41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
John 11: 41-44
How often do you think of stewardship when you think of Lazarus? I honestly didn’t make the connection until this week but in the light of “Stewardship: Preaching and Teaching Generosity“, I am beginning to see the connection.
As I mentioned in the first reflection on this continuing education opportunity, we started this week thinking about the congregational leader serving as the main building block for generosity through their presence, conversation, and initiative– the congregational leader serves as a model of generosity for all those observing them. In this particular text, Jesus’ prayer does just that! He prays, not for his sake, but for the sake of the crowd– so that they might know and believe. Jesus was generous in the prayer and generous in the modeling of belief.
Reflecting on this second part of the course during which we have taken time to explore this text and so many others, looking at and seeking to understand every side of the conversation, my thoughts have landed on the final words– “Unbind him, and let him go.” Our group explored this phrase, wondering what the importance is of having “them” (either Mary and Martha, or the people who had gathered) do the unbinding rather than Jesus doing it himself. One idea that came up, and that sat with me the most, is that this physical action aided in their learning. By unbinding Lazarus, freeing his limbs so that he might move freely, and by being unbound likely by loved ones and friends and given that freedom all of those gathered experienced the result of freeing, unbinding generosity.
The morning following this discussion the question was asked “What binds your generosity?” What is preventing us from feeling as if we can give freely, move in ministry freely? What has skewed our perception of what really is?
Early in this course, the statement was made, “When we know how much is enough, there will always be enough.” As a young adult trying to “make space” for life to happen, this sunk in deeply and of course looked heavily on the financial end of things. I sat down and made a list of the expenses that my husband and I can expect each month and learned what “enough” is for us. I learned that we can’t afford to truly tithe at 10% yet, but we can give. That amount might (will hopefully) increase next year, and the next, and so on but for now what we can do is enough. We have been intentional about how much and to whom we give regularly, and we know that we can do a little more if a need arises. By sitting down and looking at what we need, and what we have, I feel unbound in a way. I feel like I can give more freely of my finances.
Finances are not the only thing binding us though! Generosity is not always about writing a check. I think it can be very easy to figure out what binds us financially and how much is “enough” to do what we need to do when it comes to paying our monthly bills. When it comes to working with our congregations, they might only need a simple reminder about figuring out the financial binds and what is enough. What we, and our congregations, might struggle with more is discerning what binds us in our lives– what stands in the way of us tapping into our financial resources.
Turning to the responses I received from friends throughout the week to my question of “What encourages you and deters you from giving to an organization through your finances, time and energy?” Several people mentioned that they are deterred when they do not know where their gift will go, or when gifts are misused (too much going to the processing rather than the purpose, over-paid/ under-paid staff, etc). We can find ourselves and our generosity bound by our perceptions of what is occurring at the other end of our gift, and by our expectations of how those gifts could and should be used.
As we begin to think about how we can help ourselves and our parishioners becomes unbound, our intentionality, openness, and honesty can be a great asset. I think that one of our greatest faults as congregational leaders is that we feel that we cannot, or should not, speak openly about generosity. It seems that we think that we might be intruding if we speak about money or about the importance of volunteering of time and energy. However, if we speak openly about what God is doing with these gifts of finances, time, and energy and share stories of how we have experienced God in the life and ministry of our churches and organizations, we might loosen those concerns that bind. When we are honest about our struggles, our binders, but share that through those struggles we still share what we can, we might loosen those binders.
So many times, checks are written and time is given because we might feel guilty or even think “if we say yes, they will leave us alone.” As Rev. Laura Mendenhall said in our discussion, “You can raise money off of guilt, but guilt doesn’t produce generosity.” When we care for our parishioners in such a way that we sit and hear their stories and begin to learn what binds them, we can help to untie those binds. We can help to remove the guilt aspect and nurture the generosity that lies within because of God’s own generosity. When we allow others to hear our own stories and hear what binds us, whether in conversation or from the pulpit, we not only encourage them but we also can become unbound through their assistance.
Generosity is about give and take. Generosity is about sharing stories and learning from others. Generosity is not only about writing a check every Sunday, but about building relationships. When open, honest relationships are present we become unbound and are able to live and give more freely of all of our resources. Enough truly is enough, no matter how much or how little that might be.
What is binding your generosity today?
What binds those whom you are called to love and care for?
How are you, and your congregation, untying the binders for one another?
Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer
For more information about this continuing education opportunity, as well as many others offered through the Union Presbyterian Seminary Leadership Institute, please check us out online!
Photos included in this reflection are from Union’s 2012 Ghana Travel Seminar where I experienced this unbinding generosity of multiple lives, as well as my own, in a new way.