An economy of grace

Lesson Seven, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Every day I pass a Virginia Lottery billboard on my way to work. Although I don’t buy lottery tickets, I do think about what I would do with a sudden inflow of cash.

It is easy to feel like we don’t have enough money — or at least enough money to do what we really want to do. Robert Schnase writes in “Five Practices of Fruitful Living” that people of all income levels believe that they would really be happy if they had 20% more income, whether they make $10,000 or $100,000. Our commercial culture feeds greed and discontent with what we have.

Jesus warns us about greed in his teachings … a lot. He made startling statements and told “in-your-face” stories that make us uneasy. Do not store up for yourself treasure on earth. How you spend your money reveals your priorities (Matthew 6:19-21). If you look at the world with a stingy or greedy eye, then you are full of darkness (Matthew 6:22-23). You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24). Do not worry about what you shall eat or wear, but instead, all of you seek
the kingdom of God first (Matthew 6: 25-34). When the Son of Man comes in glory, he will judge the nations by how they helped the poor and imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46). Blessed are you who are poor. Woe to you who are rich (Luke 6:20-26). A rich man died and went to Hades because he was oblivious to Lazarus, a man who was hungry and sick (Luke 16:19-31). The list could go on and on.

God wants us to create a community who always has an eye on the needs of the poor. Our “success” as people of faith is measured by love given, not by profits and grains. As Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty in “Reconciling Paul” notes, Scripture models an economy of grace that reflects God’s generous love to us known in Jesus Christ.

Paul fairly vibrates with joy when he writes about the wonder of Christ laying hold of him with love and forgiveness. He overflows with praise for the Macedonians who, even in their poverty, overflow with generosity. (See 2 Corinthians 8:1-15). Paul rejoices for the sharing of love and goods among the Christian communities. Paul’s awareness of God at work in so many lives empowers him to keep going when he faces severe hardships.

The antidote to greed is gratitude and generosity. Gratitude and generosity are taught and practiced. We teach our children over and over and over again to say “thank you” and to share. When homeless families stay in our church for a week, as part of an emergency network, parents bring their children to teach them to care for those without homes and toys.

Gratitude and generosity are also “caught.” There is a lovely woman in our church who delights in coordinating events that will benefit those moving from homelessness to housing. Her generous spirit is contagious.

Income inequity has been in the news in the last few years. Forty percent of the world’s population lives on less than two dollars a day. It is a disheartening statistic. What often does not make the news is the multiple ways that the PC(USA) partners with others to help people help themselves through economic development, education and medical assistance. There are countless examples of people making a difference through Presbyterian Disaster Relief, Self-Development of People and the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

There is an old saying that I will modify here: Give a person a fish, and you will feed her for a few hours. Teach a person to fish, and she will have many meals. Remove the “No Fishing” sign, and she will have access to the river.

One way to remove the “No Fishing” sign is to remove some of the barriers that keep people poor. In Richmond, Virginia, a coalition of black and white congregations research the best practices that address root causes of poverty. The coalition has worked with public officials to decrease school dropouts and to increase access to medical care in the community.

A good example of participation in an economy of grace is the Presbyterian Coffee Project. The PC(USA) supports small-scale farmers in some of the world’s poorest areas by promoting the purchase of fair trade coffee. Fair trade refers to farmers being guaranteed a fair price for their coffee. Fair trade products are often marketed by nonprofits; there are fewer people who take a cut of the earnings as the coffee moves from farm to market. Every cup of coffee directly benefits small-scale farmers who struggle to feed their families.

An economy of grace is where generosity flows and barriers are removed so people can help themselves — sounds good, doesn’t it?

rosalind-banburyROSALIND BANBURY is associate pastor for adult ministries at First Church in Richmond, Virginia.