by Joy McDonald Coltvet
Kindness is like a garden of blessings and almsgiving endures forever. (Sirach 40:17)
Somewhere along the way, I learned that when you invite guests to your home, you must clean until everything sparkles and serve more food than the guests could possibly eat. This can make the idea of inviting others’ over intimidating enough to skip. It’s expensive. It’s hard. But then we find ourselves out of the practice of giving, sharing what we have, with little cultivated community.
I’ve also experienced a different model. One friend and I had an agreement: neither of us had to clean to have each other over. Then other friends showed my friend and me how to make something from what seems like nothing. We ate at a friend’s place on a weeknight. Though the bowls were small, everyone actually had more than enough. Afterward, we picked a small brown bag of apples from the backyard tree and used them to make apple pies and apple crisp for 15 people on the weekend.
This second model is the one the Scripture points us toward—reaching out with kindness, sharing our gardens, cultivating friendship. As we share them, we recognize that we have more than we realized, more than enough to be thankful for.
This is the wisdom behind almsgiving, a practice of giving without expectation of something in return. Generosity may benefit another person, but even more, it benefits the giver. When we give, we remind ourselves that we have more than enough to share—even if by cultural standards, it seems like so little. Generosity changes our understanding of the current economic challenge so we can see it a new way.
The wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving.
( Psalm 37:21 )
These are tough words in a culture of credit cards. But more than a cultural critique, the psalmist sings to change a mindset. Do I sense that I am entitled to whatever I want whenever I want it, without thinking of the other? Or do I keep noticing God’s gifts (even in times of economic downturn) and creatively imagine how I can be generous? Or am I a complicated mix of these mindsets? Probably, most of us are a mix. The Holy Spirit keeps calling us to move toward righteousness, so that we might be in our “right” mind, so that we might taste the joy of giving.
Offer unto God a sacrifice of thanksgiving. (Psalm 50:14 )
Years ago, I sang this psalm in a choral setting. It was just after my grandmother had died. These words were my only prayer during those days, when in my grief, I stopped going to worship. I kept singing, though, even when it didn’t seem possible to give thanks. “Offer unto God a sacrifice of thanksgiving . . . ” It is not always easy to give thanks.
“. . . unto the Lord, unto the Lord.” I can still hear the choir singing those words in rich harmony. It comes to mind and evokes deeper faith, gratitude, and peace. Now, I can see the blessing of God in giving me that comforting and challenging song to sing over and over throughout that season.
. . . for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. (2 Corinthians 9:12 )
Material abundance is by no means everyone’s daily reality, particularly in these tough economic times in this country and globally. Yet, the writer to the Corinthians promises that God is able “to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly . . .” (2 Corinthians 9:8). God is able. How might we participate as God’s hands and feet—as God’s body—in this abundant distribution?
It’s a very little thing, but I was excited to learn that my daughter’s school collects plastic bottle caps. You know—the ones that need to be removed before bottles go into recycling. I’m not sure how they will be used, but it was one thing that made me think, “I can do that!” One less thing in the garbage, instead put to good use.
This is how the Spirit works, giving us opportunities big and small to notice how God supplies us in our need—and not only our need—but overflowing into circles far beyond us.
The Rev. Joy McDonald Coltvet is pastor at Christ on Capitol Hill in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She has also served in congregations and other settings in Chicago and the Milwaukee area. Joy has a Doctor of Ministry in Practical Theology: Spirituality (Spiritual Formation), and is filled with wonder frequently.
1. What are your own barriers to giving?
2. When has it been hard to say thanks?
3. What has been one of your most creative gifts?
4. When have you experienced unexpected generosity?