Reflections on Gratitude and Generosity

Deuteronomy 8:11-18 11 Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.


Luke 21:1-4 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4 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.”
Jesus talked a lot about money. From all I can gather, Jesus thought people were too dependent upon money and possessions and not trusting enough on God. 
It is not easy talking about money. It gets personal real quick. Questions like, how much do you make and where does your money come from and how do you spend your money? These questions are not discussed in polite company, along with sex, politics and religion. But these are all important subjects. And we need to talk about important subjects. When we talk about money we risk bringing up feelings of fear, guilt, shame and envy. But when we don’t talk about something that can bring up these feelings, then those feelings can go sideways tending to override rational thinking and lead to actions that are not in our or others best interest.
The two scriptures for today speak to this concern, one, the words of Moses to the wandering tribes of Israel, and two, the temple scene where Jesus contrasts the offerings of rich folk with the truly sacrificial gift of the widow.
Earlier this month Pastor Meighan preached about having enough and what that looks like. She asked us, what is enough? The common reply was: enough is being able to cover the basics and then some, so as to share with others. 
I like that answer. But I wonder what we would answer to a different question, What is enough to give to God? 
 When we consider that question, our minds may go to the famous passage  from the prophet Micah 6:6-8:
“With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before God with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
God has told you, O mortal, what is good,
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God?


As beautiful as these words are, there is no mention of what amount of money God requires or desires. The history of tithing, of giving 10% of one’s income to God, does come from the Bible, but it is not a law, and Jesus, while not discounting this practice, criticized people for giving the right amount of money while acting unjustly in the community. Jesus consistently had justice as a top priority.
And still, in the Temple, Jesus observes the poor widow giving her whole savings to the religious institution, even if it was a mere two pennies, and Jesus tells his disciples that this woman has given more than the rich temple goers with all their wealth and power.
What does God want from me, from you? I do not think there is one answer, and certainly not an easy answer. I like to think God loves all of who we are, not just the nice parts. But what is our response to this outrageous and unconditional love? 
To quote the modern gospel song,  “How can I say thanks for the things you have done for me? Things so undeserved, yet you gave to prove your love for me; the voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude, all that I am, and ever hope to be; I owe it all to you.”
When I was in seminary in Maine I was serving a student parish in the deep woods. I went to a meeting with the conference minister and other clergy about something church related. At that meeting the conference minister told a story. He said that a church stewardship committee, much like our Gratitude and Generosity Team, was going over the list of members and friends on whom to visit to ask for financial gifts for the church. They came to the name of Alice Johnson and agreed that she was too poor to offer much and they would not visit her. She found out, and boy, was she mad. She came up to the chair of that committee at the local grocery store and, looking straight into his eyes, said, “Who are you to tell me how much to give to my Lord?”
“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.”
This business of how much we give to others, to family, to church, to the library, to the food bank, to a missionary, and so on, this business is unique and not dictated by church leaders or government officials, except for the IRS. And while the particulars will be unique, there are generalities which are tried and true. One of the most important of these generalities is highlighted in our lesson from Deuteronomy.
When you have received all these blessings, your life, your families, your freedom, your livelihood, your dwelling place, your traveling opportunities, your (fill in the blank), do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is God who gives you power to get wealth, so that God may confirm God’s covenant that God swore to your ancestors, as God is doing today.
Being grateful and being generous are primary faith activities. How grateful and how generous we are is for each of us to decide and our decisions will change and they will be affected by the circumstances in our lives. But I want to add something into the decision making process, and that has to do with the concept of sacrifice. When we think of sacrifice, what comes to mind? Often it has to do with loss or pain, even death. While the word sacrifice is often used that way, it has a deeper meaning which can help us in answering the question of what God wants from us. The etymology of the word sacrifice is to set apart for a holy purpose - literally, to make sacred. We are holy, in the eyes of God. We give of ourselves some of that holiness to holy purposes, to the church, and to other places where we desire there to be holiness. The poor widow was making a sacrifice. She was risking much but she desired to show her devotion in a substantive way, a way that honored the holiness in herself and the holiness of God.
This past year the Gratitude and Generosity Team has met by Zoom monthly to discern how we can affirm gifts of members, looking for ways for all of us to express gratitude for one another and encouraging generosity of finances and services to Prospect. It was unsaid but at the heart of all our discussions and our ideas was this goal: to help the whole church remember from whom we have received all we have. It is all gift and for this we are truly grateful. Amen.

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