“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate in cheerfulness.” (Romans 12: 5-8)
Generosity is a faith practice. It naturally follows hospitality, our topic last week. It involves letting go of ownership and control. Jesus lifted up a poor widow as a model for generosity.
“He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21: 1-4)
Generosity is sharing, but it is more than sharing. It is letting go, and it is letting go with joy. Generosity is living as if everything we have comes from God, and not holding on to it too tightly. Generosity is seeing the need in others and responding. Generosity is going above and beyond what is required. Generosity can even be offensive. The unnamed woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany angered Jesus’ disciples.
“While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was this ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor.’…Jesus said, .. ‘Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’” (Mark 14: 3-9)
Giving is important. It is part of who we are, what we do as Christians. Mark Allen Powell, in his book Giving to God: The Bible’s Good News about Living a Generous Life, makes the point that giving is part of worship. Passing the plate during worship is not simply an inefficient way to pay the bills. With opportunities to pay online, or have automatic deductions from a bank account (all of which do help pay the bills), we can forget that giving to the Lord is an act of worship.
We are an incarnational people. We don’t just live in our heads. Our worship is embodied. We baptize with real, wet water, making puddles and splashes sometimes. We communion with real bread and real wine, which we believe become the read body and real blood of Jesus. We pass the peace with real handshakes, hugs and greetings. And, I think we can argue, that we take seriously that offering plate that goes around as an opportunity for real letting go.
Paul writes to the Galatians:
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA