Friday, November 25, 2016

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, for Thanksgiving Eve, "Living Generously"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. On Sunday we spoke of how we are members of Jesus’ Kingdom as fruitful branches growing from His Vine. Joined to Jesus we are green, alive, and bearing fruit. Today in 2 Corinthians 9, Paul zeroes in on one particular spiritual fruit: generosity. The well-known phrase, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Immediately upon hearing this phrase, our minds go to money, and our hands go to protect our wallet. Or they might, anyhow, if we think this passage is only about how generous our offering will be in the plate. But while Paul certainly appealed to the Corinthians for financial support for the Christians in poverty in Jerusalem—the Biblical picture of generosity is bigger than cash. It’s a stock phrase in churches, but true nevertheless, that stewardship can be described as giving of our time, talents, and treasure. That’s simply to recognize that there are more ways to give, than just your wallet.  And so also, generosity, as our passage teaches, is a heart attitude shaped by God—not a dollar value attached to the offering plate. And generosity creates thanksgiving to God—twice our reading says that, in vs. 11-12.
6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. This is an obvious principle, but if you just consider the relation of planting seeds, say grains of wheat, to the harvesting of the mature wheat—it’s obvious that a farmer won’t gather a big harvest if he is reluctant to plant his seed generously. If he tries to sow only a minimal amount of seed, his harvest will then be small. But if he plants generously, as Jesus says in another parable, the seed will be multiplied thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold. But the lesson from Jesus and Paul is not just agricultural, but the greater spiritual message is that the same principle applies to our giving and generosity. If we are stingy and plant small, we will reap small. If we are generous in sowing, the return will be exponentially greater. The word bountifully for “whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” is the word for “blessing.” If we sow from blessing, we will reap blessing. And every Sunday, where do we sing all blessings come from? Ho’onani i ka Makua Mau…Praise God from whom all blessings flow. God pours out the blessing, and when we sow bountifully from that blessing, we harvest bountifully with new blessing. God has so ordered creation that He makes fruitfulness pour out of the generous use of His gifts.
7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Let’s work backwards from the fact that there is a genuine joy to be discovered in generosity and giving. That joy of generosity can be discovered by any person—Christian or not. Many popular versions of the folk story “Stone Soup”, show how people can discover the joy of generosity, sharing, and the community that it builds. I’m even sure there are some great Hallmark movies showing around Thanksgiving and Christmas time, that show a generous and giving spirit is a blessing to any person. This is simply recognizing that it’s one of God’s good “First Article gifts”—by which I mean, the gifts of creation—that God has given to all humanity. These gifts, however, point us back to and remind us that God is ultimately the Giver.
Generosity is not the unique possession of Christians, nor the joy that comes with it—but Christians have a unique reason to be generous, and God’s good directions on the how and why. We can be generous because we know the constant gracious overflow of God’s gifts to us. The reading ends, Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift! Mindful that God is always giving and supplying all we need, we can take a special delight in giving. But what violates this spirit of giving and generosity? Giving reluctantly or under compulsion. Being forced or driven to give, in such a way that we feel guilty or coerced, is not the right spirit in which to give. Then it becomes a lot more like taxation or extortion, and less like giving!
But God wants giving to flow from a free, cheerful heart. How? Give as he has decided in his heart. Giving is a voluntary detachment from our possessions. I set aside whatever I have decided in my heart, and become detached from it. I can freely give it away, because I’m trusting in God. Giving in this way is both an expression of our thankfulness to God, for the blessings He has poured out, but also an expression of trust in God, that we can live on what remains, and that God will faithfully continue to provide, as He always has. Giving reluctantly or out of compulsion means that we haven’t detached from what we are giving. Either selfishness still clings to it; or fear thinks that the gift might not be used well, or would be wasted; or lack of trust worries that God will still provide. In any case, these spoil the spirit of giving. God doesn’t need our gifts on these terms—He loves a cheerful giver. And cheerful giving does often take some practice to learn. By experiencing the joy of giving, or resolving in our heart what to give, God begins to overwrite our fearful, selfish, and mistrustful attitudes, with one of cheerful generosity.
In verse 10, it says: 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. Here I just can’t resist a little sidelight: that is to mention the technological marvel of the seed. God supplies seed to the sower. But what a gift we take for granted! Living on Maui with our limited resources and growing population, or almost anywhere in the world, you often hear the buzzwords of “sustainability” or “renewable resources” or “self-sufficiency.” Humans are trying to battle our growing needs and consumption with clean and renewable supplies of food or energy. But what a technological marvel God has already given us, that already does all that! A humble seed is the basis of a self-replicating organism. Every seed is a massive DNA bank, but microscopic in size, loaded with all the genetic information needed to make a new plant. Seeds are a renewable resource that have feed thousands and thousands of generations, as long as we’ve lived on earth—grains, rice, taro—staples of the human diet for millennia. God’s amazing bioengineering marvel, that we all take for granted, but God supplies seed to the sower and bread for our food.
But if God is so generous with the physical world He has created, Paul shows us that even more God’s grace will abound and increase in us in every way. He will increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. The Word of God is sown like a seed in our heart, and as miraculous and more than a seed of wheat, it contains all the marvelous information of God’s Word and Spirit to create in us fruitful, living branches of Christ our Vine. God’s Word increases righteousness in us as we mature and grow through His guidance and direction. This produces generosity in every way. Generosity is shown in our attitudes. Jealousy or envy of what others have or the successes they achieve, is the opposite of a spirit of generosity. A true spirit of generosity rejoices in the welfare and wellbeing of others, as Luther explained in the 7th commandment, it is to “help [our neighbor] to improve and protect his possessions and income.” Or in the 9th commandment, to “help and be of service to him in keeping it.” Generosity gives thanks when others give thanks, rather than being jealous. Generosity also recognizes when others are in need, and feels compassion to help.
Our reading also praises the righteous man, described in Psalm 112 and quoted in our reading: “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” The Bible often praises the righteous man who is generous and helps the poor and his neighbor, and doesn’t expect interest or repayment. We’re instructed that generosity and sharing with those who need it, are a sure way of storing up true treasure (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Again God has ordered things so that when His good gifts are given out and used generously, that it produces a great return, especially in the spiritual realm. Generosity is taking part in God’s helping of those who need it, so that we act as God’s hands and feet with love for the poor. Generosity has open eyes to see the need of others, and a kind heart that is moved to show compassion.
And this generosity overflows in many thanksgivings to God. People will thank God when they see, receive, or participate in giving. This is because living generously in heart, spirit, word, thought and action, is to live like God, who is the ultimate Giver. They will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the Gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.  Praise goes to God when we live and act in the generosity of God. It flows from the confession of the Gospel of Christ. To believe and know Jesus is to know the ultimate giver, the one who was rich, but for our sakes became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). When Jesus gave up the treasure and rule of His heavenly throne, and became poor and low, as a human being on earth, He sacrificed and gave everything up, not even sparing His own life, so that we might have true spiritual riches and treasure. And He has not stopped giving, but continues to forgive our sins and prepare for us the eternal home that He has made for the righteous in the heavens. He saw our need, was generously moved on our behalf, and filled and supplied our need as only He could. He paid the debts of our sin, filled our accounts with the overflow of His righteousness and innocence, and He makes His grace to abound to us, to abound in every good work (9:10).
This Thanksgiving, may you be blessed by God’s every good gift, and may it abound and overflow in you to pour out in a life of generosity lived after His pattern—in love, service, and help to our friends, neighbors, enemies, and to everyone in need. And may each act of kindness and generosity inspire us to glorify God and say: Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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