We planned it as the holiday of a lifetime – well, 25 years of marriage. It was good too. The warm sun, the Med visible from the room with a volcanic island in the distance and the beach just a 15-minute stroll down the hill through the olive groves. We were staying in a guesthouse at the ‘retreat centre’ end of the market and it was good. But the food, though lovely, was plated and delivered to the table (set out family-style with other guests) with one glass of wine. Only one, no second-helpings of food, no ‘help yourselves if you’d like any more’. The family atmosphere they were offering just seemed a little bit thin and stretched to us! it wasn’t exactly mean, but we were glad of the cold buffet breakfast in the mornings!
Another time, quite a few years later, we were again out of the country visiting people when we found our attempts to be generous thwarted. We’d been staying with a family who had fed us and driven us around for a few days. All we wanted to do was buy them a meal to say thanks. There were a couple of teenage boys in the mix so off we went to their favourite Pizza place. They chose the cheapest options and turned down any extras. They flatly refused our offers of Sprite, Coke or whatever (complete with top-ups). We couldn’t understand it – these were teenagers! Years later I learnt that their family always chose the cheapest, always had tap-water when they went out and simply weren’t able to accept our offer. The father, (and probably his father before him), had decreed that this was how their family culture worked and that was it.
So is God like our hosts in the Med? Or is he like the teenage boys’ father who wouldn’t let his kids have ‘expensive’ Sprite? We think He’s like that, sometimes, don’t we? But the God of creation isn’t mean – He’s super generous. Just take a look at the stuff He’s made and the way our planet works, when we don’t mess it up. How many species does one planet need? How many organisms does there need to be in a teaspoon of sea-water? How many varieties of good bacteria do we need in our gut? There seems to be more than enough!
The God we meet in the Bible gives more than enough – generously. Jesus makes about 130 gallons of wine available for a village wedding as his first miraculous sign, and it’s not a one-off. Over five thousand people get fed from one boy’s packed lunch and there’s enough left over for all the disciples to snack on a basketful each afterwards. There’s a verse in the Bible where we’re told to open our eyes and ‘see what great love the Father has lavished upon us’ in giving us the status of his privileged children. (1John 3:1)
So what do we do with that generosity? We can receive what He offers us gratefully and find that it changes the way we see many other things. We can also respond to His generous ‘family culture’ by being like that ourselves. Jesus says that in this way we show ourselves to be ‘true children of our heavenly Father’.
For the next six Sundays we will be focusing on our generous God. We’ll be thinking about the ways He has given us so much. As creator he’s given us life. He gives us a sense of ‘belonging’ to Him, our Father. He gives us the gift of Jesus the King who comes to change everything. He gives us the gift of rescue because of what Jesus has done. And He gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit as His presence in our lives. Being given so much by the generous God who loves us so powerfully can change our lives forever.