Week Seven October 23, 2016
READ: Isaiah 44:6-8, 21-22
Why be Generous?
Why give and give generously? On the one hand, to give generously comes from an attitude of gratitude for the fact that we ourselves have received generosity in our life. I have been the recipient of the abundant generosity of others, family, friends, and some people I did not know that well. Generosity provides the opportunity to give back, to sow seeds of time and treasure in the life of another. We give because we are able. We give because we want to give back to others. We give because we need to give.
Our need to give is not always tied to the fact that we have abundance on hand. Jesus example of the poor widow who gave her last two copper coins away was not a story of abundance but radical generosity. I have experienced elderly women who live below the poverty line on a fixed income respond to a need in the community with that same radical generosity. In this instance, this woman gave because she needed to give; there was no talking her out of her desire. Why give? Faith says we give because all that we have comes from God. It is an expression of gratitude. We give to organizations and ministries because we believe in what they are doing for God and the good of others. Our generosity advances the good that happens. Finally, we are generous because it is an act of faith. To give away a portion of what we have says we believe that we will have enough.
When you seize opportunity to be generous, consider this:
- You honor God by giving to others. The idea of an offering is to express gratitude. There is sacrifice involved which enables the gift to express our thankfulness.
- Do not give out of guilt, compulsion or unwillingly. Give out of an attitude of joy. Simply put, the gift of generosity is tied to attitude by which we give.
- Challenge yourself to give more generously. Scrooge was miserable because he was a tightwad. He was rich yet unhappy. Our joy increases when we risk and give more generously.
Linda and Fred
I met Linda doing neighborhood outreach. My first impression: wow! She talks faster than an auctioneer and because of some speech problems, much of what she says gets past me. I am sure I annoy her when I ask her to repeat what she has said. Her smile is infectious and real. She and Fred have four children and they are forever working on their car to keep it running. Life on the edge of poverty in the United States is a hard place for many to rise above.
Linda was forcibly raped by Fred’s friend while Fred was out doing his paper route. After a difficult time in their marriage resulting from this rape and the pregnancy that followed, Linda and Fred decided she would have an abortion. It was scheduled in a neighboring county. To mask her pain, Linda expressed her excitement that this would mark the first time she had ever traveled outside of our county.
The icing on the bitter cake of pain happened when their two year old daughter fell into a swimming pool and drowned at a friend’s house. In my experience, calamity disproportionately shows up in and around the lives of people living in poverty. There are factors that contribute to lower academic skills beyond DNA like a lack of adequate nutrition, minimal support at home for education and under-resourced schools. Fred and Linda are a second-generation poverty family. Educationally, Linda possesses marginal literate skills. Vocationally, Fred can work but he has few skills so he ends up bagging groceries or delivering newspapers or pizza. It is very hard to break free from the chokehold of poverty.
Questions about faith are never more challenging than when it involves children. Fred and Linda have been coming to worship once every other month before baby Carrie died but that event has left them numb. Before that day, the challenges were getting up on Sundays and having a car that worked. Now it is depression and anger. All we can do is pray, love and care for them as they slowly walk through their grief and deal with life’s questions.
The questions about God and my life hang in the air as thick as the autumn fog when catastrophe strikes. For Linda and Fred, many questions must go unanswered or you risk being trite by saying some unbiblical syrup like “God must have needed another angel.” While we live on earth, Psalm 8:5 suggests that as humans we a little lower than God (the asterisk in my NRSV Bible points me to a note that says an alternate reading is a little lower than “angels.” This makes theological sense in the fact that these heavenly messengers are in the very presence of God. 1 Corinthians 6:3 says that in time we will “judge angels,” or in other words, be greater than angels. These are scanty texts at best as our knowledge of heaven and heavenly matters is minimal. Suffice it to say, we will not be angels as that is not our role.
What we can say with confidence is who God is and what is the very character of God. God is and was and is to come: the beginning and the end (Isaiah 44:6). I am the Alpha and the Omega (the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet) says the Lord God, who is, and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Revelation 1:8). The Lord alone is active in history.
The people of Israel are once again to serve as God’s witnesses to the truth of God (44:8c). Do not fear, or be afraid (44:8a). Jesus announced to his disciples present at his ascension to heaven that they are witnesses to his teaching: that “he died and rose again and repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations,” (Luke 24:46-7). You and I are to be witnesses to Jesus to those we know and meet. To us and his mission, Jesus says to you and me: Do not fear.
What about God as the Rock of our protection? Isaiah 44:8 says that there is no other rock. As a physical reality in the hilly and rocky soil of the Middle East, Israel knew and understood the protective nature of hiding behind and standing atop for safety and an advantage in war. Beyond the familiar teaching of Jesus to build our house and our life upon the solid foundation of a rock (Matthew 7:24). The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with references of God as Rock:
- The Rock of Israel: Genesis 49:24; Isaiah 30:29.
- Rock of Ages: in the cleft of the rock: Exodus 33:22.
- Rock of salvation: Deuteronomy 33:15; Psalm 89:26; 95:1.
- No Rock like our God: 1 Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 44:8.
- Rock of Escape: 1 Samuel 23:28.
- The Lord is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior: 2 Samuel 2:2-3; Psalm 18:2; 144:2.
- Blessed be the rock and God of my salvation: Psalm 18:46.
- Words of my mouth be acceptable to you my rock and redeemer: Psalm 1914.
- Set my feet on the rock-Psalm 40:2; lead me to the rock-Psalm 61:2; 62:2.
- Rock of refuge: Psalm 31:2-3; 71:3; 94:22; and Isaiah 17:10.What lies between Isaiah 44:6-8 and 21-22 is a satire on idolatry in 44:9-20. Second Isaiah 44:21-22 calls for Israel to return to Yahweh who has formed, forgiven and redeemed them. They have not been (contrary to the lament in 40:27c-d), forgotten by Yahweh. The urgent plea of God is for Jacob to come back to his God.
What lies between Isaiah 44:6-8 and 21-22 is a satire on idolatry in 44:9-20. Second Isaiah 44:21-22 calls for Israel to return to Yahweh who has formed, forgiven and redeemed them. They have not been (contrary to the lament in 40:27c-d), forgotten by Yahweh. The urgent plea of God is for Jacob to come back to his God.
Isaiah 44:6-8, 21-22 represents another subtle trial speech by Yahweh, trying to convince Israel to once again return to the Lord and live in his name. An inquest followed the death of Fred and Linda’s baby girl. While there was evidence of negligence on the parent’s part, no charges resulted. Their loss and pain was great. Questions persisted on their part as they tried to make sense of God and human culpability. Finding comfort in the love and mercy of God was challenging. God calls and reminds us that God is faithful and merciful. Like God waiting for Israel (21-22), so too God waits for the right time for Fred and Linda, and for you and me.
- One of the images for God of safety, protection and refuge is God as Rock. How does this metaphor work for you? What other image may be even more powerful for you?
- God is the beginning and the end; the first line of the first chapter and the last line of the last chapter of all of life. Other Scriptures would suggest that God is involved in every line of every chapter in between. What comfort if any does this promise give you?
- As one more trial speech in Isaiah 44:6-8, 21-22, Jacob was to be a witness for God regarding God’s eternal and everlasting nature and care for all creation. As Christians, we are to be witnesses of the ever-powerful story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. How is that going for you? What is holding you back? What are you willing to do this week?
- Linda and Fred have a messy story and much need. To meet them, listen to their story and care for them requires much time. They need to experience the love of Jesus through his people the church. Who do they remind you of in your associations? To what extent can you care for them and be a witness to them of the love of God despite their deep hurts?