My sister-in-law, Betty, sent me an email Tuesday and another on Wednesday. The topic: shoes, size 7 1/2. In the first email, she asked me what size shoe I wore. In the second email, she explained why she asked me what size shoe I wore. Two emails and all about gifting me with a pair of very nice walking shoes that didn’t quite meet the needs of my nephew…who also wears a size 7 1/2 shoe. It’s nice to receive a gift, and this one is quite generous.
So, I started thinking about gifts. What does it mean to live generously…as Paul states in his letter to the Corinthians, to give out of one’s abundance to meet the needs of another? Now Paul didn’t have an easy time of it. Among Christians, he was viewed with suspicion and rightly so. He had, after all, persecuted the early church until his own conversion on the road to Damascus. Secondly, Paul advocated the inclusion of Gentiles without first making them Jews. The community Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to help, which was run by James and Peter, was probably the most distrustful of Paul’s past and his views, yet it was a church that surely needed the generosity and help of the more affluent church in Corinth.
Paul does one more thing in his letter to the Corinthians, which could grate on their sensibilities. He pits the poverty of the generous, giving Macedonian church against the wealth and means of the church in Corinth calling the Corinthians to follow the model given to them by their poorer brothers and sisters. Recently, at Annual Conference, I shared my Friday night supper with the folks from the Nicaraguan Covenant. One of the presenter is a woman from Spain who many years ago relocated to Nicaragua and has been living and working in the country ever since. Rosa has committed her life to the people of Nicaragua. She’s in her 70’s. I met Rosa many years ago on a mission trip to the country. She offered her home and her hospitality to our little group of 7 ministers and fed us the most delicious pineapple taken right from the tree in her backyard. I’ve since discovered that the house where we met and visited with Rosa wasn’t hers. She was staying in it enjoying and appreciating the gift of hospitality she received from another.
Rosa spoke for several minutes but what caught my attention was her declaration that she would never return to live in a 1st world country, like Spain or the United States. When asked why, her response was telling. Paraphrasing her answer, she said, “These countries have so much but they lack a sense of generosity. In poor countries, the people learn to share the little they have with others.” I could attest to the validity of this comment. On my trip, I had seen and experienced it. Visiting with one family, sharing their supper, my companion and I were given the largest pieces of meat provided in that simple meal. There wasn’t much meat but we were given a substantial portion in comparison to the family of five who shared what was left. I remember how hard it was to swallow that precious gift of meat…Nicaraguans don’t often eat so richly but this family had guests, us and they wanted us to enjoy abundance even in the midst of scarcity.
There was another example of generosity, which we heard about from one of our many guests who came to spend time with us at Casa Amanecer, the house where we lived. One of the women, a professor had lost her car to a thief. In 1996, to have the means to own a car was rare and those with cars would make them available to the many without in order to transport to doctors, hospitals, and other places. This woman had been a support to many and had used her car generously. The loss of a car in this very poor country was a catastrophe. There was no anti-theft insurance so replacing a car without it would be astronomically expensive and beyond the means of even the wealthiest in the country, wealthy being a relative term. But, immediately, the university and its community as well as the surrounding villagers began to collect coins to help the professor purchase another vehicle. It would take awhile but the generosity of those with little would insure that, at some point, the woman professor would be able to give again out of her abundance.
It’s not much of a stretch to imagine the shared supper we call Holy Communion as an example of what it means to live generously. We only get a small piece of bread, a symbol of a body first given for us and broken for our healing and salvation, a small sip of juice, a sign of Christ’s life blood poured out on our behalf, both a symbol of a life lived generously. It’s an invitation to us to pour ourselves out for others, to give out of our abundance to those in need, to, as commentator John McFadden puts it, to let go of our fear “replacing fear with trust, [which] is the transformation of all.” There is little room for fear in the closing words of this morning’s reading. “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” Just enough, just enough for all of us. What more can we want?” Amen.