During the Lenten Season, one of the Scripture Readings is from the Gospel of Luke. It begins with the sentence “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36 NIV) In reflecting on that passage, I was first drawn to reflect upon my experience of “mercy” in my life. This also led me to do a little self-examination of times when I have or have not been “merciful as God is merciful.”
Of course, I could not help but also consider the increasing lack of civility that is found in the political rhetoric that is seeming to permeate all forms of media and ordinary social communications. I was talking to a woman recently who was shocked that a simple comment to a stranger admiring the beautiful color of another person’s coat was perceived as confrontational.
It seems we find ourselves in a world where so many of us are so quick to judge and condemn, and so slow to forgive. Luke’s Gospel continues: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6: 37 NIV)
Mercy, Fundraising, and Mission Development
Knowing that I had a blog to write, I found myself being drawn back into thinking about this whole idea of mercy.
What does “mercy” have to do with fundraising, development, mission advancement? This led me to review the etymology of the word itself. In Hebrew, the term is hesed, which is related to God’s covenant as expressed in loving kindness.
According to the great theologian Karl Barth in this relationship, mercy then comes to be seen as the quality in God that directs him to forge a relationship with people who absolutely do not deserve to be in a relationship with him. Ah! So, mercy has something to do with relationship, with bonding, with promise, and in many ways, unconditional love.
Mercy and Our Role As Fundraisers
The passage from Luke’s Gospel begins to make even more “fundraising” sense as I read the very next line: “Give and gifts will be given you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down and overflowing will be poured into your lap.” (Luke 6:37 NIV)
I began to realize that the Beatitude for those of us engaged in faith-based fundraising is “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Formerly I believed that beatitude meant if I’m not mean to others, others won’t be mean to me. But as I reflect on these words from the perspective of fundraising and development, I find a deeper meaning.
I began to realize that the Beatitude for those of us engaged in faith-based fundraising is “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
In our roles as fundraisers, we are constantly challenging our donors and prospective donors to see themselves in relationships with others. While some of our donors may have the opportunity to actually meet and, perhaps, build a relationship with these “others”, in many cases that may never happen.
Yet, somehow a covenant of loving kindness is birthed. Our role becomes that of the midwife, being there to support the donor in their own personal journey of mercy and loving kindness. We are there to help the donor more strongly bond in this new covenant relationship as the donor begins to recognize the image and likeness of God in the faces of persons who were once considered strangers, and very far from their hearts.
The Privilege of Witnessing God’s Mercy in Fundraising
We are so very lucky that by being engaged with others in this covenant of loving kindness that we actually witness God’s mercy up close and personally. This is how we are shown mercy by and through the generosity of our donors. This is how God’s mercy is demonstrated in our world. In Luke 12:33, mercy expressed in charitable giving is described as characteristic of discipleship. In the Acts of the Apostles, mercy as “almsgiving” is recognized as an essential part of the Christian life and through giving Christians become living signs of God’s incredible mercy. (Acts 3)
According to Jesus’ words in Luke, gifts will be given “overflowing into our laps.” In other words, through the covenant of mercy, life is filled with abundance. To someone who is poor that abundance might be a warm meal, a sheltered place to sleep, clean water, a life-saving vaccination for a sick child, a night not lived in fear, a kind smile, and a gentle touch. For our donors it might mean a sense of making a difference, bringing hope, recognizing the stranger as a brother and sister and being filled with joy and, perhaps, a new purpose in life.
In 2008, Kerry Robinson spoke at our NCDC Annual Conference. She challenged us to always imagine abundance. As she spoke, she gave us some road signs to look out for along our journeys as fundraisers. She told us to proclaim our missions with the conviction that made our causes worthy of the generosity we are seeking. She encouraged us to be positive and joyful. She asked us to be hopeful and recognize the incredible loving kindness of God, that is God’s mercy, in all of our donors. She invited us to see in everyone and in every gift God’s abundance in our lives and in our world.
The Measure of Mercy
The passage in Luke 6 concludes, “For the measure with which you measure, will in return be measured out to you.” (Luke 6: 38 NIV)
We spend a great deal of time analyzing and benchmarking, constantly measuring one campaign against the previous one, one year against the next. We worry about reaching budget goals and controlling fundraising costs. We are saddened to see so many of our most faithful partners in mission depart from this life, even though we are deeply and gratefully moved by the bequests they leave for us. Sometimes, we find ourselves apologizing as we begin reports to our boards. “Well, I am sorry to tell you, we did not do as well as…. or, this was a really tough year for us.”
While both statements may be true, perhaps, we need to celebrate the generosity we have received. Every gift is just that, a gift. Just like God’s mercy, it can’t be earned or deserved but it can be measured by the measure which God uses — and that is a measurement in abundance.
Every gift is just that, a gift. Just like God’s mercy, it can’t be earned or deserved but it can be measured by the measure which God uses — and that is a measurement in abundance.
While we must be accountable and responsible for our advancement programs and efforts, let’s try to find cause to rejoice in God’s generosity as it manifests itself again and again in both our largest and smallest gifts.
When times seem difficult and we seem to struggle — can we rejoice in God’s mercy as it is experienced in our missions and ministries and as this mercy is shown to us in the generosity of our donors? When we are reporting to our boards, to our various departments, and to our donors, can we begin with a story of grace and mercy as experienced by those to whom we minister? Let’s measure by imagining the abundance in which we as fundraisers are so privileged (and blessed) to participate.
Can we be merciful as our God is merciful? I believe we can.