for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of
--2 Timothy 1:7 NRSV
Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have
received ... but only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love,
sacrifice, and courage.
--St. Francis of Assisi
Did you hear the big news announced in Sunday’s worship service?
Helen Wright left Park Hill Christian Church her house--her house! Helen died near the beginning of 2020, and after a lifetime of giving to her community and to her church, she gave the church her house which means after all the necessary fees were paid for the church received around $283,000! That’s nuts! Two Hundred and Eighty Thousand Dollars! Among other things, this money will enable the church to come close to paying off its remaining mortgage. We will only have around $20,000 remaining to pay off, and when that is gone around $20,000 every year will go into other ministries that is currently going towards the mortgage.
One doesn’t just arrive at a decision to give away a house overnight. Helen’s gift was the capstone of a lifetime of service and generosity. Helen supported PHCC through faithful giving of money, time and even serving as an unpaid staff member. She started a food pantry out of her home for hungry people in our area. It grew and moved to our church building. Then it kept growing and is now the Southern Platte Emergency Assistance Coalition (SPEAC) which serves hundreds of families every month who are food insecure. The gift of the house was only the end of a long list of giving; it was a lifestyle rather than a one-off event.
I know most of us are not in the financial situation to give away a house (although more in our church and most churches could do so than one might think), yet all of us, myself included, think too small and too safe when it comes to giving. We spend our days thinking about how little we have and how much more we want rather than thinking about how much we have that we don’t need that others with less than us could use. Helen Wright is an exception to the giving patterns of most Christians, but she shouldn’t be. Each of us is capable of giving in ways that are extravagant and in ways others might think are a bit crazy.
When I felt called to be a local church minister decades ago, I thought I was called to be a part of God’s great plan to change the world for the better. I expected to be a part of churches that did amazing things for their communities with the power of Christ flowing through them. What I found instead was a soul-deadening journey of working with churches who were afraid of not having enough money. Usually those church folks with the capacity to give the most actually gave the least, but that didn’t stop them from complaining at board meetings and budget votes about how we didn’t have enough money to do the stuff that should be priorities for churches. I’ve spent so many hours listening to church people complain about how little the church had to give. After bellyaching about it for so long, they didn’t give anything to change the world around them for the better, and then they wondered why people didn’t want to come to their church?
Churches are big on pulling a bait and switch. We tell you about a God who created everything and how this Creation has enough for everyone. We teach about a Jesus who fed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a few fish. We talk about faith, trust, hope, love and grace. Then once you get in the door and get involved, we act as if none of that is true. We are afraid because we believe there is never enough. We think small rather than trusting God and dreaming big. We cut back and cut back until we can’t cut back any more. We cut back our ministries, our staff, and our outreach until none of us can remember why we were giving and who we were giving to in the first place. We bring people into church promising a God who does signs and wonders, but then we live as if we don’t believe any of that stuff, at least not enough to risk anything.
Helen Wright didn’t buy into that kind of “play it safe” Christianity. She gave in ways others probably thought were crazy. If only more people were crazy like her, then our church would be a different church and our community would be a different one and so would our world. The Apostle Paul wrote, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,” but you can’t tell it from the state of most churches today. Thank God, Helen lived out “the spirit of power” Paul describes in that verse. Helen believed in Park Hill Christian Church, believed God wanted to do great things through this church, believed enough to give her house to it. Her generosity raises the question of whether the rest of us believe in our church like she did?
Who is next to follow Helen’s example and live out God’s crazy generosity?
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.