Prop 8 in California. The DOJ’s horrible brief defending DOMA. Racism and sexism continuing to divide our community in crucial moments. Transgender people still dying from a lack of proper healthcare. Right now, the SGL/LGBT community in the US is under a time of serious testing. No matter how many goals we meet, we’re still pushed in on from all sides. As our leadership eats itself and our collective energy flags, it really might look like we have nothing left to give. Can God’s grace break through all of this?
It did in the churches in Macedonia.
Paul talks about this in 2nd Corinthians 8:1-7. He holds up the churches in Macedonia as a role model for the church in Corinth to emulate. Apparently they have the desire to give generously to others in need (2 Cor 8:10-11), but are unsure if they can do it. By telling the story of Macedonia, Paul is reminding the Corinthians (and us) that, really, it’s growth in God that brings true, balanced generosity, not our own efforts. And how do we know true generosity? Let’s take a look.
1. True generosity is granted through God’s grace. (8:1)
Humans have a hard time sharing with each other. We tend to take a short-range view of our world, often thinking that what we have right now we may never have again. When God gifts us with grace for generosity, it may come through expanding our vision of what’s possible for the long-term.
2. Grace for true generosity is given during times of severe testing. (8:2a)
Constant, long-term struggle can choke our hopes and dreams for the future. Being ground down pushes us to a stance of responding to things as they happen, instead of creating options for ourselves and others. Grace lifts up our heads and reminds us to look at the stars, not just the ground.
3. Transforms deep poverty into generous wealth. (8:2b)
This verse is not about pulling rabbits out of hats, or making things appear that did not exist before. Yes, God is fully capable of doing that. However, what I believe is going on here is God awakening us to help with transformation. When we can see and feel that more is possible, suddenly we may find ourselves helping others with a strength we didn’t know we had.
4. We’re motivated to do our best and reach even further. (8:3&4)
When grace breathes, everything expands. We can find our voices and ask for what moves us. Our inner supply of grace results in outward expressions of God’s love to others. We can speak with strength and insistence not just for the “right” to be “allowed” in the front door, but to do our full share in God’s work, just as the churches in Macedonia did. And once we have stretched ourselves and know what it is to do our full share, going beyond will come more naturally.
What does this generosity look like?
Western culture, especially in the U.S., teaches some strange ideas about what it means to “really give”. The ideas seem to be centered around notions of denial and self-injury. It even shows up in our language, with phrases like “give till it hurts”. But this isn’t what Paul is teaching the Corinthians.
This type of generosity is, first and foremost, modeled on Christ and His sacrifice. As Paul says: “..although He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9). True Christian generosity involves being willing to enter into the experiences of other people. We can’t see people as full humans worthy of God’s love and our time without bearing witness to the realities of their lives.
Secondly, this generosity is both desiring to do and doing good works. Paul calls it completion, while James refers to it as “faith with works”. However you label it, Christian generosity is EMBODIED. It exists. It’s not just some nice idea we’ll act on as soon as we find people who are worthy of it.
Finally, and thankfully, true Christian generosity does not requiredepriving yourself to help others. My hunch is that this is actually another unbiblical idea that floated over to Christianity from Greek culture in the beginning. We’ve just never managed to get rid of it. Instead, Paul has this to say:
“It is not that there may be relief for others and hardship for you, but it is a question of equality..at the present time your surplus is (available) for their need, so that their abundance may also become (available) for your need, that there may be equality.”
(2 Cor 8:13&14)
Go ahead and read that again. Let’s just sit with these verses for a minute.
So, according to Paul, the true generosity that God grants us when we feel too impoverished to go on has one end result: it brings about equality. Like the widow in the temple, what we can give might not look like much compared to the wealth and privilege of some in this culture. But that’s only if we insist on seeing equality the way the world does: as a switching of who’s on top now for a new group in charge. But, equality as Paul is teaching it to the Corinthians has no such worldly hitch. Instead, the focus is on giving and receiving. This model embodies the truth that we all will be in need at some point in our lives. And so we’re all empowered to give, because then every gift, no matter how little it may seem, becomes a powerful expression of God in motion.
And we are in motion as a community. We’re reaching for what others before us might never have. By finding our voices, the dominant culture around us has been forced to define themselves and how they see us, no matter how insulting we may find it. As some come out and experience the full life that freedom gives, then there is abundance to share with those still impoverished by the chokehold of the closet. Our lives are daily proof of the ever-expanding horizons of grace.
So let us not buy into the heterosexist, transphobic, patronizing notion that “all” we bring to the table of faith is a deeper understanding of sexuality and our bodies. If our expression of God were solely concentrated in the physical, we would be a sadly limited group of people indeed. When religious people persist in focusing only on our bodies and not our faith, then erasing us from the Kingdom of Liberation that Jesus brings to all is safe for them to do.
We cannot afford to buy into the limited perception of our humanity that is rampant in the dominant culture. Our lives and the lives of those around us depend on it. Some may see us as 2 bits tossed into the collection plate on top of a hundred dollar bill, but God sees far beyond our limited horizons. And it is God who we will ultimately be accountable to.
For that reason and many others, we must continue to act. No matter how small others try to make us. Whether we think it’s worth it or not. Sometimes even when we’re tired and just really want to lay down and give up. It’s when we’re in those tight places that the same God who brought Jesus back to life after the cross is here breathing life and grace into us.
Besides, you never can tell when your small action, combined with God’s grace and truth, will save someone else’s life.