Pastoral Series

Worship Matters: Hilarious givers

   “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Paul does not say “God loves a grudging giver, God loves a guilty giver, God loves the big giver, God loves a calculating giver, God loves the giver who tosses in some spare change.” And Paul does not say “God doesn’t love an uncheerful giver, God is enraged with a non-giver, God blushes when he sees the chintzy giver.”

Perhaps you never get God’s love, you don’t let it into your self, if you are forever guarding and measuring what you dole out, and if money sits in the best seat at your heart’s table. God’s love frees you to give “cheerfully.” The Greek for “cheerful” is hilaron, as in “hilarious.” Sometimes our giving is “hilarious,” as in laughably small given what God has done for us. But our giving can become “hilarious,” as in being caught off guard by the delight, the sheer joy, and even the hilarity the gift brings to the one in need, and to yourself, and to our beloved institution, the Church.

This is a big part of what I love about Father Greg Boyle (who’s speaking at 6:30 this evening here!) and his ministry to gang members: the joy he exhibits, the joy the gang members discover, and the joy we feel when we overhear his work.

No one illustrated hilarity in giving more delightfully than Brother Juniper, one of St. Francis’s friends, whose joyful exuberance bordered on lunacy. He would give the poor the very clothes off his back. After several embarrassing episodes, Juniper’s superior ordered him not to give his tunic, or any part of it, to a beggar. But soon Juniper was approached by a pauper asking for alms. He replied, ‘I have nothing to give, except this tunic, and I cannot give it to you due to my vow of obedience. However, if you steal it from me, I will not stop you.’ Left naked, Juniper returned to the other friars and told them he had been robbed. His compassion became so great that he gave away, not only his own things, but the books, altar linens, and capes belonging to other friars. When the poor came to brother Juniper, the other friars would hide their belongings so he could not find them.

God yearns for us to enjoy a hilarious generosity. Lavish giving expands the work of God’s church for those in need. We encourage you to get out and meet folks in different situations, in need, in crisis – and to befriend them. But we can’t always get there or be in far-flung places where we’re engaged in God’s work. When we put money in the offering – “You are there.” Your gifts make care for children in our city and in other countries happen. With the offering, we open our church arms wide and envelop many others. As Father Greg Boyle (this evening! Come!) puts it, “Living the gospel, then, is less about “thinking outside the box” than about choosing to live in this ever-widening circle of inclusion.”

He goes on to explain how Christianity “isn’t about saluting a set of beliefs, necessarily; it’s about walking with Jesus and being a companion. And I haven’t found anything that’s brought me more life or joy than standing with Jesus, but also with the particularity of standing in the lowly place with the easily despised and the readily left out, and with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop, and with the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. And I find the fullness of life in trying to, as best I can, in my own way, to stand there.”

When we sit and pass the offering plate, when we sit and mail in a contribution, when we sit and make a stock transfer happen online, we stand with Jesus, and with those in the allegedly lowly places. Worship really does matter. It’s the hilarity of it all, the joy.

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