It seems to me that that generosity is at the heart of our Christian faith. How? Well I think it’s tied up in the two most important commandments. Jesus said:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12.30-31)
How can we truly love our neighbour as we love ourselves without exercising generosity? I don’t think it’s possible. So, I think generosity is very much part of being a Christian. Much of the Generous Giving Project is devoted to discovering what being a generous Christian means.
But maybe we need to go back a step.
Do we really know God’s generosity as deep down soul, body, mind-knowledge? When we tell our own stories, do they begin with God’s generosity to us? Is this our starting point? Jesus says “Freely you’ve received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). What point then is there, thinking about giving if we don’t first have the starting point of having received?
Getting our hearts and minds around God, who we can’t see or touch, can be hard enough for us mere mortals… But then, we can’t see or touch the wind, yet we can observe its effect when it rustles the leaves on the trees. Perhaps generosity is like that. We need to look for its effects. Where is God’s generosity whistling around in our lives?
For me, aside from all the day to day ways God has cared for me and steered me and answered my prayers since I became a Christian in 2012, I can think of no greater example of God’s generosity than the gift of Jesus Christ. The first Bible passage I ever learned is from John’s gospel, and I personally prefer the King James translation of it:
“Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).
It reminds me of the frankly mind-blowing fact that He died for me, and that I’m his friend. If laying down one’s life for another person is hard to imagine, read some of the stories of Victoria Cross medals awarded posthumously to soldiers in any war from Crimea onwards, including 2 in the recent war in Afghanistan. That’s laying down your life for your friends. Or read about Victoria Soto, the teacher who threw herself in front of her students to save them from a gunman in 2012. Or the three divers who knowingly swam to their death to prevent the 1986 Chernobyl disaster from being even worse.
And if we can comprehend such acts of bravery as these, and the many others throughout history who have died to save their friends, then what about the scale of what Jesus did? Jesus didn’t only die for his disciples, or Jerusalem or even Israel, or even the whole world 2000 years ago. Jesus laid down his life for people who had not yet even been born, but in whom He would live through the Holy Spirit until the end of time. Heavy stuff.
I always seem to need reminding of this gift from God. We need to think about the rawness of it, the crudeness of it, the reality of it. There’s a line from a worship song called Here I Am To Worship, that goes “And I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sin upon that cross.” That line always makes me shiver. I hope I never lose that sense of awe at what Jesus did for me at His crucifixion. And for me of all people! I suppose that’s what I find so amazing about God; that His gift is for me, despite how short of the mark I fall. But that’s Jesus. He’s for us lot.
I think that for many, how inclusive Jesus was, made him a deeply challenging man. He chose to be amongst people that society considered to be socially unacceptable. He touched lepers. He hung out with prostitutes. He healed people that others believed were the very dregs of society. Jesus was a statement of social inclusion. He challenged the Pharisees- the keeper of the rules and laws- and he said God is for the morally fallen. God is for the socially unacceptable. God is for the people who have lost their way.
You see there’s no test we have to pass to be loved by God. There’s no purity exam. Jesus died so that we might be saved. And though we might not be lepers or prostitutes or corrupt officials, we’re certainly not pure either. I suspect that most of us, though we wouldn’t want to say it out loud, feel a bit rubbish about ourselves quite a lot of the time. But as we come together, as sinners at the communion rail, and we remember that ‘Jesus loves me, Jesus died for me’ we know that we are forgiven. As Paul writes in Romans 5,
“Christ died for the ungodly…While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We are washed clean by Jesus’ death.
I think God really does want us to know deep in our hearts the experience of having received. Let’s pray that we come to know, understand and experience God’s amazing gift deep in our lives.