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“Would you like coffee?” is a common enough question. When asked this question in a friend’s home, and with an eye to being mischievous, I often respond, “Who made it?”
It’s not as rude as it sounds. OK, maybe it is rude, but it matters who makes the coffee. People who do not like coffee tend to make coffee they might be forced to drink, which may translate into brownish water and ample offers of cream and sugar to kill the coffee taste. A cup of coffee from a coffee lover, on the other hand, comes generously dark, bitter, and in twin mugs, because coffee lovers never let a friend drink coffee alone. To love coffee is to not only drink coffee, but to share coffee.
Generosity is not limited to coffee drinkers, of course. It’s everywhere something or someone is valued. The rule is simple: Where there is love, there is generosity.
Why, then, the struggle with generosity among followers of Christ?
It is there. And it is often subtle. I’ve probably served in at least 30 vacation Bible schools in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, and it never fails that a well-meaning, economic member of the snack team will set three small cookies on a plate and deem it more than enough for a child’s experience at vacation Bible school. After all, it’s only Monday. Or maybe the fear is that too much of a snack will send the wrong message.
Really? Kids know better than most that generosity equals love and love leads to generosity. If we want children to understand the generous love of God in Christ, it wouldn’t hurt to show the generous love of God in Christ on the snack plate. Picky? Not really. This is one reason why we recently acted on an idea to serve a full meal for kids and parents when they arrive for VBS each evening. Watch a kid eat three cookies. Then watch a kid eat a hot dog dripping with ketchup and the glaze of the mac and cheese on her plate. Like us, they get quite the kick out of knowing someone planned for their arrival with a meal. John the Baptist can have the cookies with his locusts.
Churches regularly face this tension between hard-earned owning and sharing. Churches own considerable real estate in the United States, both buildings and parking lots, much of which is unused outside of Sunday. We are rightly protective of our property, of course, because this property was purchased by people giving to the church beyond their own personal financial needs. Every dollar a church spends is a dollar a church member lives without.
On the other hand, our protectiveness of property from outsiders hardly expresses the generosity of Christ. Our church unfortunately had an adversarial relationship with the library a few decades ago over their patrons’ use of our parking lot during the week. It reached a point where the pastor at the time actually chained the lot’s entrance after Sundays to define the space as church space. Again, protecting property. The church members took matters into their own hands in short order and removed the chain. They clearly did not believe that a fortress philosophy expressed their faith.
To show how times change, I recently pulled up on an impromptu neighborhood yard sale in one of our parking lots. I just smiled.
Jesus offers a liberating invitation on this subject: be generous to others and you will enjoy the generosity of God. Luke 6:37-38 says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure — pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” He will later add such nuggets as “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and “whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.”
Clearly, Jesus saw the freedom in generosity. And He gives the promise that what you grant in generosity will return to you in good measure. It is a delicious offer. In a world where we feel control is so far beyond us, he affords us control through generosity. When we are open to giving, the world no longer looks like a heap of thieves.
At the heart of our faith in Christ is a crucifixion — an unambiguous expression of God’s love toward the world. It is a lavish show of grace and mercy. It is generosity as we will never ponder, much less practice. Where there is great love, there is generosity. And only such generous love could have allowed such a great salvation.
How, then, I ask, can we serve this Christ and not be known for generosity?
The Rev. Christopher White, D. Min., is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Carrollton.