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Be A Joyful Gift

I had the privilege of concluding our 5-week Wednesday Evenings at Lent program yesterday. This is the concluding part of what I shared last Wednesday on our parish theme: Be A Joyful Gift To Others.

God loves a cheerful giver - and the one who gives, not material gifts but the self, gives out of the abundance in his/her store. The giving of the self is the ultimate gift that we can give - and it is important that you see yourself, first as a gift. The material gifts that we give to others are only an expression of our understanding of ourselves as gifts and also as vessels through which God blesses others.

That is why the Psalmist admonishes us with these words ‘If wealth increases, do not set your heart upon them,’ because there's nothing permanent about wealth.


Neither you nor I can give what we do not have. If I ask for a million dollars, you may call me crazy for even thinking that you have a discretionary amount of a million dollars sitting in the bank.

But suppose I invite you to consider serving as an acolyte, a verger, or on the altar guild. In that case, I am not asking for material resources - which you may or may not have - I am asking for you, something that you do have, something that you possess, something that you can give - you are the ultimate gift that I can ever ask for. It is only when you are able to offer yourself as a gift or see yourself as a gift that you are able to freely share your material resources with joy.

So, until we understand that we, ourselves, are gifts, we cannot experience the joy that comes with giving. Understanding that we ourselves are gifts helps us re-evaluate our relationships with each other because we see each other as gifts, too.

Jesus tells an important story in Matthew’s gospel; He said, "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." The point Jesus seeks to make is that the material gift that we offer is of no value if we can’t reconcile with our brother or sister.

The joyful giving of the self in reconciliation supersedes all material gifts. The joyful giving of the self in love is over and above all things material.

You are a wonderful gift. Do not underestimate the power of you.

This is another perspective on the idea of you being a gift. A few days ago, one of our parishioners gave birth to a baby girl. As we do at every birth, we celebrate with the parents because view the child as a gift. And like a mustard seed, this gift grows and becomes a gift unto others.

Therefore, to understand our giftedness is to appreciate the unique role we each play in the human story and the sacredness of each life.

There’s a story of two friends, Alex and John, both of whom lived in a village and raised cows. One day, Alex told this to John: "Remember the cow I slaughtered last year? I am still eating the meat." John then took Alex’s remark at face value and decided to also slaughter one of his cows.

After a few days, John angrily runs to Alex’s house with the complaint that his cow meat is going bad. "You told me that you have been eating your meat for a year, yet in just a few days, mine is going bad!"

Alex was a little perturbed because he didn’t ask him to go slaughter his cow. And so, he asked John this: "Well, what did you do with the meat?"

"What do you mean what did I do with the meat? I kept it of course," was his reply.

But just then, a little girl came to Alex’s house with a bag of meat. "Good day, Mr. Alex. My dad asked me to bring you some meat."

Alex then turned to John and said, "This is what I meant by eating my meat for a year. Because I shared my meat - even giving you some - whenever someone else slaughters a sheep, goat, or cow, they give me a piece."

Giftedness cannot be a one-way street, where you only receive, you see. The God who gave us life and everything else expects us to give.


As important as material gifts may be, they are not gifts in and of themselves, but represent an expression of our love. We give to others because that’s a tangible way of expressing our love. Listen to Jesus: For God so loved the world that he gave. We give to let others know that we love them.

And when scripture tells us that the world would know we are Christians by our love, it is only saying that it is by giving that allows others to testify to our faith.

One of the practices that confounded the persecutors of early Christianity was that when they left those Christians to the hungry lions to maul them in the amphitheater, the people were singing songs of praise. Their persecutors always wondered, "What is wrong with these people that they are singing in praise of God when a hungry lion is pouncing on them?"

The ultimate gift that you have is yourself, and nothing else.

Again, scripture reminds us that God loves a cheerful giver. A cheerful giver is a joyous giver who understands that the very nature of their life is a gift, and that they find a greater purpose and meaning in the gift that they are themselves.

The joy of the cheerful giver does not derive from the gift itself. In other words, the giver doesn’t derive any joy from the gift itself; rather, the giver rejoices in the fact that as a gift they are being used as a vessel to fulfill God’s purposes in the world.

This is another way of capturing the same thought: you have opened yourself up to being used, and the way God is using you is what brings you the most joy. Like the lady who worked at NIH in last week's message, we don’t limit ourselves to only the dot on the page. What would be the point of ministry if we were inward-looking?

Despite our challenges, we reach out beyond the dot. We look at all those who surround the dot. When I see you helping out with the refugee ministry, I am not looking at how much material resources you give; instead, I look at the smile on your face. That tells me more than anything else could. When I see you load up your cars to go to Dorsey Center each month, I am looking at the joy on your face. When I hear you talk about your trips with Somos Amigos, I look at the joy on your face. When I see you pack school supplies for Lake Elkhorn Middle School, I look at the smile on your face.

Everyone can give school supplies. Everyone can give money. Those who want to drive the refugee family to school, and hospital, and grocery can do that. And I am sure many of us can do that. But the question is, how connected are you with yourself? Are you connected to the point where you are so joyful in what you are doing that when someone sees you, the person is looking at a cheerful person who derives joy in the offering of the self?

I am sure you have had the chance to ride a bicycle before (speaking of which, we have a bicycle group that will begin riding in early May, and I encourage you to join them). But I want you to know that being Christian is like riding a bicycle - the day you stop moving forward is the day you fall.

There is never a time when you should convince yourself that you have arrived spiritually and therefore don’t need any more growth. Many of us have stopped growing in knowledge, spirituality, and in the offering of ourselves as gifts.

But you have to keep riding the bicycle. You have to keep growing in every aspect of your life, especially in offering yourself as a gift.

During this Holy Week and Easter season, it is my prayer that we will look to the Cross as a symbol of the greatest offering. More than that, may we look towards Easter as the validation of this one great offering of the self.

I wish you and yours a very Happy Easter.



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