Generous Sacrifice, Generous CommunityMarch 2011
by Howard Freeman
A fellow parent at my children’s school was telling me about the older Italian woman who was her landlord when she lived in Boston’s North End about twenty years ago.
“So she invited me in for lemonade one day and we had a nice chat. And then she said, ‘You know, I realize you’re just getting started in your career, and so I’m sorry about this but I’m afraid I’m going to have to raise the rent.’ Though this wasn’t happy news for me, after a moment I thought about the elderly couple below me and my roommate. They were on a fixed income and this would be really tough on them.
“I asked my landlord about them. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I’ve been worried about what will happen when I raise their rent, but I don’t know what else I can do.’ The man who lived below me was a fixture in our community; everyone knew him. He would even save my parking place by sitting in a chair out front, and nobody ever bothered him. He’d been very kind, you know? So I said to my landlord, ‘Why don’t you just add the difference in their rent to our newrent. We can cover it. We’ll just drink less beer.’” My friend had absorbed the cost. I had two takeaways from my friend’s story. The first was that true generosity is cheerfully paying for something that someone else owes, but cannot afford, especially when it is a hardship to do so. Jesus did this for us, and he did it for those who had not ‘been kind’ but rather for those who were estranged, like lost sheep. Disobedient. Clueless. He cheerfully gave to us out of love, though it cost him everything.
The second takeaway was how powerful a strong community can be, both positively and negatively! My friend’s landlord, she recounted with laughter, would stop her on the street and say, “I didn’t see you at church this week!” And her landlord and others from the neighborhood, which was racially quite homogenous, would also look askance at her when she brought overseas friends from a different culture to visit. They’d ask her about it and she’d explain that she was showing them what a great place it was to live.
Within the church, there can be both loving accountability and also sanctimonious judgmentalism. In the community that Jesus has redeemed and which the Spirit is making holy, there is no room for fear of the ‘other.’ Rather, there is a generosity of spirit, which has a concern for others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3). And there is a generosity of self, which makes us vulnerable, even as Jesus himself was when he asked his disciples at Gesthemane to ‘stay here and keep watch with me’ (Matthew 26:38b). This redeemed community generously and boldly carries others’ burdens and also fearlessly and humbly lets others help carry our own.
What can we do in the coming days to demonstrate both generosity and community?
• In our Fellowship Groups think creatively about individuals’ needs that you hear about. Pool funds or resources to meet them.
• Let your friends know when you need help—be specific.
• Be aware of your neighbors’ needs. Surprise an elderly or poor neighbor with a gift that theycouldn’t get on their own.
• Walk by the West 83rd St. building and learn about the neighborhood. Pray for the residents and business owners, for their peace and prosperity. Stop and talk with people. Greet and thank the firefighters of Engine Company 74.
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