A Time for the Mature

By Nathan Hart

I recently heard a quote attributed to Rev. Ernest Campbell who was the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City in the 1970s. He said, “When we’re young, we climb trees we didn’t plant, attend schools we didn’t pay for, and worship in churches we didn’t build. If, in the Lord’s mercy, we become mature, we might have the chance to plant a tree we better not climb, fund a school in which we will never take a class, and build a church in which we may never worship. This is a time for the mature.”

What I love about this quote is that it paints pictures in my mind. I imagine children happily climbing trees that have been growing in strength for dozens or even hundreds of years. I imagine students in a classroom learning about how the world works but oblivious to the fact that someone else paid for the desks in which they sit. I imagine worshipers in a sanctuary connecting with God but not realizing how so many faithful people gave their time, talent, and treasure to build that church.

I also imagine the light-bulb moments in each person’s life when they realize the sacrifices made by others to allow them to play, learn, and worship freely. Ideally, that realization leads to profound gratitude, and gratitude leads to generosity. When I think of all that I’ve freely received through the sacrifices of those who came before me, I am motivated to give to those who will come after.

The reason this message resonates so much is that it’s a reflection of the gospel. Jesus himself said it succinctly: “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8).

The Bible teaches that the ultimate sacrificial gift is what Jesus did for us on the cross. He paid with his life so that we could be forgiven of our sins and restored to right relationship with our Creator. This most precious gift cannot be earned but is something we receive from Jesus. That’s why it’s called grace. “Freely we have received.”

As a grateful response, then, we are called to live generously with our love for others. “Freely give.” What we’ve been given—God’s grace—is inexhaustible; it never runs out. Because of that, we never need to be tight-fisted or stingy with it. We can look around us at a world in need and we can lavish love and generosity and service to the people and situations who need it most.

I arrived at Stanwich Church in 2011 which was only a few years after the completion of a major capital campaign and construction project. The congregation had outgrown its location at 237 Taconic Road—what is now the Greenwich Center for Hope and Renewal—and was inspired by Pastor Neely Towe to give many millions of dollars to purchase land and construct the much larger facility that we now enjoy at 202 Taconic Road. As a result of that sacrificial generosity, our congregation has had space to grow to nearly twice the size it was before.

As we continue to grow both numerically and in the scope of our vision by purchasing a building in Stamford and re-constructing it into a church and café, I have had the light-bulb moment of realization that it is again a “time for the mature,” as Ernest Campbell put it. Several hundred of our current church members (myself included), were not here when the funds were raised for our current church building. “Freely we have received!” Every Sunday when we worship, we’re on a full-ride scholarship from those who came before.

Considering all this, and being filled with gratitude, we are sacrificially giving for the sake of those who will come after. We give not because of dutiful obligation or guilt, but because we are so filled with God’s love in Christ that we cannot help but love others. We love out of the overflow of the grace we’ve been given. We will never get to meet most of the people who will worship in Stamford for centuries to come, just as the original founders of our church in 1731 didn’t meet us. One day in glory, we will experience the true “communion of the saints” and will all meet each other face to face. What a fun day that will be! A day to give God all the credit for the free gift he gave us all.

If you’re reading this article you are probably the kind of person who gets solicited for money from various causes and charities. Perhaps you’ve grown cynical or understandably fearful because of uncertain economic factors. But if you think about it, everyone who came before us could have thought the same. If they had remained cynical, fearful, and ungenerous, we may never have been blessed by the institutions in which we grew, learned, and worshiped. I’m glad they thought not only of themselves but also of us.

Let us remember that when we were young, we climbed trees we didn’t plant, learned in schools for which we did not pay, and worshiped in churches we didn’t build. And now that we are older, let us remember this simple truth from Jesus: “Freely you have received; freely give.” The light-bulb moment is a transition point, an important hinge in one’s life. We change from being a receiver to a giver, from young to old, from immature to mature.

This is a time for the mature.

Rev. Dr. Nathan Hart is the Senior Pastor of Stanwich Church.

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