In 2016, I took a trip with some parishioners from Saint Michael’s and All Angels parish to Honduras to visit and work alongside a community that the parish had been supporting for well over ten years. Each year, a group of parishioners would gather supplies and money to go down to Honduras to work in community improvement projects, to provide some basic fluoride treatment for children’s teeth, and to host classes with students in the local Episcopal School. By the time I joined up with what they were doing, the parishioners had longstanding relationships with people in the community and looked forward to seeing their friends in Honduras and seeing how the community developed in the intervening twelve months.
On the first trip, I knew that I had much to learn not only about how the parish did mission trips but also about the local communities and cultures. I knew that a large part of my job was to watch and listen and learn so I could support our parishioners in the ways that they were sharing in God’s gifts. It was important for me to listen to the Holy Spirit and to see how God was continuing to invite us to bear God’s grace in a place that was not our own. Although it was a reunion by the time I came along, we still had to remember that we were guests in their community and in their country. It was important for us to be hospitable guests and to receive the gifts of the community with as much grace as they were willing to receive ours.
One of the particularities about the culture in Honduras that was important to know was the emphasis on the gift economy within Honduran culture. At the end of the trip, each member of the team from the parish received a small gift from one of the seniors who labored alongside us at the construction projects being undertaken in a given year. The gift was often a small token of appreciation, but it was very important to receive that gift with the acknowledgement that it was a meaningful way of thanking us for our gifts that we shared while in Honduras. The Holy Spirit was helping us to learn how to gracefully receive – not simply be the ones who were doing the giving. After all, it is easy for us to want to always be in the position of giving without ever taking up the position of the one who is receiving the gift of another. Even in scripture, we are told that it is more blessed to give than it is to receive. (Acts 20:35 NRSV)
And yet, there we were needing to remember that there is a grace in receiving a gift with grace and appreciation for what the gift represents. In much the same way, we are invited to do the same as the Church. In fact, the economy of the church relies upon a gift-based economy. Yes, it is true of the ways that we give money to the church and support the financial needs of our parish, but I think it is more prominent in the ways that we share the gifts of time and talent, received from the source of all goodness, from God, and in that sharing highlight the gifts of others who labor alongside us in God’s vineyard.
In color theory, there are some colors when placed next to each other that produce a sharper color than if the colors were combined. It seems that the gift economy of the church works in the same fashion. When I share my gifts of talent alongside and in concert with the gifts of the others around me, our gifts produce something that we had never imagined. It happens because it is all about sharing in the goodness of God’s grace through our gifts and recognizing that by giving my gift in this way I am also receiving the gifts of others around me. I am invited into this kind of noncompetitive gift economy through the Church in order to see that what I have to offer is accentuated, celebrated, lifted up in and through the gifts being shared by my neighbor. It is a beautiful harmony of gifts coming together to create a reality that is “greater than we could ask or imagine.” (Eph. 3:20 NRSV)
How is God inviting you to share your gift of time and talent this year? What other gifts will accentuate, celebrate, and lift up your gifts in a holy unexpected way?