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November 12, 2017

“God Loves A Cheerful Giver”

 2nd Corinthians 9:6-15

 

I love the seasons that come to us in the calendar year. As I mentioned in my pastor’s column in this month’s Dialogue, the change in season from summer to fall here in the Rogue Valley is spectacular. The bright colors of the leaves were incredible to see. And, based on the change in weather, we are unofficially moving into winter- cold air, rain and snow falling. The season of winter is upon us, even if it isn’t December 21 yet.

 

The change in the weather isn’t the only season of course.  If there are any football fans out there it is also football season. The SOU Raiders are having a spectacular season, and are headed to the playoffs with an undefeated record. I hope they will be hosting a playoff game here. I won’t mention professional football at the moment, because it’s just too painful, being that I’m an Oakland Raider fan.

 

There is another season upon us as well, and it happens every fall in the life of the church-Stewardship season! This, of course, is the time when the session of the church puts together a stewardship campaign and begins to give you an idea of the upcoming budget for the church and its ministries for 2018.  And of course, your church is but one of many nonprofits asking for your financial support at this time of year. Last week I received 4 different lovely newsletters from different organizations asking for my financial support. I think fall and winter and football season are more fun than stewardship season.

 

That being said, it is the time for us all to consider what we can do financially for the ministry of this church. I know the session asked for an increase in pledging last year, and we are asking you to consider giving more if possible for 2018, mostly because we have several things in need of repair on the church campus, in addition to some new opportunities for ministry and mission. I will tell you that thanks to your faithful support, so far 2017 looks like a great year in terms of financial stewardship for the church. We hope to end the year with a small surplus which may help us with expanding some ministry in 2018 and doing some needed repairs.

 

It is true that stewardship includes all aspects of our lives-what we can give of ourselves to ministry with our time and our talent. But today’s focus is on our treasure, and Paul’s focus is on the way in which we give what we can of that treasure, and the results thereafter. Let’s provide some background as to why Paul wrote this letter.

 

Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth was written because there were people in the congregation who believed Paul was a false prophet, and that his idea of claiming to be an original follower of Jesus was off the mark. Things had gotten so bad that instead of in Paul’s words, “not making another painful visit” (2:1), he wrote a letter instead. In part, because of these “anti Paulians” the Corinthian church, which had been stellar in its financial giving to the church in Jerusalem, and had been held up as an example of giving to the Macedonian church, was giving less than before. Today’s section of the letter focuses upon this issue.

 

 Paul begins in chapter 9:1-5 by reminding the Corinthians of their former example to the church in Macedonia, and of the generous gift they had promised to give to the church in Jerusalem. Paul’s word for gift is unusual, and normally rendered as “blessing.” Here the apostle is trying to remind the Corinthians that God blesses us, and we are called to then bless others. Of course, words of blessing may come easier than sharing our material blessings.

 

Paul’s method is a bit shifty, in that he plays the Macedonian church against the Corinthian church to see who could give more, who could be more faithful through their stewardship of finances. Keep in mind that for Paul, it was incredibly important for these Gentiles to demonstrate their faith to the mother church in Jerusalem, led by James and Peter. Paul wanted to show the home church that those who did not come from a Jewish background could be faithful in their support of the home church, and one way they could demonstrate their faith was through their giving. After all, it was Paul who had convinced James and Peter it was time to reach out to the Gentile community and establish churches. So, there was a lot riding on the Corinthian church and their giving to support the mother church in Jerusalem.

 

 

 

Paul believes that those who give and give generously will receive Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously”. And so we come to today’s section, verses 6-15, where Paul begins with a well-known proverb, not taken from the book of Proverbs itself, but one nonetheless which was well known at the time. “reward for their generosity. He then focuses on the attitude of how the giver should give: First, each giver should give what they have decided in their hearts to give- not their heads, but their hearts, where the spirit of Christ resides. That is, the giver is to give in response to the faith by which they have been blessed. Corinth was a thriving trade and port center, and it is likely that a good portion of those who attended the Corinthian church had some financial wherewithal- they understood how trade and commerce affected their own wealth and based upon how they profited, many could’ve chosen from their heads what to give to the church in Jerusalem. In contrast, Paul emphasizes faith over reason and encourages giving from a heart, faith perspective. The next part of this sentence frames just how one is to give from the heart- not reluctantly or from a sense of force or requirement, but rather cheerfully, without attachment or fear.

 

In Verses 9-11, Paul goes on to suggest the rewards that a cheerful giver receives are many and are from God: First, they become vessels for God’s grace- cheerful giving allows God’s favor to be seen by others, and through our giving, our good works will demonstrate that grace. We are also reminded that God provides us what is needed- seed to the sower and bread for food and that we will be made rich in every way, which will allow us to be generous at all times. Now rather than falling off into the dark deep precipice of the prosperity gospel here, where some preachers have strayed far from scripture and told their followers God wants to bless everyone with material wealth,(For example, Joel Osteen) I think Paul’s message here is that if we give from a generous, cheerful place, we will be freed from the desire for more- a bigger house, a better car, a newer television. For those material desires are a trap, and only meet our own needs rather than the needs of others. Jesus tells us, where your heart is, there also is your treasure.  That kind of material desire is not a generous place in which to live, but rather one of selfishness.

 

 

 

Paul says that the result of a generous life focused outward at the needs of others is living in thanksgiving to God and that God will provide us with what is needed. Does that mean anything we want or need will be provided? No.Think of manna in the wilderness- God did not provide the Israelites with tents, air conditioning and a monorail to Canaan. Rather, God provided them with enough; with manna, with good leadership, with God’s wisdom, and enough provision to make it to the Promised Land. With that understanding, that God will provide what is needed, and enough, we can be open-handed and generous, even in the midst of uncertain economic times.

 

Paul then says our obedience in giving also demonstrates our service and faith to others, and through this demonstration of faith, others will come to Christ, and then pray for us in our giving. Paul ends this section in verse 15 by giving thanks to God for his indescribable gift- that is for the gift of God’s son, Jesus Christ.

 

And so now we take Paul’s message for the church in Corinth and look to how it applies to us here today at the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland. How are we to apply Paul’s message?  It is clear that there are some helpful things from Paul’s letter which can guide us as we all consider how we can give to the ministry of Christ here in 2018.

 

First, it is not a time to be tight-fisted, but rather open-handed in giving what we can. Yet you and I can only achieve this open-handed stance, this attitude of generosity by giving from a place of faith, from our hearts, and trusting that we will be able to give what we can for God’s glory. Furthermore, this open-handed, generous giving is to be done not out of a sense of “I should or I need to give this much, or I don’t really want to give this year, but I’ll fill out the pledge card anyway.” Rather we are to give cheerfully. Theologian Ernest Best says that Paul is contrasting cheerful giving with forced giving. “Those who give out of self-interest to receive a reward here or hereafter are reluctant givers, for they act under inner compulsion to seek their own good. There is no genuine joy, only a cool and calculating self-concern.” Paul wants us to give solely from a place of joy, remembering the indescribable gift of Jesus Christ, who dwells within our hearts, who teaches us a holy way to live, and who has opened the gates of heaven for us.

 

The result of this form of giving is abundant- Others will see and know God’s grace. There will be a rich harvest for those who sow bountifully; resources will be multiplied and harvests will increase. Through our generous giving, others will come into Christ’s fold and in time become demonstrations of God’s grace as well.

 

 

And as you consider what you can give, remember it isn’t really your money or my money in the first place. 19th-century French protestant minister Adolphe Theodore Monoud said, “ There is no portion of our money that is our money, and the rest is God’s money. It is all God’s; God made it all, gives it all, and had trusted it to us for God’s service. A servant may have two purses, the master’s and his own, but we Christians only have one.”

 

So, as you consider what you yourself can pledge to the ministry of Jesus Christ here at this church, may you be led by a spirit of generosity, rather than a place of fear. May you be led by God’s spirit and by the gift of God’s Son, an amazing indescribable gift.  May you be led by your heart, not your head. May you give from a place of cheerfulness and joy rather than compulsion or duty. The result of this kind of giving will glorify God, and we ourselves will, in turn, be blessed, for St. Francis said, “it is in giving that we receive”- we receive in abundance from God.  Alleluia! Amen.

 

 

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