A few years ago my in-laws took the whole family on the Disney trip of a lifetime. It was the perfect time to do it. The grandkids were around the age where they could enjoy Disney. They’d be excited about meeting Mickey and Goofy. They’d enjoy the rides. They would enjoy being with each other. We stayed together at a resort on property. We had park hopper passes that let us go from park to park as much as we wanted. We even did the luau at the Polynesian Resort. Basically it included everything we could ever need.
But it took my family time to adjust to this generosity. To be honest, we really didn’t know what to do with it. Our life is governed by budgets and limitations — just like your life, I’m sure. Included in this Disney trip was the ability to get several snacks each day in addition to all the other food we were already eating. There are five people in my family, so I believe we had up to 10 snacks each day we could get, and if we didn’t get all 10, they would accumulate throughout our time there. But, we were miserly with them. We didn’t quite understand how it worked or how lavish the generosity was. We hoarded them.
It was an International Food Festival at Epcot while we were there, which meant that each country in the park had food specials that we could get using our snack passes. But we didn’t realize that we had plenty of passes, so we strategized; we shared; we skipped things we should have tried — all in the name of not wanting to run out. We didn’t trust that we had enough. We missed out on getting so much good food at Epcot or Hollywood Studios because we feared running out, which meant that we actually got less because we didn’t trust that there was enough.
By the end of the trip, we had about 30 snacks remaining, which we had to use before we checked out, so instead of getting nice treats like crepes or falafel, we bought ramen and granola bars at the canteen. I can’t say it’s one of my biggest life regrets, but I can say that it’s one of those times that I wish I could get a complete do-over. It was a great trip that could have been better had we only understood the kind of generosity we were dealing with.
Today we heard the parable of the sower. This parable is about lots of things. It’s about the various ways that people do and do not receive what God is offering. It’s about a bountiful harvest that exceeds our wildest imagination. But perhaps more than anything, it’s a story about extravagant generosity — a generosity that is rooted in the very heart of God. It’s a story that begs us to understand the kind of generosity we are dealing with when it comes to God and to how we respond to how God wants us to live.
When we plant a garden, we plan it out. We get the ground ready by tilling it, by fertilizing it, and by watering it. In essence, we plow and then we sow. That method of farming really is a metaphor for how we approach life. If you are going to start a new business, you don’t just sign a lease and open your doors. No, you do market research. You find the perfect place to ensure that your business will grow. You carefully hire the right workers and stock the right products. In essence, you plow and then plant your seeds.
What does the farmer do in Jesus’ parable? The opposite.
On the one hand this reflects how farmers worked in Jesus’ day, but on the other hand it’s a reflection of the kind of farmer — the kind of sower — that God is. The farmer is more concerned with getting the seed out than about where it lands. The farmer isn’t focused on maximizing market share. The farmer appears to be less concerned about the results than about sharing widely something he knows will be of benefit to the earth. Also, the farmer’s seed bag appears to be endless. Jesus’ parable doesn’t mention that a little bit accidentally made it onto the path, a little bit bounced the wrong way and fell on the rocks, and a little bit got mixed in with the thorns. No, the seed is just going everywhere!
This past week I came across the story of an inventor who worked in earthmoving machinery. He had over 300 patents to his name. He was wildly successful, and he was also committed to give away 90% of what he made, living only on 10% of it. That is, he scattered the seeds of generosity all over, trusting that God would use those seeds in ways that exceeded his imagination. He once said, “I shovel out the money, and God shovels it back — but God has a bigger shovel!”
God shows us a different way to live. God sows and then plows. God sends goodness out into the world in every direction, not strategizing about where it will be most effective, but seeing what will come of that goodness where it lands. God isn’t interested in market share. God is interested in spreading love everywhere — even in the most unlikely places. Why? Because God is generous. It’s at the very core of God’s being, so the question before us really is this: Are we willing to trust God fully and freely to live and love generously?
Generosity is a posture for life. It’s a posture that influences everything. It’s tempting to think about generosity solely in terms of money, but that’s only one facet of generosity. How are we reflecting God’s generosity? After all, God is the one who scatters seed here, there, and everywhere, unconcerned that it will ever run out.
To help us think about God’s generosity, I’d like to offer us three things. The first is this: Generosity is an attitude that has let go of fear — especially the fear of scarcity. What happens to us when we fear? We get smaller. We hunker down. We seek safety. When we have let go of fear, it is easier to live a wide open life. I don’t fear my neighbor…I love my neighbor. I don’t fear the future…I embrace it. I don’t worry about what will happen to my children…I trust that God’s got them.
To use my small Disney example from earlier, I feared that I would run out of snack passes, so I hoarded them. We could have used them and enjoyed them. I could have made someone else’s day by giving my snack to them. But I didn’t. My world got small. I worried. And no one benefitted!
Studies have shown that many Americans spend more than they earn. One survey asked, “How much more income would it take for you to be happy?” The answer was remarkably consistent across all wage earners. 20%. If they had 20% more income they could afford their lifestyle and feel secure. People earning $10,000 thought $12,000 would do it. People earning $50,000 would be able to get on top of things with only $60,000. People earning $500,000 would be satisfied with an additional $100k to meet their needs.
Do you know what I hear in that? Fear. A lack of trust that there is enough for everybody. To flip it around, people who live on 20% less than you do claim they would be content if they only made what you make. The posture of generosity fights against fear. It’s one reason that Christians should be extravagantly generous in how they give away from their lives, and that includes their time, their talents, and also their finances. Generosity is a faith claim that the God who has poured bountifully into their lives will never run out and forsake them. That trust casts out the fear, but a piece of this for all of us is trying to be generous in the first place. So, if you would not consider yourself a generous person, now is the time to learn how to be generous with your life for the benefit of others.
That brings me to my second point. Generosity is practiced in the home but must go beyond the home. I think it’s pretty easy for most of us to imagine how we can share with those who live with us. We don’t go out as a family to eat and then have me pass around the bill for my kids to pay their portion of it, do we? (Although, man, that’s a tempting thought sometimes.) No, we want to share joy and love when we share a meal. It’s fairly easy to be generous within our homes, but it’s the next step to learn how to be generous with those who don’t know you or who don’t depend upon you.
So, have you set up your life so there is planned space for generosity? Have you found time to volunteer at school or church or with a non-profit? Are you proactively working to share your life with someone who is not related to you? My parents enjoy gardening and raising chickens. They do this in part because they love going into the yard in August with no dinner plan but with the hope that whatever they harvest that night will fill them up. But my parents’ garden is intentionally bigger than they need. They are constantly inviting others to come by and — to use their words — “raid the garden.” They plan to bless others outside of their home with their lives.
It’s that same kind of planning that leads this church to give away at least 10% of what people give to us. We believe in the abundance of God’s generosity, and we know that what we have is not solely for us. It’s for the blessing of the world. So, if you participate in the offering later in the service, know that 10% of what you give will go to bless others right here in Grand Haven but also around the world.
The final point is this. Generosity has to come from a place of love. Medieval theologian Thomas à Kempis once wrote, “Without love, the outward work is of no value; but whatever is done out of love, be it ever so little, is wholly fruitful. For God regards the greatness of the love that prompts a [person], rather than the greatness of [the] achievement.” Extravagant generosity does not emerge out of rule-keeping. It doesn’t flow out of force. It comes from love, which comes from trust, which comes from God.
The love of the sower spread seeds everywhere. There was no fear in running out. There was no fear of rejection. There was no necessary return on investment. The sower tossed seed here, there, and everywhere in hope. Some fell on the path or rocky soil or among thorns, and at least for that time, it didn’t come to fruition. But the seed that fell on the good soil? It produced abundantly. Jesus’ parable ends with the harvest being 30, 60, and even a hundred times what was expected. For perspective, a sevenfold harvest would have been a good year. A tenfold harvest meant true abundance. A thirtyfold harvest? That’s enough to feed a village for a year. And a hundredfold harvest? That farmer could retire to a seaside villa.
One of the clearest signs that God’s love has broken into a person’s life is when that person is defined by their generosity. It’s a generosity of self and spirit that spread love with hope to everyone. It’s a generosity that plans to share a portion of what God has blessed a person with. It’s a generosity that shares God’s love — the good news of Jesus Christ — even in the places where it feels like that love will never take root.
So, keep spreading God’s love, my dear friends. Sow the seed of the good news of Jesus Christ wherever you go. You never know where it will take root. You never know where the harvest will produce 30, 60, and even 100 times more than you ever put forth. That’s trusting freely. That’s generosity. That’s the way God works.