There are times when we are outraged by extravagant spending. For example, the organization Wounded Warriors was recently investigated and it was discovered that its CEOs had spent money for lavish parties, when it was meant to be given to those who have been victims of war. I remember Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy always kept an unborn, aborted lamb available for any time she wanted dinner. Malcolm Forbes once flew hundreds of celebrities to Morocco for a giant party. Most of us are upset when we read such things. We try to be cost-conscious, use coupons, or use our Stop & Shop card and are happy how much we have saved.
On the other hand, all of us have gone a little crazy and done something extravagant. I remember going a little crazy for my wife’s birthday. I ended up inviting a lot of people to a big party that my daughter Allison and I planned for her. The bill was frightening, but Kathy was so happy, and Allison, who hadn’t spent a dime, said: “Dad, it’s worth it.”
Recently, I read an article in the paper entitled, “$1,000 Shoes”. The article began like this: “I know I am going to get a lot of heat for what I am about to tell you, but I just spent almost $1,000 on shoes. I didn’t even have to call my good friend, the Enabler. I just got sick of trying to find a pair of high heels to fit my extremely wide feet. I wanted a pair of shoes with heels that are high, but not too high, that I can wear with everything and will last me the rest of my life. (…) Excuse me, I have a message from someone called Outraged Reader: You spent $1,000 trying to find good-looking high heels? That has to be the ultimate privileged kid!”
A long time ago, a member of the church, whose children regularly played with my children, bought an enormous pumpkin to carve and put out in front of his home. It must have cost upward of $75, and I was a bit taken aback. How could he spend so much money on a pumpkin? It was outrageous in my mind. The pumpkin was a big hit and a big difference from the puny ones around my house. I gradually came around to acknowledging that I really wished I had bought one like that, too. Every time I pass a nursery selling pumpkins and I see a huge one, I am tempted to buy it. However, my kids have grown and I feel I missed an opportunity.
The past two years our church has been through a building program, which, in the end, will cost over $700,000. People have responded in big ways with their support. Many have been very generous, and even extravagant, in their giving. I know they will not regret what they have given. They almost rejoice in it because they are so thankful to see St. John’s have a better facility for the future of its ministry. Interesting enough, their gift will be appreciated more by generations to come. Grace is the most important note that Lutherans play in the ecumenical choir. We are a church that talks about grace all the time. In fact, the term “but for the grace of God go I” is really a term expressing the gratefulness that God’s grace has spared you from the consequences of your sins and mistakes. If you have lived it all, you will know this is a true statement. It’s also an expression of the extravagant love of God. Isn’t the story of Jesus, from his birth to his death on the cross, an expression of God’s extravagant love for the whole world?
So, sometimes we are very critical of those who are extravagant in their spending, and other times we find it exemplary. What makes the difference? The difference is when you can be extravagant on someone else beside yourself. That brings us back to the woman with the $1,000 shoes. She writes: “This week, after four months of waiting and four adjustments, I wore my $1,000 shoes for the first time. They raised a bunion the size of the Hindenburg. I have to go now. My dead father is screaming.” It sounds like judgment to me. Generosity is never about ourselves, it is about extending ourselves to others. Let’s embody that extravagant love and that abundant grace that we see so often in our Lord Jesus.