Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43
“Now as you excel in everting – in faith, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you – so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.” – 2 Corinthians 8:7
Have you ever been overwhelmed by generosity?
I have experienced overwhelming generosity a number of times throughout my life, but the most vivid example I remember is when my family and I were visiting Sri Lanka in the winter of 2004.
We arrived in Colombo after a long flight, on the afternoon of Christmas Day. Due to the fact it was the Christmas holidays my father had been unable to secure a room in a hotel along the beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka’s southern cost and so we were scheduled to spend a week up river at an Ayurvetic Resort.
On Boxing Day, December 26th, we woke up had breakfast and began enjoying a relaxing post travel day of lounging by the pool. Around mid-morning there was a commotion amongst the staff of the resort as a number of them ran toward the river laughing as the river which ran along the resort was flowing in the wrong direction.
It wasn’t until later that morning, close to lunch time, that we heard the reason for such a strange occurrence, Sri Lanka – along with much of the Indian Ocean had been battered by a devastating Tsunami leaving a path of chaos and destruction throughout the country.
As the country reeled from the devastation of the Tsunami, my family along with every tourist in the country at the time, was left with the decision of whether to stay or try to get out. We didn’t want to be in the way – staff members at the resort had lost contact with family members, the country was reeling as aid needed to reach the worst affected areas and yet the locals insisted that we stay, they insisted that we continue to enjoy the vacation we had planned.
Our family ended up staying the full two weeks we had planned, and the generosity and hospitality shown by everyone we encountered all over the small country was truly overwhelming. Even in their time of greatest need and national tragedy, the people of Sri Lanka we’re the most gracious, caring and hospitable hosts that you could hope for.
We would have forgiven them if they had been distracted, if they had been entirely focused on the needs of their local people – and they certainly were focused on them – but wherever we went were struck by an open and loving welcome that has remained in my heart and mind over these past 14 years.
This kind of overwhelming generosity is at the heart of both our reading from the 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and the reading from the Gospel of Mark which we heard this morning. And invites us to ponder what it means for our church to be shaped by overwhelming generosity – and how that impacts our invitation into the life and love of God that we have come to know in Jesus.
In our reading from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is presented with a request from Jairus, the head of the local synagogue, whose daughter is deathly ill and is dire in need of healing. His journey is derailed somewhat when a long-suffering woman touches his cloak in the crush of the crowd seeking for healing after 12 years of affliction. Jesus defies his disciples cynicism and seeks out the woman, when he finds her calms her fear and sends her away in peace, telling her that her faith has made her well.
In the meantime, Jairus’ daughter seemingly dies and members of Jairus’ house come to dissuade Jesus from coming, since there wouldn’t be any point – instead Jesus persists and amidst laughter and scorn comes to Jairus’ home and brings her back to life.
In both the healing of the woman and the raising (or healing) of the little girl, Jesus demonstrates an overwhelming generosity of his love and power even in the face of opposition and cynicism.
In his interaction with the woman Jesus takes away her fear and apprehension, and comforts her assuring her of her freedom from a debilitating sickness, he sends her away in peace. He gives of himself and his time even as his disciples and the crowd are urging him onward, he doesn’t take offense at her audacity, in fact he lauds her and heaps praise upon her. One can imagine how overwhelmed the woman would have been, to have become before Jesus fearful and trembling and sent away restored, sent away with her life renewed.
With Jairus and his daughter, again Jesus is persistent with his generosity and love, he goes to the girl even when everyone around him tells him it is futile, he enters into a seemingly bleak situation, and brings light into the midst of darkness, life in the midst of death.
This overwhelming and abundant generosity is part of the very character of God. The very act of sending Jesus to be incarnate and live among us demonstrates God’s overwhelming generosity; the very act of dying upon the cross to restore us to right relationship demonstrates God’s overwhelming generosity; the very act of raising Jesus to life so that we might come to experience abundant and eternal life demonstrates God’s overwhelming generosity.
God brings life and light into the midst of our darkness and death, he brings healing to our long-suffering broken world. God in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, restores us and restores his church to life and health just as he did for the woman and for Jairus’ daughter.
And as we experience the abundant and overwhelming generosity of God, we too are called to live out lives of abundant generosity. We too are called to seek the wellbeing of others even in the face of our own challenges and need. We are called to bring healing and peace in the relationships we foster and the invitation we extend is one that seeks the good of the other, not merely to benefit ourselves.
As a church that means that we need to continue to emphasize – and perhaps even spend more time, energy and money – the ways we serve, care for and share the Good News of God with our community, with those outside the church. We need to ensure that even in the face of our own needs and crises – maintaining the building, ensuring the continuation of our worship – that we do not lose sight of the need for overwhelming generosity, we do not lose sight of our calling to love and serve and share the hope that is in us.
Even as the Western Church grapples with its own tragedy of decline and marginalization, we are called to respond with generosity, we are called to respond with overwhelming love for our neighbour.
May our invitation be generous, may it overwhelm others with our love, may it point people to know the overwhelming generosity of God that we have experienced in Christ Jesus.
Let us pray.