Every Blessing in Abundance

“Every Blessing in Abundance”

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2 Corinthians 9:7-12 (9:8) – November 13, 2016

At this thanksgiving time of the year, people are more liberal with their donations. Soon the Salvation Army kettles will be out in front of stores and supermarkets, and we will hear the ding dong of bell ringers asking for gifts. The food pantries and clothes closets appreciate extra donations, and all manner of other charities will receive additional gifts, too. The holidays are a time to give liberally to all kinds of organizations and charitable institutions.

This brings me to our Scripture passage for today. This giving time of the year reminds us of what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. In the paragraphs before today’s reading in chapter 9, Paul asks for a collection to be gathered together. This collection of money is to be given to the persecuted, needy church in Jerusalem.

It’s then Paul tells more about giving, in general. How to give, and why. How not to give, too. People have all kinds of reasons to give: giving to provide for others, in a righteous kind of way. Giving to help others, in a loving way. Or, giving out of obligation, in a grudging way. There are many different kinds of ways to give, and attitudes to have while we contribute. The Apostle Paul talks about a few of them in this reading today.

God loves a cheerful giver. Paul says so! In the verses just before today’s passage, Paul praises the believers in Corinth for such a bountiful gift for the persecuted church in Jerusalem. So generous! They understood why the money was needed, certainly.

We have a proverb of Paul’s day included here, in our first verse: “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Here Paul is including a common saying of the day to illustrate his point. Talking about bounty, about being generous, and about grudging giving—being stingy.

What is all this about sowing and reaping? To us, in a 21st century, urban context, most of us are not very familiar with planting and harvest, sowing and reaping illustrations. Some are—those of us who have green thumbs, plant lovely gardens, and reap a bountiful harvest. You will more easily understand what Paul is saying here.

We have it in a little different fashion, a verse later. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.”

Let me give an illustration. Better than that, let me show you what Paul is talking about here. I have some bookmarks with 2 Corinthians 9:7 printed on them. I will take the liberty of passing them out.

(I pass out the bookmarks, first, reluctantly. With a somber face, not looking people in the eye, sighing, rolling my eyes, and not very pleased to be giving out bookmarks at all. Halfway through, I change my demeanor. I pass out bookmarks with a cheerful smile, with a happy attitude, and wishing people the best as I give them bookmarks.)

Did anyone notice a difference? What was that difference?

Was I a reluctant giver of the bookmarks, at first? “I can’t believe I have to do this.” And “I wonder whether I can leave soon?” Rolling my eyes, and sighing. I did not show a very good attitude, at all!

How about the second half of the bookmarks? The second half of my giving? How was that? Was I a cheerful giver? Was I kind and welcoming?

How did you feel receiving the bookmark from a reluctant giver? How about the cheerful giver? Which kind of giver would you prefer? Which kind of giver do you think God prefers?

We will read this verse once more: “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” These are wise words from the Apostle Paul. This giving cannot be done reluctantly, or under compulsion, because then it isn’t for real. The reluctant giving is grudging. Out of obligation, and a heavy, unpleasant responsibility.

Paul would tell us, “No! That isn’t that way God wants you to give!” Instead, we are to give in cheerfulness, with joy in our hearts. We are to give freely and positively. God will love us for that positive, cheerful attitude. What is more, the whole action and the whole feeling of the heart will then be framed by love. God’s love! God will express love toward us, and each of us will express love toward our fellow people in need. And, whomever else we need to give to.

But, wait! There is more! Paul goes on to talk about what more God will do. If we have this generous attitude towards giving, being open-handed, positive and cheerful, then God will bless us abundantly with every blessing.

You can kind of see this from the way the sentence is translated into English, but Paul is making sure his readers know that God will absolutely, abundantly provide. God will certainly multiply all with great abundance. If we have generous attitudes, God will provide every increase, so that we will abound in every good work.

Let me caution everyone here. God is not talking about purchasing salvation. That is not even being discussed. We are saved already.

We have been justified by God, and we are now and always God’s children, beloved and cherished. However—as we know from our own children, beloved children are not always cheerful and generous. That is just Paul’s point here!

God wants us to live abundant lives. God wants us to be kind and cheerful and generous. God wants us to be abundantly blessed, and have heavenly gifts rain on our heads. What is the hinge, here? Giving. If we have a kind, cheerful and generous attitude towards giving, God is essentially giving us a high five!

We will live abundant lives, blessed and enriched in every way.

What a marvelous promise. What wonderful words. And, this is not “maybe,” or “I hope so,” but it is a blessed promise from God! This is not only for our gifts of treasure, for our gifts of money. But, this blessing is for our gifts of time and of talents, as well.

For the person who comes and volunteers on Sunday mornings to start the coffee, stuff the bulletins in the hymnals, or turns on the lights in the sanctuary and lights the candles—thank you, so much. For the person who bakes a cake or makes a table decoration or repairs the church building—thank you. Those are the gifts of time and of talent, and God is so pleased with that. All of those things, and many, many more.

Paul’s final words from this reading today: “11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” See? Our cheerful, generous giving supplies the needs of the saints. The needs of the local church.

We end as we begin, with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving to our fellow church members, to our friends and neighbors, and ultimately, to God. Thanks be to God for God’s abundant blessings. And, thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of salvation.

Alleluia, amen!

(Thanks to Pam Auble and http://www.ucc.org/oghs_resources_2013-resources_activities for the excellent suggestion of a reluctant giver and a cheerful giver.)

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Mother Love, Parent Love

“Mother Love, Parent Love” – May 8, 2016

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John 17:20-26 (17:23)

This is a weekend to celebrate mothers. Yes, and mothers-in-law, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and nieces and other relatives and friends who are mothers. It is a special weekend, with special meals, gifts, flowers, and cards. Significant trips to the cemetery perhaps.  Happy Mother’s Day. What a wonderful sentiment. Hallmark card holiday, some might say. Particularly meaningful day to many. A day of pain and grief, of sorrow and longing, to others. An emotional day, for sure, with a whole range of emotions.

Reminds me of the particularly emotional night that we have in our Gospel reading for today. It comes from the last night our Lord spent on earth. From John 17:20-26, when Jesus prays for His friends after the Passover dinner.

Here is the beginning of that passage, the words of Jesus to His Heavenly Parent, in prayer. 20 “My prayer is not for them [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You.”

I wanted to highlight this section, as a prelude to the topic of this sermon. This sermon goes straight to the heart of why Jesus was here on earth. He was communicating that message to His friends and followers. This prayer lets us know Jesus is not just praying for His disciples. He is also praying for all those who come to believe as a result of the disciples’ spreading the Good News. That means, Jesus is praying for all Christians, throughout all time. He is praying here for us, too! Did you realize that? Jesus prays for us.

What does He pray, some might wonder? I’m glad you asked!

I continue reading from John 17: “22 I have given them [all believers] the glory that You gave me, that they may be one as We are one.” Here Jesus is talking about the unity of all believers. The family of God.

Did you know we are in God’s family? Children of God, that’s what we are. Knowing that living together, living in community is not easy, Jesus prays for His disciples and for us.  That prayer is for household families, the church family, and God’s world-wide family. [1]

All of us—no matter who—are included in Jesus’s description of family. All of us—no matter who—are included in the unity of believers.

But, I did not want to preach on the unity—fellowship—of the family of God today. I know that is a huge concept, and I’ve touched on it in recent sermons. No, today I wanted to describe God’s love.

Let’s let Jesus tell us more. From John’s Gospel reading, verse 23. “Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them [all believers] even as You have loved Me.”

I love what the commentator Barbara Lundblad said about this section of Jesus’s prayer. She talks about the surprising twists and turns of the Gospel of John. About the protective nature of this talk Jesus gave in the Upper Room, where Jesus proclaims God’s love. God’s love for—the world. God’s beloved children! [2]

But, Jesus does not just describe us all as children. He speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd. We as children—as sheep—hear His voice. But, wait! There’s more! Just as we are ready to shut the gate, Jesus mentions other sheep. Different sheep, not of our sheepfold.

The disciples must have been really confused by this time. Not only have these past few days been really emotional, but the band of disciples know they are in a tough spot. A dangerous situation. They all know that their Rabbi Jesus is high on the Enemies of the Jewish Leaders list. Who knows if there will be an official knock at the door, summoning some if not all of them to meet with the Jewish authorities? Jesus had some daring, walking right into Jerusalem on that Passover week.

Yet, what does Jesus do? He prays for His disciples, and for all of those who will believe. He prays a prayer of protection. He prays that these beloved ones of God will be protected from the world. That sounds like a prayer from a mother’s heart. We see a word picture of our Lord Jesus, seeming very much like a mother.

That’s the thing about mothers. (Most mothers, I mean.) It doesn’t matter whether their children are small, or whether they’re grown. It doesn’t matter whether the child is near or far, employed or out of work, healthy or sick. A mother still thinks of her son, her daughter. A mother still prays for her child, no matter where, no matter what.

We are all children of God. God is our Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Parent. We are much beloved by God, and chosen and precious to God. That’s all of us, right here. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, or what we’ve left undone. It doesn’t matter what we look like, or whether we are in poor health, or whether we’re right- or left-handed. God loves us.

But—what about people who haven’t had an ideal relationship with their mothers? I know these things are difficult to think about, and difficult to talk about. However, sometimes they do need to be voiced. These words and experiences are truths for many. Maybe not many here, but for many across the country, and throughout the world. For some children, and for some adults, that is a real and painful reality in their lives.

Every Mother’s Day card or gift, every reminder of Mother’s Day, whether on commercials, in shop windows, or from friends or relatives, is accompanied by a sinking heart, feeling of regret or grief, or perhaps a flash of anger. For all those for whom this is your reality, I grieve with you today. I have several friends for whom this is true. I do feel great compassion and sorrow in my heart, for them and for those who still suffer.

I turn back to Barbara Lundblad. She says, “we hear Jesus praying as a mother worried for her children. “I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus said. You are my own and I will be with you forever.” Jesus, who will not let us down, who will walk right by our sides.

I hear echoes of the most comforting of Psalms here. Psalm 23, which Jesus must certainly have been familiar with. True, this was King David talking to God, but David’s words have transcended the centuries. His words have been true for oh, so many. “Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil.” Why? Because God is walking right at our sides.

Finally, David says, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Do you hear? That is what Jesus wants for us. God’s transformative love for us will shine through. We, as God’s beloved children, are going to dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.
That’s the long view. Now, how can we use these words in our lives, today?

This is the wondrous mystery revealed to theologian Julian of Norwich in the 14th century. This well-educated Christian woman devoted her life to God through study and contemplation of scripture. She wrote a theological treatise in a day when not many people were well-educated, much less women. Her words have now become a hymn that we could sing today: “Mothering God, you gave me birth. Mothering Christ, you took my form. Mothering Spirit, nurturing One.” [3] God is so much more than we ever could imagine.

Alleluia to God, heavenly Parent of us all. Amen.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/04/year-c-seventh-sunday-of-easter-may-8.html

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2851

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2851

(Thanks to Barbara Lundblad and Carolyn Brown for their words and ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)