"There is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder." Bernard Lonergan

"It seems clear that humans cannot significantly reduce or mitigate the dangers inherent in their use of life by ccumulating more information or better theories or by achieving greater predictability or more caution in their scientific and industrial work. To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it." Wendell Berry

"Do not be afraid, my little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32

Saturday, August 18, 2012

First fruits or leftovers?

Hymns have a way of saying things well.  Take for example the hymn, As Saints of Old Their First Fruits brought, penned by Frank Von Christierson in the 1960’s.
As saints of old their firstfruits brought
of orchard, flock, and field
to God, the giver of all good,
the source of bounteous yield;
so we today firstfruits would bring:
the wealth of this good land,
of farm and market, shop and home,
of mind and heart and hand.
In a handful of lines this poetry, sung poetry, sums up so much of what our scriptures, our confessions, and our Lord teach us about being generous.
                This week we continue our 2012 Summer Forum.  As many of you know, we are focusing our worship and our forum discussions around Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.  The practice we narrow our gaze upon Sunday is extravagant generosity.
                Generosity is, of course, the practice of giving to and of sharing with others.  Hopefully, we do this all the time.  Extravagant is a modifier.  It is a marker of degree.  Is our attitude, “I gave at the office,” or something else?  Something like, “giving is joyful for me, a spiritual practice of mine, a response to God’s goodness in my life?”  As Schnase writes, extravagant generosity “describes lavish sharing, sacrifice, and giving in service to God and neighbor.”
                The truth is that we are always giving something:  time, advice, money, or energy.  But there is also an even greater truth at play in our lives:  we receive so very much more than we might ever give.
                The Biblical example is resolute.  From Abraham in the very beginning, to Jesus and Paul in the New Testament, generous living and generous giving abound.  Generosity is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and it is God who is calling us to give.  When we ignore this calling, we are always left unsatisfied and wanting.  The hymn above though begs a tough question:  are we giving to others and giving to God with our first fruits or our leftovers?  Let us not forget God gave the best that God had to offer:  in the gift of creation and the gift of salvation. 
                The final stanza of the hymn says it well:
In gratitude and humble trust
we bring our best today
to serve your cause and share your love
with all along life's way.
O God, who gave yourself to us
in Jesus Christ, your Son,
teach us to give ourselves each day
until life's work is done.