Last Sunday marked the beginning of Community Spirit’s season of extravagantly generous stewardship. The kind of stewardship that the world doesn’t have enough experience or participate in.
The human world, I mean. Nature herself is nothing if not a profoundly generous giver, a point that is the gentle, steady drumbeat rising from every page of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass.
If you were in worship last Sunday, you heard me ask—and then answer—the question, “When does a life marked by deep generosity begin?”
I pointed to our origin story, the story that comes to us in the first pages of Genesis, where God fills the first human’s lungs with ample, animating breath. A generous life begins with receiving. It starts with the humble awareness that what we have been given we could not, cannot conjure on our own.
This same understanding is highlighted in Braiding Sweetgrass. Robin Wall Kimmerer tells the story from her indigenous tradition in which the first person, Falling Woman, tumbles to earth with absolutely nothing to her name. Falling Woman is met by all manner of living creatures who lovingly tend to her every need and who share their many resources so that she can begin her life here on Turtle Island.
Both stories speak to an undeniable truth. Our lives are rooted in and are a response to having received. Who we are and whatever we have is the result of first having been provided with what we have needed to flourish.
Our scripture today speaks to this, echoing last week’s passage from Genesis.
Again we are reminded that without being given the gift of breath, without welcoming that breath into ourselves, we cannot flourish. Without taking life-giving air into our lungs, we simply cannot rise and grow into the people God has created us to be.
In the Book of Acts, we are reminded that Jesus’ very first followers were waiting in Jerusalem as they had been told to do after his post-resurrection ascension. Like the first human in Genesis, these first followers needed God’s holy breath to animate them. That breath came and filled their collective lungs at Pentecost.
The church remembers that it was when this sacred breath filled the lungs of Jesus’ first followers that they were transformed from a motley collection of believers into something decidedly more, something decidedly different.
This new creation came into being not because Jesus’ friends had a meeting and everyone agreed they would carry on what Jesus had begun. They didn’t forge a compact, take a vote, and then submit paperwork.
No. It was the sacred gift of breath that came from beyond, sent by the Holy Spirit that, once received, once inhaled, transformed Jesus’ followers into the living, breathing Body of Christ.
You and I don’t have to search the pages of scripture to understand what came over these folks. Community Spirit exists and persists because something that we didn’t invent, didn’t schedule, conjure, or arrange for, came over us.
The same Spirit who came upon those first followers in Jerusalem sparked our existence. It’s what gave rise to our distinctive name. It’s what has guided and energized us again and again. It’s what has sustained us in times when the road grew rocky, when what we thought were givens shifted and changed.
Like those first followers of Jesus—and contrary to how the world so often functions—you and I have entered into a kind of community where the lines between us blur, and we experience ourselves not as units of involvement, not as names on a phone list, not as faces on a screen or bodies seated at round tables at the Ute, but as one body, one special kind of being.
Because of this undeniable, Spirit-led experience, we gladly bring all that we have and are to this endeavor. Not for our own gain, not for our own purposes, but for something greater than any of us could imagine.
Years ago, at another church, finances fell short, and we were in a real pickle. A spirit of anxiety fell over the congregation (as you might imagine).
One Sunday after worship, I overheard a conversation between the patriarch and a concerned parishioner. “How many members do we have?” the fellow asked. “Let’s just divide the shortfall by the number of members we have and then ask everyone to write a check.”
Yes, that’s one way to address this challenge, I thought to myself. But it’s a decidedly secular solution. It reflects what the world has taught us so well and so often—pay what you owe, pay as you go.
When the church is at its finest, when the church is at its most faithful, it adopts a decidedly different ethos. We see this today in Acts, where after the Spirit breathed itself into those first followers, many things changed. Including how people thought about what they had and how what they had could be used.
Gone were words like “should” and “mine.” Gone were words like “duty” and “fair share.” Gone, too, were the fears and hesitations that so often attend our thinking about what we have when we believe that we alone are responsible for making a feast out of what, at first glance, might hint at a famine.
If you’ve ever been to a potluck in a church where the presence of the Holy One is not just an idea but a reality, then you know what I’m about to say: the very spirit of Pentecost is expressed in cakes, casseroles, and crudites.
Like the earliest expression of Christianity, a spirited potluck is one where everyone brings their very best, and together, we enjoy a table of plenty. The family that just received delivery of freshly butchered beef brings a sumptuous roast. The couple who just returned from Hawaii brings a platter of juicy pineapple. The person short on resources brings a pan of homemade rolls, an offering that is every bit as welcome a contribution as the roast or the fruit because it comes from the heart rather than a lifeless obligation.
When the church is truly being the church, when it is genuinely filled with the Spirit and not just relying on the stale fumes of history and thread-bare determination to stay afloat, when the church is truly being the church, it naturally (and often unknowingly) exhibits a spirit of extravagant generosity.
At Community Spirit, we have seen this spirit come over us so many times that I have genuinely lost count.
How did we even get a foothold that first year? How have we managed to do so much with limited resources? Because you have been incredibly generous. Because you have let yourselves be filled with the Spirit. Because for nine years, our hearts have been overtaken with a desire to be a first-century church in the 21st century. Because we haven’t divvied up costs and asked everyone to pony up their fair share.
Like those first followers of Jesus—people who were transformed from an assortment of folks who found Jesus compelling and were then shaped into the very embodiment of wisdom, compassion, and new life Jesus had held out—like those first followers you and I have been caught up in a most countercultural and wildly wonderful spirit.
We give from that place within that truly understands we are not supporting an entity, we are not keeping an organization alive, but are ourselves the living, breathing expression of Christ in this community and world.
The way we give is the way we live.
This is true in every faith community. When we give from a place of scarcity, when we give from dry duty and weighty obligation, then we unwittingly create a church that reflects these qualities. A church that looks at its bottom line and refuses to dream because dreaming can be expensive. When visitors come, a church like that silently assesses their potential to keep the church afloat. A church that, when it has meetings, makes its first order of business looking at the budget report so that everyone knows whether they need to wring their hands in worry or throw them into the air rejoicing because for this month, at least, the bills will get paid.
This is no way to live and certainly no way to give.
The way the earliest Christians lived is very much the way they were inspired to give. Because they felt themselves to be truly bound together by the Spirit, they gave from a sense of common ownership, from the happy knowing that they belonged to one another and to God. Because of this, because they gladly held all things in common and looked after each other in the same way they were used to their biological families doing, they could give themselves away to a community in need of the grace, goodness, and spirit of Jesus himself.
There’s an old preaching story that goes like this. The pastor climbs into the pulpit one Sunday morning and says to the congregation, “I have good news this morning, and I have hard news. The good news is our church has all the money it needs for the coming year. The hard news is that this money is still in your pockets and purses.”
This is no way to live and certainly no way to give.
When the church is truly being the church, when it is living a life faithful to its origins, when it is chockful of the same Spirit who breathed us into the Body of Christ, it bears a striking resemblance to this poem by Hafiz, a Sufi from the 14th century.
All this time
The Sun never says
To the Earth,
“You owe me.”
With a love like that.
It lights the
This week as you pray over and wrestle with what embodying extravagant generosity looks like in your life, as you ask God to direct your thoughts as you settle on your generous commitment to the church for the coming year, I pray that you feel truly and utterly free. Free to give from a place of unqualified abundance, just as God does. Just as the Sun—and the Son, and the Spirit—do.