I have been told by at least one person that I don't preach on Generosity enough. I think that this person means, in particular, that I don't preach about financial generosity enough, about how to use financial resources for the glory of God. It is possible that he is correct, for all of the predictable reasons: 1) urging people to give feels a lot like nagging when I imagine it, 2) I don't want people to think I need them to give so that I can get paid, and 3) I love preaching grace. I confess that when I look at a scripture passage, for some reason, my mind does not go to financial generosity first -- even though I have studied and know that Jesus spoke about our money, and our relationship with it, far more than he spoke about other things that we may be more concerned about.
So I have been thinking about how to be more intentional in that regard, and I marked one Sunday of my sermon series, "Children in the Bible," to specifically address generosity. It's the story about the little boy and his loaves and fishes. This story is about generosity, isn't it? The little boy didn't have money, but he did have a lunch, and that's almost the same thing.
But a funny thing happened on the way to preparing this sermon on generosity. Children began to be separated from their parents at our southern border. That did not seem to me in any way about the story of the loaves and fishes and the boy's generosity, until early this week, when I read a story about a woman from Guatemala who has just been re-united with her seven year old daughter after they were separated for two months. The woman had advice for people who might be coming to the United States seeking asylum:
"If you are coming here to seek asylum, choose another country. The laws here are harsh. And the people don't have hearts."
The woman and her infant son had come here just before the zero tolerance policy took effect. After they left her husband started receiving more death threats from the gangs, so he decided to take his daughter and flee. They were separated at the border and her husband will be deported back to Guatemala.
Suddenly, when I looked at the story of the feeding of the five thousand, I saw something different than I had before. I saw the people who are coming over our border, fleeing violence or hunger. I heard the voices of the disciples, saying, "Send them away," because they were certain that there was not enough to go around. And I thought of generosity, although a different kind of generosity.
It's not a generosity of material things: money or food or possessions. It's a generosity of heart, of what we are willing to believe about people, people we don't know. Are most of them criminals, with just a few possible "good people"? Or are most of them looking for the things we all look for: freedom from fear and want, freedom of expression and worship? I know that immigration is a complicated issue, and I absolutely know that not everyone who wants to come here will be able to come here, and I know that our borders aren't and can't be completely open. But there absolutely is a legitimate humanitarian crisis going on in Honduras and El Salvador and Guatemala. What are we going to believe about the people who are coming here? Can we be both strong and compassionate?
I have seen things on the internet that accuse people who are coming here of "demanding citizenship." I know this is not true. Asking for asylum is not the same as demanding citizenship. Citizenship is a long process that immigrants can only enter after several years. It takes a long time to study, to learn the history of the United States. I want to be generous with those who write these things, and believe that they have been misinformed, and if only they knew -- their hearts would be open.
Lately, when I read the story of the feeding of the 5,000, I think that it's about a God who doesn't want to send anyone away, a God who is generous. That's what Jesus wanted to show his disciples. He wanted to show them a God who is big enough, and who has love enough to feed all who come to him, to save all who come to him, to welcome all who come to him.