?”
Over the past year there have been some high profile announcements of major gifts that make a major difference—like billionaire Robert Smith’s gift to pay off debt for Morehouse graduates. Huge gifts like that will always have an amazing impact—how I would love to be able to give millions to endow one of our ministry areas at Foundry! But here’s the thing. What you might consider a small gift will have a big impact. We don’t have the large endowments of colleges and universities. We rely on contributions for 98% of everything we do. Your gift to Foundry, no matter how big or small, will make a BIG difference!
Today we consecrate the one million, two hundred and sixty three thousand dollars ($1.263) in gifts that have already been promised to support our 2020 budget along with those estimates of giving and prayers that will be added today. The goal we simply must meet is $1.9 million in estimates. I have been deeply moved by the response so far. Most of the gifts already promised have been increased for next year. It is only through such fearless generosity that we will be able to sustain the life that we currently share together as Foundry Church. Last week, I spoke with you about my vision and prayer for Foundry to be a community of deep integrity, a wellspring of spiritual nourishment for those who need church to be real and to be there for you wherever you are on the journey. Over these weeks, we’ve been asking that each one of us stretch to give what we can, to increase our gifts if we can, to make that vision possible. I want you to know that I don’t ask you to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself. My continued goal is to tithe my income. Currently, I give more than 10% of my net salary, but it will take some more time to get to a tithe of the gross. Some might say I have to do this since I’m the pastor, but I want to let you in on a secret. I could easily get away with not giving proportionally to Foundry. There could be all sorts of rationalizations and support for that. I give because it is a significant part of my spiritual practice and it sparks joy for me to know that I am supporting the life-changing, justice-making, spirit-moving, work we share.
All that we share together as Foundry Church, all that we mean to churches and persons across the United Methodist connection and throughout our city, all the lives that are strengthened through our advocacy, direct service, and commitment to radical hospitality and inclusive love, children who are taught, mentored, and loved just as they are, music that soars, minds that are stretched and awakened, leadership developed, and heavy hearts lifted, all of this and more happens because we—you—keep the faith…and give away what is needed with joy!
Invitation to give…. Instructions for participation… Prayer or estimate… ONLINE! If you’re a guest or visitor and have filled out a card to share with us, please bring that…
Now come with joy at the leading of our ushers…