Risky Generosity

Sermon for June 9th, 2013
Proper 5, Year C
1 Kings 17: 8-16; Psalm 146; Galatians 1: 11-24; Luke 7: 11-17
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid… For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail…She went and did as Elijah said…The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.

 It takes a certain sort of risky generosity to speak God’s word, because it is so often not well received.  Prophets from Isaiah and Elijah to Gandhi and Martin Luther King attest to that truth.

But it also takes a certain sort of risky generosity to trust God’s word, and to act upon it—because it so often defies logic and demands behaviors that fly in the face of fear.

This morning the prophet Elijah speaks God’s wordto a non-believer, non-Israelite, Phoenician widow. He speaks God’s word to this woman with nothing left to give but her very last morsel and everything to fear as a completely powerless, voiceless woman with a young child to support.  A woman resigned, perhaps, to the inevitability of death – but doing what little she can to hold it at bay.

“Don’t be afraid,” Elijah tells her.  “Trust generously and act generously, and in the mysterious alchemy of God’s universe you will receive generously.”

It seems like a risky business.  A risky proposition.  A strange formula for life.

But the widow does, in fact, give the very last of what she has to feed Elijah,

and lo’ and behold for the next two years her stores are replenished and there’s plenty of food for everyone.  It’s a miracle!

Now, I don’t believe we’re meant to take this story literally as an historical account. And far be it from me to suggest that there is a concrete, consistently predictable mathematical formula in which the more generously we give the more generously we receive.

No. You will never hear me preach the so-called “prosperity gospel” expounding a God who rewards charitable deeds with material success or who keeps a Divine Scorecard, meeting out rewards and punishments.

And yet… And yet I can’t help but notice what happens when I see you all trust God’s word, defy logic, and face down your fears by risking generosity.  You do it a lot, often without even knowing, and the results are kind of uncanny. Some might even say miraculous.

I would be a wealthy woman if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard one of you say that when you risk doing some new ministry in service of others –despite your fears—you get way more out of it that you put into it. Am I right? You respond to God’s word in trust—despite your fears—and you are rewarded beyond measure.

In small groups I notice how when you listen generously to each other instead of thinking about what to say next to prove your point, space opens up and everyone is the richer. New ideas emerge.  New bonds of community are formed.  You give of yourself and all receive.

I see you step out of your comfort zone to welcome new people to our church, and I see the broad smiles that appear not only on their faces but also on your faces—smiles that speak volumes for the generous return on your risk-taking.

I watch time stretch far beyond the laws of physics when those of you who are over-committed outside of church generously risk a commitment inside the church—and in the doing discover more, rather than less, breathing room in your life.

I delight every time one of you who’s been praying for someone with whom you were angry tells me how much better it’s made you feel.  Spiritual generosity and risk-taking, healing you of anger and resentment.

In terms of finances, my own experience is affirmed whenever one of you gives more than you think you can afford, and discovers that somehow “the jar of meal is not emptied, neither does the jug of oil fail.”  There’s always enough, if not more than enough.

And if you think about it, every time we invite all of God’s people –not just the baptized—to receive communion we’re practicing risky generosity.  Every week when we worship with those who differ from us – be it politically, theologically, whatever—we’re practicing risky generosity.  Every time we open our buildings to outside groups, we’re practicing risky generosity.  Whenever we use the church’s Alms Account to help someone in need we don’t even know, we’re practicing risky generosity.  We’re trusting God’s word, defying fear, and risking generosity.

The really curious thing is that when we do this—when we trust God’s word, defy logic, and do riskily generous things that fly in the face of fear—we invariably discover that there’s really nothing risky about them at all!  The risk turns out to be an illusion, a fear-based bogeyman.

You see, the call to risky generosity feels scary and counter-intuitive because fear wants us to have a mindset of scarcity—a mindset in which there’ s not enough time, not enough love, not enough money, not enough talent, not enough, not enough, not enough!

But when we risk living generously, what we’re really doing is living in reality—in the reality of God’s abundance—the reality that God and God’s universe is intrinsically generous and open, and that God –in whose image we are made—made us to be generous and open.

You know, St. Augustine once said that miracles don’t happen in contradiction to nature, “but in contradiction to that which is known to us of nature.” It is our very nature to be generous.  That’s why it feels so incredibly good when we are!

To risk living generously may seem like a risky business, a risky proposition, a strange formula for life.  But it’s who we are when we remove fear from the equation and replace it with trust in God’s word.

So trust generously and act generously, and in the mysterious alchemy of God’s universe, you just may discover that you will indeed receive generously.  Amen.


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