By Gary Ritner, Pastor, Hillcrest United Methodist Church, Bloomington, MN
Summary: Because God can satisfy us in ways that money cannot, we are more free to help meet the needs of others. God has given freely and unconditionally. In response, as we have freely received, we freely give with joy and celebration for the love of God in our lives.
Last spring I bought two small geraniums. I took them home and placed them on top of a larger pot with the intention of transplanting them into the larger pot. I kept thinking that I would get around to planting them in a larger pot, but forgot about them for a long while. One day I noticed that one was growing well, but the other was tiny. I didn’t figure out why until a few weeks later when I decided to bring them indoors for the winter. I tried to pick up the pots. The tiny plant was easy, and it was still encased in the small pot. But when I tried to pick up the huge geranium, I realized why it had grown so large. The roots had become deeply embedded in the large flowerpot after breaking through the small pot that had confined it.
Our experience with the Church is like that. We could sit on the sidelines without getting too involved. We could give a little without giving much of ourselves. We could keep as much of our time, talents, and resources as possible for ourselves alone. But, we wouldn’t benefit much, we wouldn’t grow much, we wouldn’t become much stronger. Instead, we would lose opportunities for fulfillment, for growth, for experiencing abundance in our faith and life.
Plant your roots deep. Get involved. Drink deeply from the nourishing soil of the church as a community of people who can help, but who also need your help. Giving is not just something we do for others. Giving of ourselves is something that gives us the opportunity to bloom, grow, and flourish like the huge healthy geranium in my garden.
Sufficient and adequate
Jesus tried to convey the miracle of giving in feeding the 5,000. He sought help from the boy with a lunch. He asked the disciples to distribute the food in an act of faith. Jesus directed the disciples to look beyond their perceptions that their resources were insufficient and inadequate. He directed them to see the potential of those who find God’s power sufficient to empower them for even greater loving action. Jesus helped them to believe in their own capacity to perform miracles of caring. Jesus even now empowers us also to turn away from saying We do not have enough for ourselves or Our budget is too small or We have nothing left to give—to saying along with the boy who shared his lunch: Here, I will share what I have.
If we focus all of our energies upon getting and none on giving, we will never have enough for ourselves. We will feel even more needy. But if we focus on the needs of others and how we can meet these needs, we can have more than we need for ourselves. When we conclude that we have enough to share, suddenly what we have is enough for our own happiness as well. Then the miracle of the loaves and fishes takes place in our own heart. What we have is multiplied in significance. The miracle happens in us by faith.
Matthew 10:8 says Freely you have received, freely give. Our giving is done in response to what God has done in our lives. Each person should give what he or she has decided in the heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. The word cheerful literally translates hilarious. Our giving should be hilarious (or in a mood of celebration). Whether we give of our time, talents, or money, it should be sacrificial and joyful at the same time.
Because God can satisfy us in ways that money cannot, we are freer to help meet the needs of others. God has given freely and unconditionally. In response, as we have freely received, we freely give with joy and celebration for the love of God in our lives.
It is easy to get resources from our pockets to our offering plate, because we are, all too often, tuned into our own needs as individuals and as a church. If we were to join hands and form a circle, we would turn inward, facing each other. A different kind of circle is possible. We could form an outward-facing circle.
Looking out instead of looking in enables us to focus on the needs of others instead of ourselves. It enables us to focus upon our work in the world and not just our own physical plant. It encourages us to stretch our capacity for service when we see the vastness of human need and the sufficiency of our own resources for life.
Facing out was the discipleship that Jesus preached. Jesus taught that to give up your life is to save it. Jesus did not teach upward mobility. Jesus taught outward mobility. In fact, Jesus warned about the downward slope of upward mobility. The church is not in this world to save itself. There are far too many churches whose only goal is to survive, to form circles that look in. The church has become too fixated on how to save itself rather than saving the world.
Gratitude and generosity
The story of creation in Genesis is an expression of the writer’s gratitude for the abundance and beauty of God’s creation. The Psalmist certainly wrote some of the most wonderful expressions of gratitude. Gratitude is as basic to human nature and is essential for mental, physical, and spiritual health. Gratitude inclines our attitude in a healthy direction. When we are grateful, we are focused outwardly and upwardly toward God in praise and thanksgiving, and toward others with expressions of appreciation and love.
Mark Twain said, If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. People on the other hand, tend to forget God after a crisis is past.
We have to believe that we have been blessed before we can live a life of gratitude. We have to believe that we are loved before we can love others.
Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the people when there appeared to be enough to go around. If we believe in the power of God to nourish us sufficiently today, we can also see the abundance of resources in our lives that would enable us to feed others in need.
When we know that we have enough, it is a pleasure to share what we have with someone else. If we believe that we have enough money, we can give generously. When we have acquired the wisdom to know that we can live on less and be happier than if we had money to spare, we have reached a pinnacle of spiritual growth. Those who have acquired such wisdom do not feel tithing and offering is a guilt trip. We feel great about celebrating God’s love by giving our gifts.
Having positive feelings about our giving is a sign of spiritual wealth grounded in God’s love for us. Because God loves us unconditionally and generously, we have love to give and we can give it without constantly counting the cost as something lost. Our giving is not just someone else’s gain, it is our gain as well.
We may be feeling anxiety about not having enough money. By giving to others despite this feeling, we may be able to overcome the anxieties. In sharing, we may recognize more profoundly that we do indeed have enough for ourselves.
Jesus fed the five thousand by the miracle of multiplying the loaves and fishes. Jesus gives to us today an awareness of the abundance in our lives in no less miraculous ways and with no less miraculous results. May we be fed and satisfied.
Believe that you have enough time, and use it for others. Believe that you have enough money and offer it generously. Believe that you have enough love, and love completely.