I want to tell you about the best dollar I ever spent. Frankly, it is interesting to me the things people remember. The things that linger in our memories that help to tell us who we are and shape what we become. Some memories are lodged so prominently in the frontal lobe of our lives that we can hardly think about who we are or introduce ourselves to others without such things becoming part of the ensuing conversation. Others come as if from the brain’s dowry chest, almost like a high school yearbook summoned from storage at the visit of an old friend or by a chance meeting with a half-remembered face or name. Drawn from some distant but formative chapter of our lives these recollections are sometimes intriguingly powerful, even disproportionate to their seeming significance. So it is with what I might to refer to as the best dollar I ever spent.
Where I got it I cannot recall. What it was doing in my pocket on that memorable day is odder yet. It was a different era than today (and how or when I became old enough to make such an elder-like observation is surprising to me). In the small-town-memory of which I’m speaking, my grandmother used to work as a clerk at the Ben Franklin Five & Dime on Baker and Monterey Streets in East Bakersfield. To give you the value of money then, I used to get a twenty five cent allowance each week for doing my chores (and I just noticed there’s no cent symbol on this computer keyboard). Thus on Saturday mornings we would walk downtown to shop at “grandma’s store” and I would buy some little plastic cowboy or Indian figures for my collection. All that’s just to let you know a quarter was a substantial sum of money for me in those days. So, back to the dollar bill there in my pocket—and the best dollar I ever spent.
I was sitting in the pew beside my sister—the right hand side of the sanctuary of Trinity Methodist Church. It wasn’t the normal place we sat. My mother wasn’t with us on this particular day and my father never went. So we were alone. The offering was being taken. The plate was coming towards me from my left. I was toward the middle of the pew. The dollar was in my pocket, an enormous sum of money. I seemed profoundly conscious of its presence. And time stood still… the alms basin moving slowly… there was a lot of time to think—then suddenly no time at all. The alms basin in my left hand, on impulse—even abandonment—I reach in my pocket with the right, drawing out the dollar, and in a moment of spontaneous generosity put the glorious bill in the offering, watching it pass all the way down to the far aisle. There was a moment of regret to be sure, but soon swallowed up by joy, and now by even years of pleasure. And more than pleasure—a formative action informing me of who I was and what I could become—a generous person.
I’ve spent a lot of dollars since then, but none so well, so memorably, or so instructive of a great truth: that generosity towards God and his work is a habit that mends the heart, weans it from selfishness, and makes it large enough for God’s love to dwell; and therein his joy to enter. Jesus said it best: “Give and it will be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38) This is true not only regarding our monetary offerings but of all those offerings of stewardship—be they treasure, time or talent—that we give to God, to his people and to his work in the world. The DCW now goes under a new name: The Diocesan Women’s Ministry. We are walking into an exciting new chapter of ministry for the women of this diocese. We need long time leaders and emerging leaders to step forth with such offerings: Some with talents right for this season; some with time for service and leadership; some with gifts of money. Yet please remember that even while seeking to adapt to a new day, in a very different era from the one many of us grew up in the old verities hold true, especially this one—“Give and it will be given to you”—why, because—“Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.” The dollar spent, the time expended, or your talent offered may be in retrospect the best one you ever gave.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Rt. Reverend Mark J. Lawrence
Bishop of South Carolina
This message was delivered to the Diocesan Women in September 2014