November 30, 2014
2 Corinthians 9: 6-11
It was several years ago when our youngest daughter Jennifer got a big chocolate bar in the shape of lips. It was almost a pound of solid chocolate, and she was thrilled. Naturally her sister Katherine wanted some of that chocolate, but Jennifer wasn’t interested in sharing it with anyone. She wasn’t about to open it for herself, much less anyone else. Several days later however she decided to tear open the packaging on her chocolate bar, and as you can probably imagine, she broke off chunks for everyone to have bites, even her sister.
From that incident, I got to thinking about how we are by nature giving people. We raise our children to share, and we are pleased when they make good decisions in sharing that make themselves and others feel good. I can imagine that God is also pleased when people get along, generously sharing what we have with each other.
God blesses us. Like Jennifer’s solid chocolate valentine lips, God blesses us every day of our lives. Each of us receives blessings from God. Some receive regular-sized chocolate kisses or vanilla hugs, others get kisses with almonds, and a few of us are really blessed with big chocolate valentine lips. How happy God must be when we decide to share some of those blessings with others, rather than saying, “No, God, this is mine. Let them get their own chocolate!”
We give because we understand that God has gifted us. There was a mom who was sitting down at her breakfast table writing her pledge check to the church. Her curious five-year-old son picked up her offering envelope and asked, “Mom, where are you sending this envelope?” The mom smiled, welcoming this opportunity to share some wisdom with her little boy. She replied, “This is a special envelope. We are sending money to God.” Her son looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Mom, I hate to tell you, but everything belongs to God. This is just the part you’re giving back.”
By faith we recognize God is the owner of everything. God made us and every part of our world not because God needs anything, but because God loves us and desires to be with us. God reigns over the universe and everything on this earth. God is our head and the one to whom we owe our allegiance. We want to shape our lives to be in line with God’s expectations for us. We want to obey God’s will in order to live a fruitful and abundant life.
Paul tells the believers at Corinth that God who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. This is close to what Jesus says in Luke’s gospel: “Give and it will be given to you…With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Paul says that our harvest will be in proportion to our planting. Plant an acre and reap acre of corn or wheat. Plant two acres and reap two acres. This we understand, but Paul is talking about a harvest of generosity. Paul calls generosity a seed, no different from planting a field. If you had two acres, you would use it for a good purpose. If you had ten acres, you would do the same. In the same way, God is generous because God has unlimited resources. God’s provisions can never be exhausted. God sees our need and meets it.
Paul lists some guidelines for giving in the verses we heard this morning. He says that giving is an individual matter. We choose how much to give. Each person makes this decision for himself or herself. We offer choices for various mission endeavors in our church. You may decide to support some activities and decline others, which is fine. You alone know what level of giving makes sense for you and your family.
Paul stresses that giving is a decision. The word he uses implies that one is acting with deliberation. We are not to get caught up in emotional appeals that pull upon our heartstrings so that we act rashly or in haste. Giving is not something we should regret later! Instead, take some time and consider well how God wants you to respond to a given need. Act responsibly according to the resources available to you.
Paul says that giving is a private decision, not a public one. This is like what Jesus says, that our giving should be such that our right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, or is it the other way around? We do not give to receive a pat on the back; we give because that’s what God wants us to do.
Jesus had some radical words about giving. He said that if someone wants to have your shirt, give him your coat too. If someone tells you to walk with them one mile, choose to go twice as far. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Isn’t that how God deals with us? We are not deserving of God’s love, kindness and forgiving grace, but we receive it anyway, and in infinitely greater measure. We who have been recipients of God’s generosity are to be as generous with others as God has been with us. Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even the tax collectors do that?” The idea is that our actions should be like God.
God’s love for us was generous enough to send his only son, Jesus, to teach us and forgive us, to die for us and promise us eternal life with him. We may trust in that love, and trust in God’s promise that God will supply our needs according to God’s abundant riches. God gives us spiritual gifts according to the measure of faith we have received, with the purpose of building up the body of Christ, the church.
God doesn’t need any one of us, but God wants us and loves us and invites us and welcomes us to be part of God’s kingdom here on earth. God has a vision for each of us – that by being part of Christ’s body, the church, we may build the kingdom one heart at a time, so that the whole world may be transformed and made alive. Stewardship invites us to participate in God’s great work as we make our resources available for God’s purposes – our reserves of time, our reservoir of talents, and our resource of funds. I believe with all my heart that giving enriches us, not depletes us, because giving makes us fruitful workers of the harvest. Giving in all that it implies, is what God calls us to do as Christians.
I believe there is a significant difference between asking for money to fund our budget, and trusting in God’s provision and care for his church. Jesus asks us to make a choice – we can either trust in money or we can trust in God. If we trust in money, then we in the church are forced to go begging for it, because we have given the power to money. If we trust in God, however, we may be confident that God will provide what is needed, because we have faith in God’s promise. By faith we invite one another to participate in the building of God’s kingdom through the work of this church, then step back to allow God to do the real work of moving one’s heart and will.
I have such a vision for this church, that each of us will grow in spiritual maturity. I want us to be better listeners through the practice of prayer, and quick to respond to what God asks us to do. I’d like us to feel more comfortable with God’s word in the Bible, to give us the encouragement and strength we need to get through tough times. We have great wisdom of years in this church that we should learn from before God calls them home. Ray Kellogg was one such person of faith, and we have many more whom we are privileged to still have in our midst. They are our treasure from an era that is rapidly disappearing, and I don’t want to lose their steadfast witness about how to keep Christ in the center of our lives. I’d like to record their stories, their testimony, to encourage us and spur us on to accomplish greater things for Christ.
I would like us to generate new opportunities to share with one another about faith so that we better learn to tell our faith stories to those in need of what God has to offer. Too many times we are silent when God would have us speak up. We cannot be ashamed to speak of our faith in Christ, even in this politically correct world! Each of you are in contact with others every day, people who you may influence through your character and actions. We choose to be generous with those we love, but I’d like us to become more intentional that it is Christ who propels us forward.
The first Christians gave wholeheartedly of themselves as they experienced the power of God’s grace in Christ their savior. They were so moved by the abundance of God’s blessing showered on them that their hearts could not help but give extravagantly themselves. Praise to God in Jesus Christ, for modeling for us the same generosity that inspires us.