Last Sunday we heard a different twist on Christmas. We put aside “Christmas is all about giving to others…” for a few moments to realize that only God gives massively. Our giving, compared to the grace of God in Jesus, is paltry. We are actually mostly receivers.
It is worth rehearsing this message because we are normally comfortable as givers. As givers we feel powerful, beneficent, and in control of our lives. As receivers, on the other hand, we are on shakier ground. We feel small, beholden, or humbled by our real needs.
I reprise this message because of what Barbara, and her son, Andrew Thorne said to me after worship on Sunday morning: “Were you preaching that sermon just for me to hear?” First of all, I was amazed that the Thornes were here at all in worship, and so receptive.
“Tell me more,” I responded. Of course, Barbara’s career as a counselor in our schools was helping young people and their families to find their way forward. Sometimes it was about awkward adolescent teen-aged blues. Sometimes it was how to cope with invisible but powerful family dynamics that were crushing youth. Sometimes it was helping them identify their gifts, their passions, pointing them toward college, and helping them get in.
We have talked a great deal about Marc’s service, but I for one am newly aware how formidable—a word I use often when talking about Barbara—was her contribution as well. Ask any number of young people, and they will tell you how much Barbara gave, how much she helped, how much she has served us. As pastor, I always listen as she speaks.
But guess what? As Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time to give, and another time to receive. So much of the spiritual life is recognizing ‘what time it is’, to recall the solo that Katharine Hedlund sang at Marc Thorne’s memorial service. Barbara must put aside her accustomed role of giving and serving to allow herself to receive, son Andrew chided her.
Think of all we want to give Barbara; all we might offer her by way of support; all of the coming up underneath her to buoy her during inevitable sags, as her spirit cycles up and down; all of the goodness we wish to return to Marc and Barbara. Think if her only reply were, “Thanks just the same, I’m doing fine. I don’t need anything.” That would be painful. It is painful to want to give when someone is unwilling to receive. It short-circuits grace.
We all need to hear this message. I struggle with it as much as anyone else here. All of you have given me so much from the time I arrived here, eight years ago next week. My dad was hurting badly during the busiest time in the church calendar. “Go and see him,” you urged me. My back was a wreck and needed life-altering surgery. You were patient during my slow recovery. I lost my little brother. You nurtured my healing in strong ways.
The next time our Care Circle calls you and offers to stop by after a loss, or to bring in dinner after a hospitalization, I want you to think before you answer. Think before you say, “Oh no, we are really fine. I am sure others are far worse off. Go and help them, please.”
Think before you posture as a giver who doesn’t need to receive. Think because not only are you blocking us, you are also blocking the grace of God. Let yourself receive in the right moment—more often than you realize—that the grace of God in FCC might abound.