Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
24. November 2010
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
“God loves a cheerful giver!”
It always amazes me how much our world loves Thanksgiving. We like turkeys, family dinner, stories of Mayflowers and Puritans, Indians and corn. We like Thanksgiving football, Thanksgiving food, and thanksgiving naps. We even take time to stop and say thanks. Usually we say a prayer of thanks, maybe as a family or maybe as a church.
I’ve always been confused by the term. Why call it thanksgiving? Are we thanking God for giving to us stuff? That’s usually how its understood. Altars are piled high with cornucopias, gourds, and plastic fruit. This somehow indicates our thanks for what God gives. Of course, the edible stuff we take off the altar and eat. The rest of it goes in a box until next year. And if its truly thanks to God for giving us stuff, then why does nearly everyone celebrate it? Why is the holiday not offensive to atheist or the pagan? Is it simply because they get a day off from work? Is it because its an excuse to be lazy with family or friends? I don’t know.
I do know that our Father who gives to us is not simply satisfied with us saying a yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, or mealtime prayer of thanks. We pray to our Lord, “give us this day our daily bread.” Its an ironic thing to pray for. As Luther says, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone even without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive daily bread with thanksgiving.” (SC, Lord’s Prayer, 4th Petition)
There’s that word again: thanksgiving. Thanks Lord for giving, we say on this day. But what about tomorrow? Will the paycheck come before the check clears? Will the pantry keep up with the growing children? Will the insurance cover that procedure? Will my wife and children continue to be faithful? Will the government stop its invasions of privacy and once again be what Luther calls “good government?” Will I still have friends or neighbors or will they leave me? Will I at least keep my good reputation?
If you doubt, pray to the Lord. Pray to him, “give us this day our daily bread.” Hold him to his promises and be renewed in your trust. Pray the petition and the Lord will lead you to remember that he gives you everything you need. Pray the petition as a way of giving thanks for all your daily bread.
This is the crux of Paul’s dilemma with the church in Corinth. They had committed to supporting with alms those in need in their congregation or another congregation. For some reason, they backed out of their support. Paul is concerned and commends to them the example of the Macedonians. You have to admire Paul’s methodology. It’s like saying, you, who haven’t supported the ministry like you said, be like her who has kept her commitment and has even supported it the more generously. You, church in Corinth, be like the church in Macedonia. I, Paul, have staked my reputation on you. Don’t let me down.
The point, says Paul, is that if you fail to support those in need, you will lack the support you need. He recalls Jesus’ parable about the reckless scattering of the seed. That parable always bothers our stewardship sensibilities. Jesus asks us to cast the Word about recklessly, even on soils that seem infertile. Jesus himself, the sower incarnate, dies for the sins of the whole world, shedding his blood for the rotten, the miserable, and the righteous alike. Paul recalls the sower to the hearts of the Corinthians. There’s no harvest without a sowing.
Christian stewardship is a big deal but hardly understood. All through the ministry of Jesus, we hear parables and teachings bemoaning how easily Jew and Gentile have fallen for the god Mammon. They love their money, they love their wealth. From the lectionary, we learn this problem is an age old problem. It wasn’t just the disciples and the pharisees who didn’t get it. It wasn’t only a problem for the early Christians. Its been a problem from day one.
God gave Adam and Eve more fruit than they could want but the craved the fruit that wasn’t theirs. God generously sustained the people with manna and quail and they complained for more. Solomon had more daily bread than the Hiltons or the Rockefellers, and still craved more.
So here we are again. Pastor is complaining about how miserly the congregation is, just like St. Paul. Pastor doesn’t understand economies, retirement funds, and the like. You are right, I don’t. But it doesn’t sound like St. Paul did either. Paul wants to be clear. Christian charitable giving isn’t like tithing. Christian giving isn’t bound by the law of 10% or the other prescriptions.
Christian giving is bound to our redeemed conscience. Christians give cheerfully and not under compulsion or reluctantly. No percentages or fixed amounts prescribed. In a real sense, Christian giving tests God. He says He gives bountifully and so he challenges you to use the bounty. Paul says our Lord will give you the strength to do this, so that you will have sufficient faith and to abound in every good work of supporting the Gospel and those in need. Lutherans are a bit hesitant to talk about virtues. We don’t want to tell people how they ought to live. Yet, clearly Paul is teaching that a Christians are expected to be generous. Sometimes they have to be reminded to do so. They have to be told that God will provide for all their needs of body and soul, even without prayers. They cheerfully give from their bounty and without compulsion.
Of course, every one of us is a sinner who listens to the voice of the devil, tormenting us with wicked lies. Satan fills our ears with lies, saying, “you won’t have enough for tomorrow. You haven’t loved God enough so He’s going to make you suffer. Your retirement fund is going to tank so you better invest there instead of the church. That beggar is going to use those $5 to buy liquor so don’t bother helping him out. There’s no way you could afford to adopt, to be foster parents, to support orphanages.”
Dear Christians, these are horrible lies. They are utter rejection of what God says. “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.” (2 Cor. 9:10) Do not doubt that your Lord will provide. Receive our Lord’s blessings as just that – blessings. If doubt wells up while your family grows, pray “give us this day our daily bread.” If you worry about tomorrow, while caring for the needs of today, pray “give us this day our daily bread.” If you are tempted to withdraw support from your church, your charities, and the mercy and relief our missions provide on earth, pray to the Lord “give us this day our daily bread.”
You see, generosity is a spiritual discipline. To give generously is a challenge to your faith. It forces you to place your trust not in the gold price, the stock market, or the portfolio value. Generosity forces you to trust in your Lord to provide. Almsgiving requires trust in your heavenly Father to provide for you as he has promised. There is no compulsion to give generously apart from faith. Faith compels us to put God to the test, to hold Him to His Word. He says He will provide to the sower generously. And when our Lord does provide, despite the shoestring budgets and the generous outpouring of fellow brothers, faith grows. Faith is strengthened. His grace abounds and we have all we need to complete our Lord’s good work.
St. Paul says, “You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (2 Cor. 9:11) There is that word again: thanksgiving. As Inigo Montoya says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” In Greek, thanksgiving is ευχαριστια (eucharistia). It can mean a quality of being grateful, an expression of gratitude, or in one case in 1 Corinthians 10:16, the Lord’s Supper, sometimes called the Eucharist. Thanksgiving is about being grateful to God, expressing the gratitude to God, and even here, at our Lord’s altar, receiving the highest gift, not daily bread, but our Lord’s body and blood with gratitude. Paul tells us that our Father will enrich us with generosity towards the church, and by this generosity will cause thanksgiving to spring forth from the lips of the saints.
Generosity brings thankfulness. Nothing more counter-cultural could be said about thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is actually about saying thanks by giving. Our generosity supplies the needs of the saints here and abroad. Our generosity overflows with more givings of thanks to those who need.
And to repeat, this is not an obligation or compulsion. The cheerful giver is a gift of God! Through the surpassing grace of God, we are enabled to give generously from the bounty our Lord has given us. Our gifts glorify God. Our giving of thank offerings is a confession of our faith. They tell others that we trust in our Lord’s providential hand. We do not doubt He will provide for us. We submit to His blessings and thank Him be our generosity for the church and those in need.
And here at our Lord’s holy altar, we receive with thanks the gift our Lord has given to us. Here our Lord recklessly sows His body and blood onto the fertile soil of our hearts. From this precious springs forth in us a bounty of generous charity for all those in need. From our Lord’s sacrifice, we enabled to faithfully sacrifice for others. From our Lord’s blood, sweat, and tears, we are strengthened to labor for His harvest. His body and blood enables us to abound in every good work. It is the all sufficient gift for us to persevere in faith. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! Amen.