A team working together around the challenge of stewardship in the 21st century has worked hard over the past eighteen months to put together “The Generosity Project,” a pilot program running from Sept. 2017 – Dec. 2018 which will work to provide stewardship resources and support to a cohort group of pastors from New England regions. Members of the team have prepared blogs for “The Generosity Project” participants, which will also be shared on the ABCUSA website in the coming months. To learn more about The Generosity Project, click here.
“Generosity is Remembering”
Exodus 35:20-29; 36:2-7
Generosity begins by remembering. And remembering in a certain kind of way. The ancient Israelites depended on, and made an art of, remembering. Throughout the psalms, there is a call to remembrance, to reflect on what God had done in the past—how God had delivered them out of slavery and protected their first-born children and how God split open the sea and swallowed up Pharaoh’s army and how God had guided them through the wilderness and fed them on manna from heaven. The thing is, memory is not to be gilded and worshiped but is a reminder of the blessing God has already given. And even more, memory is the container for the promise that God will bless you in your future.
“They came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing…” ~Exodus 35:21
They came. Everyone whose heart was stirred…everyone who engaged in that kind of remembering, which grew a great generosity in their hearts: they gave bracelets and pendants, blue and purple cloth, fine leather and silver, the yarn spun by their hands and the oil for lamps, they gave and they gave.
And what they offered up was both precious and personal. Their offerings were not calculated as a logical, cold transaction, but were gifts from deep within their hearts, a passionate response to the God who had been so gracious to them for so long. “All the Israelite men and women whose hearts made them willing to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses be done, brought it as a freewill-offering to the Lord.” ~Exodus 35:29
They gave, not out of debt or obligation, they gave because they had memory. And their hearts were stirred.
Did you know that this kind of remembering not only improves your quality of life, it improves your health and well-being? Dr. Michael McCullough is a professor and researcher in psychology at the University of Miami. He is particularly interested in the ideas of gratitude and forgiveness, and he edited a book entitled, The Psychology of Gratitude. In an interview about the book, McCullough says the scientific research reveals what many of us have been taught all along—taking time daily to be grateful for the blessings in our lives—leads to a higher degree of satisfaction and sense of well-being:
“Your grandmother was right. When people are encouraged to take a few moments, every day, even as little time as two or three minutes a day, to simply appreciate a few positive things that typically somebody else did for us, you end up feeling better at the end of the day about your life in general. We see boosts in positive emotion. We see reductions in negative emotion. People are more satisfied with their lives as a whole….They even sleep better at night! They are more prone to spiritual pursuits.”
Contemporary proof for an ancient practice…
What are your memories? Has God ever answered your prayers? Has your heart ever been “stirred” as the text says? Open up the pages of your life and look over them, in remembrance, in reflection and let this worship open you up…because we do remember, don’t we?
We remember the time the test came back negative and with tears in our eyes, said, “Thank God.”
We remember the angel who was there for us when we had no one to turn to.
We remember the call that said “he arrived safely from a war zone” and we remember the call that said, “she’s hurt, but she will be OK.”
We remember watching our daughters walk down the aisle and the moment our sons held their sons for the first time.
We remember times of healing and moments of joy; we remember experiences of peace and opportunities that gave us hope; we remember love that nurtured us and companionship that comforted us—the details are different for each and everyone of us, but the refrain is the same, “God is good…God is so good…”
We need to practice this kind of remembering. It needs to be built into the sacred routine of our everyday and into the sacred rituals of our worship. Generosity begins by remembering.
And so we “come, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing…” With gratitude, we come. Thanks be to God.
~I am grateful to Rev. Kenric Prescott, former pastor of the Union Baptist Church in Hartford, CT, who introduced me to the concept of generosity as remembering.
Rev. Stacy Emerson is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, CT and the Stewardship Consultant for ABCUSA. She is also the Facilitator for The Generosity Project which is about helping congregations deepen their understanding of stewardship as a call to generosity as disciples of Jesus; re-framing the stewardship conversation; and cultivating generosity in pastors, lay people, and congregations.