A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a local start-up church as a part of our Vestry Retreat. (for the non-Episcopalians out there, Vestry = Church Governing Board). I was immediately struck by the teaching series that the church (Restore Community Church) was advertising – “Making Room for Life.” I was probably struck by it because it resonated with a deep need in me to take control of my ever-more-busy life as a priest. The meetings, the sermons, the pastoral calls, the administrative duties, not to mention prayer and the fact that I want to at least maintain the semblance of a social life. There’s something to be said about the power of a practical message.
The series used the metaphor of the rocks-in-a-jar metaphor that I’m sure most people are familiar with. For those who aren’t, this is the story of the professor who uses rocks, gravel, sand, water, and a glass jar to illustrate the point that if you put the large rocks in first (the priorities), then you can fit the other things around them. Making Room for Life was about recognizing the things that are important for our lives and putting those rocks in first before filling our lives with other things.
This particular week at Restore Community Church, the “rock” that they were talking about was “Generosity.” The campus pastor, Josh Jackaway, stated that there are three, not two, types of people in the world: spenders, savers, and givers. He stated that the first two ordered their lives around having more (spenders want to have more stuff, savers want to have more money), whereas the giver orders their lives on giving more. The message concluded with a challenge to the young, hipster congregation to give more of their yearly income to the work and ministry of the Church. To my fellow Episcopalians who were in the congregation that day, this struck them as a poorly time “Stewardship” sermon. Polite and respectful Episcopalians know that we are only supposed to talk about Stewardship in November of every year. For me, however, this struck me a lot deeper.
Last week, at our Youth Retreat, we talked about what it meant to Love Foolishly based on the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” We discovered that it wasn’t just the son who was being “prodigal” (i.e., lavishly extravagant, wasteful), but the Father as well. The Father foolishly gave his son what he asked for and loved him enough to allow me to make a choice about his own life. The Father foolishly accepted the son back after he had blown all of his money searching for affirmation – no questions asked. The Father foolishly threw him a lavish feast to welcome him back and when the older, “dutiful” son refused to come into the party, the Father foolishly begged him to throw off bitterness and put on a foolish kind of love – the kind of love that is open to the reality of disappointment and hurt, but even more open to the possibility of greater realms and levels of love. We also discovered as Christians, we are called to walk in the spirit of the Father, giving all of our selves to the spirit of love.
It occurred to me after the retreat that this foolish kind of love is also a generous kind of love and can only come from a life that is committed to holistic generosity. I think we’ve become very adept at compartmentalized generosity. We give ourselves to service, but hold back financially. We give financially, but restrict our relationships. We give ourselves fully to our relationships with others, but stumble in cultivating our relationship to God through prayer and study. For me at least, I think it comes from asking the wrong question – “What should I give?” In asking this question, we are seeking the minimum acceptable amount. I read a blog this morning that presents another question as an alternative – “what should I keep?” While this question flips the paradigm and normalizes giving, it is still fixated on amounts and thresholds of acceptability.
In the past few weeks I’ve found myself asking another question – “Why should I give?” Why is a deeper question than What. Why gets to the foundation. Why speaks to the heart. I have begun answer the question this way – I give because I can’t help but say “Thank You.” I have been overtaken by the generous spirit of a generous God who was gave us everything and as a result, I can’t help but say “Thank You.” Living generously reflects the abundant generosity of God. It dethrones my own innate proclivity towards selfishness, and exalts God’s calls to give it all away.
Christianity is about the slow surrendering of our full selves to God. The call to be “Holy” is not a call to perfection; it’s a call to surrender. A generous life is a life surrendered to God. A generous life is a life that understands the principal that “all things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” A generous life is a life that has unseated fear and lives in the light of faith. A generous life is a life that has made giving a priority, not an option.
Perhaps this is a poorly time Stewardship post. Perhaps polite and respectful Episcopalians will descend upon me en masse and threaten me with flaming thuribles and verger’s wands. But I want to move generosity past just November, and think about living generously all year long.
Keep the faith, and make it colorful,