A Dozen Doughnuts - James 1:17-18

Setting:  Person sitting at a table, doing some work, having a cup of coffee.
Enter:  Another person carrying a box of donuts.  Walks up to the table and sets the box of donuts on the table and gently pushes them over to the person at the table.  Person at the table slowly looks up.
Lee:  What is this?
Dale:  Donuts.
Lee:  Okay?
Dale:  Go ahead.
Lee skeptically lifts the lid and looks at the donuts.
Lee:  I can have one?
Dale:  You can have them all.
Lee:  These are for me?
Dale:  Yeah.
Lee:  Really?
Dale:  Yeah.
Lee:  Why?
Dale:  I don’t know.  You just looked hungry.
Lee takes out a donut and takes a bite.
Lee:  That is a good donut.
Lee takes another couple of bites.
Dale:  Well, I’ve got to hit the road.  Do you mind if I just take one for the road?
Lee kind of looks thoughtfully at the box and at the guy.
Lee:  Aaahhmm.
Dale:  Just one.
Lee:  Well, I am really hungry, and I missed breakfast this morning.
Lee takes another bite of donut.
Lee:  Probably going to miss lunch too.  And I was going to take this home to my wife and kids.
Lee pulls the box of donuts closer in, kind of protectively hovering over them.
Lee:  Really, to be honest, they have to last me the whole week.
Lee finishes off first donut…then opens up the box, looks around, takes out another donut, and takes a bite.
What is this?  Donuts!
Some of you may have some questions after this skit.  What does it have to do with worship today?  Or simply, can I have a donut?
The answer to those questions is: Everything, Everything, and there’s too many of us to divide the other ten donuts, even if we could pry them away from Lee.
Take a moment to stop and think about this skit for a few minutes.
Did the person at the table ask anyone for donuts?  No.
Did he order the donuts?  No.
Did he even expect the donuts?  No.
Did he pay for the donuts?  No.
So, I guess we could call the donuts a gift, right?  Yes.

James says, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”
“Every generous act of giving…every perfect gift, is from above…”  Everything we have, every blessing we incur, is a gift from God…a gift freely given to us.  God gave us the gift of this world, the gift of life, the gift of love, the gift of salvation.  Our abilities and talents…our jobs…our income…our homes…our families…all come as a gift from God.  There is nothing that we can truly say we earned or deserved.  It is all a gift, and none of it truly belongs to us.  God gives them to us for our pleasure, our enjoyment, our sustenance…like the guy giving donuts to the person at the table…just because he thought the other might be hungry and might enjoy a doughnut.
Knowing this, what do we do with what God has given us?  Do we forget that it was freely given to us and try to take complete ownership of it?  When the one who gives it to us, asks for a portion of it back, what do we do?  When we consider the contributions needed to do the work of God in our community, what is our response?  Are we like the guy who received the box of doughnuts?  Do we have all these excuses as to why we can’t give to God?
Do we tell God that, although you’ve blessed me in this way I really need to keep all of what you’ve given me because we didn’t have a chance to eat breakfast and probably will miss the lunch?  Do we try and convince God that we can’t give today because we disregarded his earlier blessings and we might ignore the later ones?
Do we tell God that although you’ve blessed me in this way, I really need to keep all of what you’ve given me to take care of my wife and kids?  Do we tell God, you’ve taken care of me, but you might not take care of my family, so I need to hold on to it?
Do we tell God that although you’ve blessed me in this way, I really need to keep all of what you’ve given me, because it has to last me all week?  Do we hold on to what God has given us because we’re afraid that He won’t bless us tomorrow?
The truth of the matter is, my brothers and sisters, that if we would use any of those doughnut excuses to not give to God out of what He has given to us, then there’s a hole in our reasoning.  Either we don’t give because we truly believe those excuses and we don’t trust God, or we don’t give because we are truly selfish and don’t think of anyone but ourselves.
When we realize that all that we have and all that we are all comes from God, then we can trust that just as He has blessed us and met our needs, as in providing food for those when they are hungry, then we can freely return to Him what is rightfully His, trusting that God will continue to provide for us.  When we realize that what we have does not truly belong to us, but actually belongs to God, then we can drop the selfishness, because there is nothing to be selfish over. 
If all that we have is from God, and He has given it to us, why should we have to give it back to Him?  God asks us to return to him a portion of what He has given us for a multitude of reasons…
1) It is an act of obedience…God tells us to give back to him a portion of what He has given us…and so simply because He is God and we are not, we should do what he asks.
2)  It is an act of trusting in God…God gives us what we need, and if we give it back, it is a sign that we trust Him to continue to provide for us.
3)  It is an act of gratitude…we return to God a portion of what He has given us to show us how thankful we are for the abundance He has placed in our lives.
And while there are many more, the final one I mention for us to consider this morning, comes from our reading this morning, is that we give out of our blessings from God, so that we may be a blessing to others.
“Where does it say that?” you may ask.  James writes, “In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.   What does this mean?
What is God’s purpose?  We see that in Christ, God’s purpose is to love, to redeem, to save. 
God gave us new birth by the word of truth…the word of truth is Christ, Himself…the Word become flesh.  God has given us new life through Christ so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
“First fruits” are the Hebrew Scripture language of giving and offering to God.  God’s Law required that the “first fruits” were to be brought to God as an offering.  It meant that God’s people were to offer their first and best to God…the first fruits were the first born of the children (particularly the sons), they were the first of the crops harvested, they were the first of the livestock given birth to…the “first fruits” were the best of the best…and were given to God first, before provision for oneself.  “First fruits” were seen as a blessing…and as we move into the New Testament, we see that idea continued as Christ is referred to repeatedly as the “first fruit,” that which God has offered forward for the salvation of the world.
So when James says that God intends us to be “a kind of first fruits of his creatures,” God is saying that we are meant to be the best of creation…we are to be a blessing…we are to be part of the salvation process for the world.  God gives us every perfect gift that we may be a gift offering to the world…we’re blessed to be a blessing.
It is through our giving that God feeds the hungry…it is through our giving that God gives drink to the thirsty…it is through our giving that God gives shelter to the homeless…it is through our giving that God clothes the naked…it is through our giving that God heals the sick…it is through our giving that God spreads the Good News of Salvation through the world…it is through our giving of what God has given us that we become the first fruits of all His creatures…and when we do that, like the perfect shape of a donut, we complete the circle of blessing.
And to be clear, what we are giving back to God is not just our finances.  As I mentioned earlier, everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God.  Our finances are a gift…but so is our time…every moment, ever second we have, is a gift from God.  What we are able to do, our talents, our abilities, our skills, they come as a gift from God. 
When we consider what we are giving to God—it is about offering back to God what is in our wallets; it is about offering back to God the hours he has given in our watches and the days he has given us on our calendars; it is about offering back to God the gifts, talents, and abilities he has bestowed upon us, returning them in service to Him.  And it is not an either/or decision—it is not about placing a whole lot in the collection plate so we don’t have to worry about offering our time and talents in hands on service.  It is not about serving in order that we don’t have to put anything in as the ushers come by.  It is about returning to God every aspect of blessing that He has bestowed upon us.
In the coming weeks, we will each have the opportunity to make commitments to return to God what He has blessed us with. 
We will each receive in the mail an estimate of giving card.  This card asks for us to prayerful consider making a financial commitment to this congregation to further and strengthen its ministries here, across the Island, and throughout the world.  It will also ask for a commitment to be in prayer for our congregation.  We ask that individuals and their families prayer over these commitments and bring them back on November 19th to be prayed over by the entire congregation.
There will also be opportunities to offer back to God our time and our gifts.  In the next few weeks, there will be sign-ups posted by my office.  They will present an opportunity for our young folks to commit to times of service as an acolyte, and for our youth and adults to commit to serving as a liturgist, reading Scripture and assisting in worship.  There will also be an opportunity for folks to sign-up to assist with serving Holy Communion.  If I’m not mistaken, Brother Lee will soon present an opportunity for individuals, families, or groups to sign-up to offer the gift of our fellowship breakfasts for the coming year.
Each of these commitments are to be prayerfully made and kept by the power and presence of the God who continues to bless us each and every day…the God who readily said, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the widows of heaven for you and pour down for you and overflow blessing.”[i]
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[i] Malachi 3:10

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