From gratitude to generosity

April 29, 2020

During the course of the coronavirus pandemic, I have been reflecting on the relationship between gratitude and generosity.

Gratitude reminds us of the truth articulated by the Jewish theologian Abraham Herschel: “Just to be alive is holy, just to be is a blessing.” Gratitude fills us with wonder and awe for the miracles that are within and around us at all times.

Generosity helps us become what God wants us to be. God uses our generosity to form us into the image of Christ. God works through our generosity to change the world for God’s purposes. Generosity expresses our gratitude and imparts God’s blessings to others.

There is so much I am grateful for in this unsettled and unprecedented season. I am grateful I have important, meaningful work, even as it has migrated online. I am grateful there are no COVID-19 infections in the memory care facility where my 90-year-old mother resides. I am in awe of the countless, sacrificial acts performed daily by our health care professionals, first responders, and other essential workers. I celebrate the devotion, innovation, and adaptability of our pastors and lay leaders who have kept worship and pastoral ministry alive and vital. I am grateful that spring is returning to the land of lakes and prairies. I am blessed every day by the dedication and resiliency of our Dakotas and Minnesota Conference staffs and leaders. I thank God for what I am learning about myself and the spiritual insights I’ve gained while sheltering in place.

These and many other scribblings in my “gratitude journal” form a patchwork quilt of blessings that sharpen my taste for the gift of life in its innumerable facets and sustain my soul in the midst of this pandemic. These and many other blessings continue to give me a glimpse of the face of God.

At the same time, I see the face of God in the immense suffering created by the pandemic. As I witness the mounting deaths, grieving families, burgeoning unemployment, lengthening food pantry lines, exhausted health care workers, vulnerability of the homeless and immigrants, interrupted education, and lost milestones, my gratitude is moved to compassion and generosity. The Psalmist’s question echoes in my mind and heart: “What can I give back to the Lord for all the good things the Lord has done for me?” (Psalm 116:12, CEB). I am also reminded of something Coretta Scott King once said: “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” Paul spoke of the spiritual and missional “greatness” of the churches in Macedonia when he wrote that “for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:2, NRSV). In spite of their severe affliction, Paul notes that their gratitude and joy led them to beg for the privilege of sharing in the ministry of those in need.

I have been praying that the people called Methodist in the Dakotas-Minnesota Area will be moved out of gratitude and abundant joy to practice this spirit of generosity, even beg for the privilege and seek the blessing of binding up the wounds of this pandemic.

I urge you to continue to generously give your weekly tithes and offerings to your local church. Your congregation’s worship and ministry might look different now, but they have not stopped. Nor have the needs of our communities and the world. So, I urge you to consider how you can also participate in the Minnesota Conference’s COVID-19 Compassion Campaign and/or the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) COVID-19 Response Fund (Advance #3022612). With congregations and ministries in more than 130 countries around the world, UMCOR is well positioned to reach and assist those suffering from this global pandemic. You may also want to share in Christ’s healing ministry by supporting Feeding America’s Minnesota food banks, your local food bank, or your local Meals on Wheels.

For many of us, this is a time of uncertainty, fear, and financial hardship. I also know that in the kingdom of God, there is never a scarcity of grace and resources. I have been imagining—I pray it is holy imagination—what abundance we could unleash to underwrite the aforementioned ministries if United Methodists across the Dakotas and Minnesota, who can afford to do so, were to tithe their economic impact payments, or stimulus checks, that are beginning to show up in our checking accounts and mailboxes. If just 25,000 Dakotas-Minnesota Area United Methodists tithed their $1,200 payment, we would generate $3 million to assist our neighbors. And of course, some of us, like Char and me, are blessed to be in a position to do more. I urge you to prayerfully consider if God is calling you and your family to this act of generosity and being a blessing to others.

Peter writes “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received” (1 Peter 4:10, NRSV). Now is the time when we need one another. Now is the time to live and act as faithful, compassionate people of God. Now is the time to turn our gratitude into generosity. Be of good courage, dear church, and remember that the risen Christ is always coming to us, and is with us now and always.

Bishop Bruce R. Ough is resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of The United Methodist Church.

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