Make us Generous

It’s a quiet September morning. It has taken all my energy and stamina, but I have loaded up a toddler and my very pregnant self into a car and driven a half hour to a church building full of women I have never met before, praying that my very obvious pregnant stomach will act as a buffer for my awkwardness around people I don’t know.

I have braced myself for sympathetic smiles and circles from which I am excluded and less-than-enthusiastic welcome for my daughter, who has never been away from me before and doesn’t actually fit into the appropriate age category.

After all, I am new here and this is a church.

I am met by something much different from my expectations. I am welcomed. My child is welcomed. And over the next 9 months, that welcome continues to grow to include my new baby for whom there technically is no class, but somehow always is someone willing to hold her.

It has been a year, I now bundle up my two toddlers, load them and my (very non-pregnant) self into the van and drive the ever-so-worth-it 30 minute drive to my Bible Study. Our Bible Study. The anticipation grows, and I am greeted and greet others by name, gather in that familiar circle, and our leader smiles warmly and begins to pray. Her words strike me deep in the heart, between deep breaths and the smell of fresh coffee.

“May we be generous…”

Generous? At first I assume she is referencing the offering envelopes we pass around the circle each week. And then I listen again, and I hear what she is saying. I hear what the Lord is saying.

“May we be generous as we share with one another.”

Her prayer is that we will share generously the truth that has been generously shared with us, that the grace extended to us we will freely extend to one another.

I wipe a tear from my eye and lift my head, eager to share with these women who have become such a welcoming place for me.  Eager to receive all the Lord has for us this morning.  Eager to be generous.

For me this is a place where it is easy to be generous. Where I walk in feeling like I’m brimming with insight and joy and expectation, and leave just as full as ever I walked in, full of new insight and joy and anticipation.

Another day, I sit in a different circle, and my heart breathes that prayer quiet, Lord make me generous. Here it is not so easy. Here I do not always leave feeling affirmed and encouraged. Here I often feel misunderstood and marginalized.  It is not easy to be generous.

Weeks later, I sit in my living room alone and feel that familiar pang. The sting of being misunderstood and alone. That homesick longing for “my people” rises in my heart and I’m tempted to wish those if onlys.  And the Lord reminds me again that he can make me generous.

He, the very same God who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also along with him graciously give us all things?

Jesus. Very God of Very God.  The God who became a man and gave himself for us and for our salvation.

Generously.

Though he was misunderstood and marginalized.

Accused and brutally murdered.

Generously. Gave Himself.

And while the pang is still fresh in my heart, while my eyes still feel the sting of tears as I think of familiar people and comfortable places, I feel his hand gentle around mine, carefully prying clenched fingers open. The generous king making me generous.

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Therefore I tell you…

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

I used to think of this passage as nice words of comfort, as in, “Lindsey, you don’t have to worry…”  Lately, though, our pastor has been challenging us to read larger sections of biblical text and to look to the surrounding text for information.  As I read through this section of Matthew on a Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but notice what comes before it:

“…Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…”

“…If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light…”

“…You cannot serve God and money…”

Read in light of these statements, it seems impossible to view the “do not worry” passage as a nice encouragement intended to help us sleep well at night.  Instead, I think that Jesus is giving us a warning.  A warning that is related to what has been quoted above because he begins it by saying “Therefore.”  The reasons Jesus gives for not worrying (life is more than food, you can’t add hours to your life, God knows your need) relate back to what has been said in the section before this passage.

“Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes?”  When we are anxious, our vision becomes small.  Jesus is reminding us that when we worry, we necessarily reduce meaningful things to their most insignificant elements and choose to fill our eyes with darkness rather than with light.  The preceding verses tell us that if our eyes are filled with darkness, our whole bodies will be also.  Anxiety so narrows our focus that we can’t see the good of God’s will, the light of his glory.

“Which of you by being anxious can add an hour to his span of life?”  Worrying doesn’t add to life in the Kingdom, it subtracts.  It doesn’t produce, it wastes.  In Luke, Jesus follows this question by  saying, “since you cannot do this little thing…”  With this gentle reminder that our worrying is ridiculous in light of God’s power, Jesus encourages us to spend our time and our energy on the Kingdom, not on ourselves.

“The Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly father knows you need them all.” Jesus tells us that seeking these things is for people who don’t know God.  Self-centered worry devours the lives of those who have no hope, but it should not be so with us.  Jesus invites us to find our treasure elsewhere because he knows that a heart set on self-preservation will never be satisfied.

At this point, the warning becomes evident: when we worry, Jesus is saying, we automatically set our thoughts, hearts, and energies on something that narrows our vision, subtracts from our lives, and divides our attentions.  We set our sights, our hopes, our thoughts on ourselves.  We set ourselves up as kings of little castles and we try to preserve them.  We choose to seek our own kingdom rather than seeking God’s kingdom.

Jesus invites us to a better way. “Seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”  He invites us to find our treasure in the kingdom so that our hearts will be there, too. To fill our eyes with his goodness, set our hearts on his glory, and put our hands to his service even in the unknown, especially in the unknown, and find that the Lord is able to do so much more than we had ever hoped or imagined and that his glorious will goes so far beyond our plotting and planning.