July 3, 2012

Becoming Generous

I sat behind a Daddy and his three children at church last Sunday.  Mother was away at a professional meeting, so he undertook single-parenting for a few days with young children, a girl and two boys.  Suffice it to say, that pew was busy.  The high point of the service (at least for this observer) was when the offering was taken.  Watching these kids scramble for their money, scrawl on envelopes, ask for change from the offering plate, and generally amuse the ushers and other nearby congregants was a grand experience.  I applaud this early training in the importance of giving.
Filling out an envelope on Saturday evening was a regular ritual in my childhood.  Not only was "bringing an offering" an expected responsibility, but so was bringing a Bible, staying for church, inviting friends to Sunday School--all measures of growing in faith, a rather competitive form of spiritual formation.  Yet, seeds for stewardship were sown early on.
The Apostle Paul offers an extended exhortation in Second Corinthians 8:7-15 about the importance of generosity.  Evidently the church had begun taking an offering for the relief of suffering Christians in Jerusalem, but the effort had languished.  Forthrightly he urged: "now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means" (v. 11).  He is talking about becoming generous.  It is not enough simply to give--one must do it with enthusiasm, with eagerness (which means "full of keen desire.")  The amount matters less than the attitude with which one gives, "for if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has--not according to what one does not have" (v. 12).
Recently Hardy Clemons offered a profound reflection on the joy of being in partnership with God in the disposition of our resources.  He quoted a friend who said: "We should not give until it hurts.  Why not give until it feels good?"  The tithe is not the goal, but the starting line, Clemons suggested.  He was calling us into deeper awareness of the abundance that God showers upon us and the appropriate response.  Like the Apostle, Clemons understands that reciprocity and care among Christians--and beyond--is a critical part of maturing faith.
In a recent book, The Juvenilization of American Christianity by Thomas Bergler, the case is made that the church's attempts to "entertain youth" in hopes of retaining their participation in church has had the effect of stunting growth in matters of leadership, including responsible stewardship.  We do not expect juveniles to carry all the freight for their activities at school or church; however, allowing persons to remain in the immature posture of depending upon others to foot the bill continuously robs the church of much needed resources--human and financial.
How grateful I am for generous persons who help sustain Central's mission!  Donors giving "according to their means" help make theological education within reach for our students.  If Paul were around, he would commend you for what has been done in the past and urge completion of the task.  Generosity is a transformative spiritual practice and sows an enduring legacy--and feels good.
Molly T. Marshall
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