Monday, March 26, 2012

Divine Unmerited Generosity

Lenten Meditation 26 March 2012

            “At this point I want to name what I think is the central positive theme of the Bible.  It is the Divine Unmerited Generosity that is everywhere available, totally given, usually undetected as such, and often even undesired.  It is called grace….”  (Page 155)

Reflection of a cross, Executive Council, Fort Worth;  Katie Sherrod photo

            There was a parishioner in St. Michaels’ Norman who when asked how he was would reply, “Better than I deserve.”  Pat Mayes was the first person I heard use this phrase, but not the last.  Many years later, I heard a radio talk show host, Dave Ramsey, use the same expression.  Dave’s program is a call-in show during which Dave tries to help individuals who are loaded down with debt escape the cycle of credit overload.  ” Those who had taken his course “Financial Peace University” and unburdened themselves would phone in and declare, usually with a loud shout, that they were “debt free!”

            In the spirit of Pat Mayes I, on occasion, use what I call Pat’s reply, “Better than I deserve,” and sometimes add, “That’s why it’s called grace.”  Most of the time when someone asks, “How are you?” they really do not want to know; asking someone how they are is merely a polite form of greeting.  If you don’t believe me, next time you are asked how you are, try answering with a full detailed explanation of your physical, mental, and spiritual health inventory and watch the asker begin to recoil and move away as quickly as possible.  I use Pat’s reply with my own addition both as a simple addition and a witness to God’s abundance.

            Perhaps scarcity thinking is part of our DNA, embedded in our cells from ancient history when daily survival was absolutely uncertain.  Long before human beings began to cultivate crops and store up food for future fallow times, hunter-gatherers had to spend most of their daylight hours searching for prey for protein and natural crops for roughage and carbohydrates.  Today might be secure for our ancestors if meat and grains could be found, but who knows about tomorrow.  The fear of starvation was an ever present reality, and a sense of scarcity could mean the difference between life and death.

            Unfortunately, the “scarcity gene” still infects us today.  In the richest country history has ever known, Americans live with a sense of never having enough: enough food, enough “stuff,” enough money.  Part of the reason Dave Ramsey will always have a job is that we Americans, besides always wanting more, are impatient and want more stuff now, so we charge more stuff on our credit cards, pushing us deeper in debt and in some cases unable to purchase the real needs for sustenance.  Even those living in the US on welfare have a higher monthly income than much of the world’s annual income.  And yet we, as a culture, want more.

            Also, unfortunately, we Church leaders do not do a sufficient job of educating our communities that God’s grace is more abundant than we can ever imagine.  We continue to try to put limits on who can receive Grace, and even more ridiculously, we try to limit the amount of Grace available to any individual or group.  We see that in Jesus’ ministry when the disciples come to Him complaining that others are healing in Jesus’ name.  Our Lord’s reply is to tell his followers that those others are doing good work and to rejoice.  Apparently God’s Grace will be diminished for me if someone else has an abundant share of Grace.

            In the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, we are moving to change our focus from scarcity to abundance in every area of life.  That, in fact, may be the most difficult shift for us to make, even much more complicated than reorganizing our structure from a top-down pyramid of power to a circle of shared authority and responsibility.  At our diocesan convention in November 2010, our new diocesan treasurer, Bob Hicks, challenged us to live our lives out of a theology of abundance.  Now that was a breath-taking moment; a treasurer who calls us to live out of abundance!  Periodically I hear Bob challenge the Executive Council, the leadership team, parish vestries, and individuals to live abundantly.  Most of the time he is speaking of finances, but Bob’s entire life has become centered on this one revelation:  God is overwhelmingly generous!

            Jesus calls us to live out of God’s abundance in this way:  “Therefore, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear….Instead strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”  (Luke 12:22-31 NRSV)

            As we approach Holy Week, I encourage you to meditate on the theme of “Divine Unmerited Generosity” which is the best news we can ever receive.  It takes a lifetime to internalize that concept, so begin today to live into God’s abundance and repeat to yourself again and again, “Better than I deserve.”

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