The Lake Institute on Faith and Giving explores the many connections between faith and philanthropy within religious traditions. Chi-Chi and I are taking part in their new Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising program and we spent three days this week at the Christian Theological Seminary campus in Indianapolis to complete the classroom portion.
The Rev. Dr. Carol Johnston, a CTS faculty member and ordained Presbyterian minister, led our final seminar this week, titled, "Shaping a Theology of Money". Our conversations centered around the story of Zacchaeus and that of the Rich Young Man (Matthew 19:16-26), moving beyond stewardship, and fostering cultures of generosity. I was inspired by much of what we talked about, but what particularly stands out in my mind is the connection between giving and receiving. We all know it is more blessed to give than to receive, but can people give what they have never received?
Dr. Johnston pointed out that one of the problems of the Rich Young Man in Matthew's gospel may have been that his sense of identity was tied to his wealth and thus he was unable to receive Jesus' invitation to come and follow him. How can we take God's hand if we're clinging to material things which distance us from Him? Thus as individuals and as communities of faith, we have to consider how receptive we are to signs of the Holy Spirit at work. People can't give what they have never received so we must ask ourselves, "What are the members of my church receiving? What opportunities are provided for people to experience the transformational love of God? How do I/we let go of the things which are keeping us from fully participating in God's transforming of the world?"
As Moravians we know the sharing of food is an important part of our relationships with each other; our Lovefeast services as just one example of this. But we receive much more than a bun and a cup of coffee on Christmas Eve; we receive God's greatest gift to us: His son, Jesus Christ. As we receive God's love through Jesus, we move towards greater generosity ourselves; how can we not? If we are sure in our identity as blessed children of God, with many gifts given to us by Him, then we can't help but share those gifts and God's love with others. As Dr. Johnston writes:
"It is in this context that generosity arises- in the context of receiving love poured into one's heart and being received as a child of God and gifted by God with many gifts to share. As we grow in openness and receptivity, we also grow in our ability not only to share what we have to offer with others, but in our capacity to receive what others have to offer us as well. A generous spirit gives freely and receives just as freely, confident in the abundance of God's love for all and the abundant life given so generously by God to the whole creation. For those who have a long way to go in this process of being transformed from living anxiously to living in trust (virtually everyone!), it is a matter of learning from those 'saints' who have been able to go farther along this transformational path, and then trying out, step by step, day by day, ways to practice becoming more generous and hospitable. It is a transformation process from living according to a fear of scarcity to living according to a conviction and experience of abundance. It changes everything."
Laura Watson, Coordinator for Philanthropic Services