AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
A 3-Minute Read
T charts. Debits on the left, credits on the right. Supply and demand. P&L. These are a few terms I learned when I was employed as a financial secretary. Everything in the accounting world is very black and white; formulas abound, and I thanked God pretty much daily that my computer was able to do the hard math.
This past Sunday, Andy Culp talked to us about the hard math of budgets and expenses, including his own coming of age into the world of his parents’ finances. I felt a twinge of jealousy, as I’d not had such an initiation. Imagine my consternation when I began bouncing checks as a freshman in college. It was a steep learning curve, and I was grateful to have my parents as a backstop while I learned. Hard math (but at least I had a handheld calculator!).
Not long after those collegiate lessons in real-world finance, I began to learn about God’s economy. “Give generously and generous gifts will be given back to you, shaken down to make room for more. Abundant gifts will pour out upon you with such an overflowing measure that it will run over the top! Your measurement of generosity becomes the measurement of your return.” (Luke 6:38 TPT) I was living on a shoestring – actually, on the generous support of others as I served on a campus ministry staff – but, being an inveterate rules follower, I was careful to tithe to the penny out of every paycheck. This was much more an act of obedience meant to avoid punishment than any sort of cheerful giving. God, as he is wont to do, surprised me. Even in my meager circumstances, my staff account routinely exceeded what I’d planned. My financial team, many of whom didn’t really know me well, gave more than abundantly to support the work I was doing. I began to get a sense of that “overflowing measure,” of the “abundant gifts.” This economy didn’t fit the principles I’d recently learned governed my checking account. And from the kindness extended to me by my supporters, I began to see that those abundant gifts weren’t limited to money. Generosity of spirit was in play as much as dollars donated.
On Sunday, Jordan laid out some key principles of God’s other-worldly economy. E.g., the more we see the world through the eyes of God’s abundance, the bigger the world seems to become; if, instead, we try to hold on with white-knuckled grip to what we’ve received and withhold from others what we could share, we end up withholding from ourselves. The world becomes a tight, cramped, scary space.
Jesus made clear that these are principles that not only apply to our use of resources but to life in general. Luke 6 is chock-full of his system of giving and receiving: “…Love your enemies and does something wonderful for them in return for their hatred” (v. 27). “When someone curses you, bless that person in return. When others mistreat and harass you, accept it as your mission to pray for them” (v. 28). And on it goes. He upends the black and white, tit-for-tat, hard math system and lays out a new plan.
Jesus’s strategy has profound implications for us individually and for us as a community; for instance, if withholding characterizes our lives, we’ll reap the bitter fruit of fractured relationships with others and soul-sickness in ourselves. But Jesus said that there’s room for us all in God’s care. He forgives us because his Father is merciful; he invites us into the culture of mercy. His economy is marked by generosity woven throughout the fabric of life – finances, relationships, even time.
Jesus is always inviting us into the cruciform life, the life lived with arms outstretched. It goes against “common sense” that the more we give away, the more we’ll receive. But living with outstretched arms opens our hearts up to each other, to the community around us, and even to ourselves, allowing us to breathe deeply and feel the inrushing of God’s abundance. Every breath is, after all, a grace note from above.
Jordan prompted: What would it look like for us to increasingly be a people of generosity – in relationships, in our time usage, in our finances? What does it look like to let go of a scarcity mentality and participate by faith in what God is doing? Do we really believe that there IS enough in a world under the control of a good God? What, exactly, would it look like to be a cheerful giver? No easy formulas to plug in here. These are essay questions, not equations. I’m eager to see how we work out the answers in our Parish community.
Isn’t it a mercy that we’re not ultimately stuck living in a system based on a T chart or a P&L? While such tools have their place, God invites us daily to take advantage of his superseding, rule-bending economy based on his ever generous heart. Here’s to leaving the hard, earthly math to the accountants and to living lavishly in God’s bounty, open-armed and open-hearted to him, to ourselves, and to each other, receiving that measure that’s shaken down and overflowing, running over the top – and with still room for more.