Generousity- living into Grace

The Psalmist sings: 

“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens! 

Praise God, all of you who are God’s messengers!

Praise God, Sun and moon, and all of you bright stars! 

Praise God, You mountains, every little hill, 

sing praises, you fruit trees, every cedar tree sings praise! 

Praise God, you young people and seniors. 

Let all of us, let all of these, praise the Lord!”

How does a peach tree praise the Lord? Do sycamore branches, stretched out to the heavens, heed Timothy’s call to lift holy hands to God “without anger or argument”? (1 Tim 2:8) Do apple blossoms send up a holy aroma as pleasing to God as the incense Aaron once offered on the altar? (Exodus 30; Philippians 4) Do the trees of the fields clap their hands as a wind from God sweeps over creation? (Isaiah 55) Does a walnut buried by a squirrel in winter sprout up through the forest floor to declare Easter’s Hallelujah? (Romans 8) Do the maple trees celebrate God’s creation releasing gold, orange, and red leaves to twirl on the autumn breeze like a million worship banners? (Exodus 26) Do the trees worship best by offering nectar to hungry bees or shelter to a flock of migrating starlings? (Matthew 25) Even in death, trees offer our world their life by becoming a kitchen table or falling to the ground to feed grubs and rollie-pollies renewing the earth with fresh dirt! (John 12; Luke 9) Or maybe the trees worship best by the miracle of transforming our spent carbon dioxide into life giving oxygen? Do not trees worship best by giving themselves over to being exactly what God created them to be: being trees!

“Do the same thing. Do the same thing!” How do we human beings best praise God? Maybe like trees, we worship best by cultivating the image of God planted deep within us! Maybe we nurture the seeds of God’s grace, mercy and love  through our living?  Yes, we worship God by lifting holy hands, free from anger or argument! Yes, we praise God with songs of thanksgiving and shouts of joy. Yes, we grow still and ponder the wonders of God’s creation. However, Jesus cautions that our purest worship is not a matter of our lips but of our hearts, hands, feet, and wallets. (Mark 7) We inhabit praise best by imitating the Creator, Spirit and Christ!  Like the Creator, we can bring light to a shadowy chaotic world.  Like the Spirit, we can advocate, accompany, or comfort! Like Jesus we can wash feet, feed hungry people, offer healthcare, make peace, and offer forgiveness to the angry crowds.  Are we living, moving and dwelling in the generous spirit of God?  What will we do with the seeds of God’s grace?

The Apostle Paul employs the imagery of seeds and harvest writing: “What I mean is this: the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop. (That is farming 101, if you only plant one tomato plant, you will not be able to make salsa for your neighbors.) Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. Don’t give with reluctance or under pressure. God loves a cheerful giver. God will grow more grace in you. You will have enough for every kind of good work. God, who supplies seed for planting and bread for eating will supply and multiply your righteousness. (Paul speaks of giving money to bless people in need, but the harvest Paul promises is not a cornucopia of tens and twenties but a deeper grace, the contentment of doing good, a spirit of thanksgiving, and the realization of righteousness.) You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us. Your service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God. Thank God for God’s gift that words can’t even describe.”   

Many Christians approach these verses with a magical, mathematical, marketplace mindset, believing that if you give money to God, God will multiply your monetary investment with interest. However, Paul speaks of deeper rewards- of liberation, thankful hearts, and a generous spirit. Prosperity theologies forget that Jesus taught that we “cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6; Luke 6) Generosity is a sign of the presence of God but giving to God so that God gives you more money is not generous but greed, and it smacks of a magical mindset that seeks to manipulate God and the universe. Christ longs to do a deeper liberation within us, freeing us from our materialism and the consumptive cravings that keeps us locked in an endlessly striving for more and more. Jesus invites us to make wallets that do not wear out, finding our significance beyond possessions that rust, wear out, or can be stolen. (Luke 12) God longs to give us generous spirits, generous hearts, and generous wallets. God longs for us to live with a generous spirit- a deeper grace, a  basic goodness, a thankful heart, a realized righteousness.

Paul’s idea that you must give generously to reap a generous spirit grows from Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6. Jesus invites us not just to give money to the church, but to inhabit a generous spirit. A generous spirit grows as we practice loving enemies, doing good to the haters, blessing those who are cursing us, ignoring insults, treating unlovely people in the same way that we want them to treat us, and not living for stuff. We live with this generous spirit, not looking for payoff or the reward, but because we strive to live as God’s children. The purpose of giving is not a payoff. Jesus tells us that God is a generous giver, “God is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father in Heaven is compassionate.” Acts of generosity, forgiveness, and love are not tools to achieve recognition, reconciliation, or respect but core Godly characteristics. We give generously, do good and forgive freely and thereby dwell in the presence of God, who is generous, forgiving, and loving. There is no shortcut or magical bypass to Christlikeness- giving, forgiving, blessing, and loving are the tools to harvesting thankfulness, hopefulness, and generous spirits. 

Jesus advises us to not expect repayment for our generosity but do good “expecting nothing in return.” This is a hard teaching and practice- deeply disruptive of our consumer mindset.  Gripped by Boundless Love, we love, do good, forgive, and give generously because we want to strive for goodness, love, compassion, forgiveness, and generosity to rule our lives. We long to become Christlike. The reward is great but slow in coming. The harvest is spiritual, intrinsic, and internal: “you will be living like children of the Most High.” So don’t judge, don’t condemn, forgive, and give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return. Our spiritual liberation is slow work, but the rewards are living-giving. For a Christian, life’s great reward is not money but living into the character of Christ- being who God created you to be: filled with the fruits of the spirit and grounded in compassion, generosity, goodness, forgiveness, and love. A generous spirit transforms our expectations, our character, our hearts, our mindset, and our wallets. Generosity makes us generous. Good deeds make us good. Forgiving allows us to know forgiveness. Loving the unlovely mysteriously grows a harvest of God’s love within us. And no one on earth may notice the slow transformation into a generous Christ-like spirit. It might take years, and if we have been oppressed, abused, or otherwise denied love, the work of grace may take even longer.

I have a person in my life who loves to pick a fight. Maybe you do, too? They love the culture wars and politics. One morning as we sat at breakfast, they waved a newspaper over my eggs and demanded, “what do you think about this?” Now, I once struggled to read, but I learned to use my tongue effectively as a weapon when counterpunching playground bullies. l debated in high school and might even enjoy a good argument. But arguments with this person always end with emotional baggage that you have to tow around long after your visit is over. Years ago during my prayer time I lingered over Jesus’ call to give and forgive while expecting nothing in return. What if I expected nothing in return from this person? What if I stopped expecting them to be kind or loving or generous or even fair with me. What if my gift to them was just love asking nothing in return? And so, over the course of years I’ve prayerfully and at times very intentionally released my expectations. Over the years, practicing being a non-anxious presence has helped me understand that they once suffered terrible traumas. But a wounded dog is likely to bite. So, at breakfast that day, they waved the newspaper a second time, but I did not bite back. I simply said, “I would love to sit here and share breakfast with you, but you know that we don’t agree about politics.” The third time, I paused in a breath-prayer and added, “I brought a wonderful book, if you want to talk about something besides politics, I would enjoy sharing coffee with you, but if you insist on talking about politics I will go read. It’s your choice.” A few minutes later they tried more time, but I decided to stick to love. We ended up talking about the beach and church, things we both love. I hope I have learned to be at peace with them no matter the state of war they might be in. Released from the cycle of expectation, I have not been angry at them in years. I might be again, but I have found compassion, not agreement or acquiescence, but compassion. 

Oh people, how can we best praise God? Grow the seeds of grace that God has implanted in us. Model your life after Christ: live into God’s generous, compassionate, loving image within us. God is generous, compassionate, forgiving, loving, doing good to even the wicked, the slow coming into love, and those stuck in sinful patterns. Oh, friends, let us strive for a generous spirit. Let us become deeply generous people by giving ourselves over to loving our neighbors as ourselves. (Luke 10) God promises a slow acting but eternal reward: a harvest of compassion, grace, goodness, peace and love. God will grow more grace in you. You will have enough for every kind of good work and God will supply and multiply your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Oh, let us nurture the grace of God within growing seeds of compassion, forgiveness, and generosity, so that we might know life as generous souls. Amen.

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