September 5, 2021
This past week, the official “last plane” flew out of Kabul airport, ending our twenty years of war in Afghanistan. I have friends across the political spectrum, so we all had a lot of varied reactions to how it all went. There was anger, there was relief, there was regret, but above it all floated this sense of shocked grief. We were paralyzed: what, if anything, can we do? It felt really powerless to watch as this tragedy unfolded.
But then Annie got a message from one of our friends, a pastor who had served in South Dakota. Sami Johnson—she offered a video sermon for us over the summer. Sami’s husband Josh is a chaplain in the Navy, so they are posted in Rota, Spain right now, and in her message she told Annie that the base was going to be receiving some 150 Afghan refugees. These people had fled with basically just the clothes on their backs, and Sami and others on the base were trying to get basic supplies ready for them. She told Annie and some other friends that she understood the feeling of powerlessness, but that if we wanted, we could Venmo her some money to help buy supplies for these incoming refugees.
Well, Annie and those friends mentioned this to their friends on Facebook and elsewhere, and before she knew it, they had raised over $3,000 to buy diapers, basic clothes, shoes, hijabs, formula, and toiletries—among so many other odds and ends—in this amazing display of generosity. Sami was absolutely floored by people she didn’t even know sending money to help with the relief effort, the incredibly generous welcome they could give to these people who were fleeing for their lives, how people were so eager to find ways that they could do something, anything, for the sake of the other.
The truth is, deep down, we all long to be generous. Even when we don’t have enough to spare, even when our souls get clouded with thoughts of “there isn’t enough” even when there is, even when we’ve been raised to see people needing help as somehow less than, there is always a place in the back of our minds, at the bottom of our hearts, that wants to give something to help other people. It’s inherent in us. God built us that way.
And in fact, generosity is so central to who God made us to be that money—what it’s for, how to use it, and how it can be abused—is hugely central to the story of the Bible. It reveals how weird it is that money is such a taboo subject in our culture, whether that’s talking about how much someone makes, or what we spend it on, or who receives donations of it. But how we treat money is an important reflection of our faith. The Bible is overflowing with instructions, exhortations, rules, and examples of what money is for and how to use it.
Levitical law talks about providing for the widows and the orphans—Bible code for the poor and vulnerable among us—is central to the identity of God’s people. There’s a whole chapter devoted to the Jubilee Year, when all debts are wiped out, property is returned to the original owner, and the whole economy gets a reset button. Prophets from Isaiah to Micah to Amos railed against the wealthy who reclined on ivory chairs while people starved in the streets. Ezekiel pointed out that Judah and Israel’s unwillingness to use its wealth to help the poor was the reason Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon.
And money is the thing Jesus talked about more than any other thing besides the kingdom of God. He pointed out that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom. He warned the wealthy that if they ignored the poor at their gates and failed to be generous, they would end up like the rich man in the story of Lazarus the Leper. He instructed us to give literally everything we own away to the poor in order to follow him.
Paul wrote about how God loves a generous giver, and how every good gift from God is meant to be shared with others. James pointed to being generous with your money as a way of doing the faith you claim. And John the Seer warned the rich that they shouldn’t trust in their riches to save them.
But today we hear from the book of Proverbs. It’s a bit of wisdom passed down through the ages, but it speaks to God’s view of wealth. And in just a few verses, it says a lot about how God calls on us to understand money, and how to use money.
First, money doesn’t make us better than others. Culturally, we attach so much worth to how much money someone has, whether we realize it or not, as if having money somehow makes you a wiser, more clever, more hard-working person. We associate poverty with immorality, as if the only way to become poor is to get there through a series of bad choices borne of bad morals. And because he has to say it, we can pretty well assume people had the same attitude back in the day of the writer of the Proverbs. God doesn’t see it that way because God has made us all, rich and poor.
Second, God takes the side of the poor. The world is set against those who are poor, and too often the rich will find fresh ways of crushing the poor beneath the boot of oppression—whether that’s in poverty wages, or predatory loan sharks, or even something as simple as late fees. God condemns the injustice of kicking someone when they’re down, because when you’re down is when you need the most help from your neighbor.
And finally, and most importantly, generosity is a blessing. Not the prosperity gospel idea that if you sow generosity you will reap wealth, but that there is a blessing to be found in the ability to be generous. When you have enough to be generous, you feel that blessing. When you trust God enough to let go of the fear attached to money, you know that blessing. And when you are generous, whether that’s helping your neighbor at the food shelf, or giving a donation to Afghan refugees in Spain, you can feel it deep in your gut that this is what money is for.
Because God showers us with blessings. But like rain that falls unevenly on the ground, some of us have received more than we can use. What God wants us to do with that excess—and says so time and time and time again throughout the Bible—is to share with those who have less. The purpose of the blessing of wealth is to experience the blessing of generosity. Let me say that again. The purpose of the blessing of wealth is to experience the blessing of generosity. The reason any of us have more than we need is because we now have the responsibility and the blessing to give to those who do not have enough.
So may you be generous, and experience God’s blessing of generosity. May you find ways of giving that shares your blessing with those who have less. And when you experience the blessing of generosity, know that you are doing what God has made you to do, and God is proud of you for it.
Thanks be to God. Amen.