Reflections on Generosity and Giving

Published on: 21st August 2020

I’m writing this reflection having just finished a Zoom meeting hosted by Bishop Richard on the theme of making generosity and giving part of our culture in our Diocese. Twenty two clergy and accredited ministers shared their experiences, joys and difficulties in relation to generosity and giving in their own parishes. It just so happens that all of today’s lectionary readings focus on the generosity of God towards us and to the whole of creation, and the need for us to recognise that generosity, so that we, too, might be more generous in our giving.

Isaiah chapter 55 invites people, who are penniless, to come eat and drink. The psalmist reminds his hearers that ‘the Lord is . . . gracious in all his deeds . . . you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing’ (Ps 145:13, 15-16). The Gospel of Matthew tells the famous story of the miraculous feeding of ‘about five thousand men, besides women and children’ (14:13-21). In his letter to the Romans (9:1-5), Paul writes of his anguish that his own people have ignored God’s generosity for ‘to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all.’

The imagery of food and banquets runs throughout both the Old and New Testaments and even heaven is likened to a great feast surpassing any experienced on earth. Such imagery would be significant for the majority of people who lived on a meagre diet that was unchanging from day to day. In contrast, those of you reading this today will probably find little inspiration from such imagery. Food is a daily provision, varying no doubt in quality and amount, but an empty table is unlikely to be a reality for you and neither is it for me. Most of us can choose what to eat and when, and being truly aware of God’s generosity doesn’t really come into it.

The story is told of a farmer who purchased an old, run-down, abandoned farm with plans to turn it into a thriving enterprise. The fields were grown over with weeds, the farmhouse was falling apart, and the fences were broken down. During his first day of work, the local vicar stopped by to bless the man's work, saying, "May you and God work together to make this the farm of your dreams!"

A few months later, the vicar stops by again to call on the farmer. Lo and behold, it's a completely different place. The farm house is completely rebuilt and in excellent condition, there are plenty of cattle and other livestock happily munching on feed in well-fenced pens, and the fields are filled with crops planted in neat rows. "Amazing!" the vicar says. "Look what God and you have accomplished together!" "Yes, Reverend," says the farmer, "but remember what the farm was like when God was working it alone!"

So the question I put to myself (and to you if you wish to share it) is where do I consciously experience the generosity of God? If I don’t experience the generosity of God then how can I possibly be generous in my own giving of time, energy and, yes, even money? In the first letter of John (4:7-8), the author writes, ‘Let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.’ In the context of our theme today let me rewrite these two verses. ‘Let us be generous to one another, because generosity is from God; everyone who is generous is born of God and knows God. Whoever is not generous does not know God, for God is generous.’ The rephrasing of these verses is not such an oddity as it might at first seem, because love is at the heart of a generous spirit. It is love that opens us up to be both generous and to receive the generosity of others; in other words, to receive their love in return.

The pandemic, has had a huge financial impact on so many lives, communities, charities, businesses and institutions.Financial losses impact upon the social fabric and care provision in every community. The demands to be generous with one’s giving are serious and a generous response is critical; but how can we respond to each and every one? The simple answer is we can’t; we have to prioritise and decide where our generosity should be focused in terms of our energy, time and money, or a mixture of all three.

What you offer through direct giving or fundraising to your local church is shared between it and the Diocese, because what goes to our Diocese comes back to the parish by meeting the cost of ministry in this place. To that end there is to be a Gift Day on Sunday 20th September in support of all the churches across our Diocese to help them begin to address the financial impact created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you know that God has been, or is being, generous to you, can I ask you to be generous in return? As the following beautiful story shows it comes back to us in the end:

An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing it into the ocean. "Young lady," he asked, "Why are you throwing the starfish into the ocean?" "The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die." "But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference." The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves, saying, "It made a difference for that one." The old man looked at the young woman inquisitively and thought about what she had done. Inspired, he joined her in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.

May you know the joy of God’s generous giving in your life and make it known to others through all that are you are able to give, at all times, in all places and to all people.

God bless,

Revd Mike Catling, Rector, Parish of Wigmore Abbey, Diocese of Hereford

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