Thanksgiving to God

“Thanksgiving to God”

2 Cor 9-11 thanksgiving, words

2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (9:11) – November 19, 2017

Today, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, many people across the United States celebrate as Thanksgiving Sunday. “According to the Internet there are 12 nations – large and small – who celebrate in one form or another their nation’s Thanksgiving Day; whilst other forms and styles of celebration include local “Harvest Thanksgiving” services.” [1]

Both scripture readings this morning feature words of gratitude and thanks to God for giving us our many blessings, and specifically for the blessings of the harvest. First, our psalm for this morning lets us know God has provided so much for us to enjoy. Not only the bounty of the harvest, but more than that. Our Psalmist lets us know God has made the earth and water, and everything else, and provides everything for humanity’s benefit.

Let me read again from Psalm 65: “You, God, soften the earth with showers and bless its abundant crops. 11 You crown the year with a bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance. 12 The grasslands of the wilderness become a lush pasture, and the hillsides blossom with joy. 13 The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep, and the valleys are carpeted with grain. They all shout and sing for joy!”

All this bounty is considered to be given to humanity to enjoy. All the harvest and bounty that this psalm celebrates is what the apostle Paul talks about in his letter to the church in Corinth, too. Except, Paul goes one step further.

When we read Paul’s suggestions in this passage today, he urges the believers in Corinth to be generous. Sure, in Paul’s previous letter, in 1 Corinthians, the people from that church were collecting for the poor and persecuted Christians in Jerusalem. Now, with this updated message to Corinth, Paul praises the church for continuing with the collection for the saints in Jerusalem, and urges them to be generous. He broadens his suggestion and encourages them to give gifts freely. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

What about that last phrase, anyway? “God loves a cheerful giver.” Sure, Paul is urging his fellow Christians to be generous. However, this goes over and above mere giving of alms, or slipping a dollar in a panhandler’s cup, or even a five-dollar bill in the Salvation Army kettle in the holiday season. Paul lets us know we ought to give cheerfully (Gr. hilaron), or “hilariously,” in the sense of very joyfully. But, he doesn’t want us to throw our money around needlessly. And, not in the sense of thoughtlessly, either.

Money, charity, and giving are discussed in the Bible in several places. I will highlight one: “cheerful” givers always receive God’s loving approval (Prov. 22:8). So, God wants all of us to be cheerful, generous, and open-hearted.

There is a problem here, and Paul mentions it. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

One of my favorite bible commentators, Bob Deffinbaugh, writes “Some people simply do not enjoy being generous. It causes them great pain to give up more of what they possess in order to bestow it upon someone who needs it more than they do. Once I suggested to a friend who was dying that she give away some of her possessions while she was alive, so that she could enjoy the act of giving while she was still alive. I had seriously misjudged the situation. This woman did not want to give anything away before she died, because she found no pleasure in giving. Only after her death, when she could keep her possessions no longer, would she reluctantly will them to someone else. How sad.” [2]

This is a cautionary tale for all of us. Certainly, the idea of reluctantly giving away money or worldly goods is something most of us associate with Ebenezer Scrooge of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol fame. I know very well that there are great numbers of people who only give “grudgingly.”

So many people love their stuff, don’t they? Or, if not “stuff,” then they are awfully attached to their money, or even their time. Some might hate to part with anything of value, period.  And, especially, “We should not give because we feel there is no alternative, or because we think others will look down on us if we fail to give.” [3] It’s sort of tGod’swisted and perverted, and just like the Pharisees. That is the exact opposite of the reason Paul tells us to give.

As Bob Deffinbaugh relates, “To use an analogy our Lord employs, when we see a brother who has no coat, we don’t have to own a coat factory; all we need is two coats (see Luke 3:11). The reason we may not have the means to give to the poor is because we have not sown from that which we have in order to reap more to give. We, like the widow who cared for Elijah, may need to give first to those in need, and then look to God to supply our needs.” [4]

We can follow Paul’s words and suggestions, and ask—how would we celebrate God’s blessings to us? How could we give thanks? Like I suggested to the children earlier today, we can be generous. Give of what we have. If we have a little extra food or canned goods or pasta, give that. If we have an extra coat, give it to a coat drive. If we have some free time, volunteer or donate that. If God has been good to us and we have some extra money, be generous with whatever God has blessed us with.

When my husband and I were hiking through a state forest some years ago, we came across a stream. The path turned and followed the bubbling, flowing stream. As my husband and I continued walking, we came to a little waterfall, where the water bubbled and traveled downward from one level to another, and then went rushing along its merry way. I think of giving like this. Paul lets us know that generous giving flows out of God’s generosity to us. If we dam up that trickle of giving, we might end up with a backload of water that can’t flow, can’t run free and clear, and cannot transmit God’s blessings to others.

When we understand that everything—every single thing!—we have comes from God, it is much easier to share what we have with others. God supplies both the seed and the harvest. He is the one who makes us rich so that we might be generous on every occasion. Our giving is a demonstration of thanks to God. We thank God for what God has given us by giving it away!

And, what is the final point of Paul’s suggestion? What is the most wonderful thing God gives us? Praise the Lord for God’s unmatchable, unspeakable, unsurpassable Gift—Jesus Christ! Jesus and the grace He freely gives to us is the reason we give to others.

We give thanks that our generosity is rooted in the generosity of our God in the person of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We can say “Happy Thanksgiving,” indeed.

Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://www.thetimelesspsalms.net/w_resources/pentecost23[30]c_2016.htm

The Timeless Psalms: Psalm 65, Joan Stott, prayers and meditations based on lectionary Psalms, 2016.

[2] Religious Affections: A Study of Paul’s 2 Corinthian Correspondence 12. Keeping Your Commitments (2 Cor. 8:16-9:15) https://bible.org/seriespage/12-keeping-your-commitments-2-cor-816-915  Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh, Th.M.

[3] http://soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/2corinthians.pdf

2 Corinthians, Expository Notes, Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Dallas Theological Seminary, 2005 edition.

[4] Religious Affections: A Study of Paul’s 2 Corinthian Correspondence 12. Keeping Your Commitments (2 Cor. 8:16-9:15) https://bible.org/seriespage/12-keeping-your-commitments-2-cor-816-915  Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh, Th.M.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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Every Blessing in Abundance

“Every Blessing in Abundance”

2-cor-9-7-thanksgiving-word-cloud

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.)

Don’t Worry?

“Don’t Worry?”

Matt 6-34 do not worry about tomorrow

Matthew 6:25-34 – November 22, 2015

Worry. Fear. Anxiety. This 21st century urban culture we live in is an extremely anxious culture. People worry about all kinds of things. And, with the recent events in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad, many people all over the world are even more anxious. For good reason!

Worry about my friends. One of my friends has an elderly parent who is in hospice. Yes, I’m concerned about the whole family! Worry about jobs. Some people worry about their bosses, or their co-workers. I have several friends who are in need of jobs, and wish they could have the luxury of worrying about the situation at work! So, there’s worry about finances in there, too.

Worry about health and about family. One of my sisters had a knee operation several months ago. She lives out of state, and I haven’t heard from her in a while. Worried? Concerned for her and her mobility? Yes, I am, at least a little.

All of these situations are troubles, concerns. Worries. The news on the radio, on the television, different media websites—all depend on worry and anxiety to pull in their viewers. And with recent events, many of the politicians worldwide are having a field day. And the media outlets? Trying to get the public on the edge of their seats, to keep tuning in, or buying their products. A never-ending fearful circus.

Here in our bible verses this morning, our Lord Jesus is telling us not to be filled with worry. Worry—anxiety—fear. When we come right down to it, this yucky predicament sounds familiar. We might not like it, we might be uncomfortable with it, but these various negative situations still happen to many of us, on a regular basis.

All the worry and anxiety just mentioned? That was mostly external. Looking outward. Yes, common to all of us. Let’s up that worry and anxiety one notch higher. Let’s sprinkle some self-centered fear on it. Add a few dashes of worry, and pile on concern about foreign people, faraway places, and strange-looking things? Does that sound familiar, too?

Fear of the interior. That’s the inside job. Your insides, my insides. Our feelings and emotions, everything all mixed together like with a blender or a kitchen mixer. I can imagine some people are so anxious and worried about what’s going on inside of them that they don’t even want to examine themselves, and do an inventory. They would far rather hide under a blanket. Or check out in other ways that involve various preoccupations or addictions. Sure, emotional insecurity is very real. Lots of people feel alone. All by themselves, and cut off from others. Bitterness and frustration can make things worse. Worry and anxiety can magnify those kind of feelings, way out of control.

The last few verses of Matthew 6 is the Gospel reading for Thanksgiving this year. Jesus preaches one of His signature sermons at the beginning of His ministry, the Sermon on the Mount. He deals with a whole bunch of topics here. The Beatitudes, the Law Code of Moses, prayer, judging others, and worry. Our reading for today. How on earth are we supposed to get thankfulness out of worry? Or not worrying? Seems like this is about gratitude’s opposite. Worry. Anxiety. Robbing our lives of peace, joy and serenity.

I have heard a good deal about worry and anxiety in the past few years. In my previous job, I worked as a hospital chaplain. Yes, I would pray with anyone who asked. But, I would also listen. As I listened, I heard about a whole lot of worry, anxiety and concern. And, rightfully so! Anxiety about upcoming treatment, worry about finances, awkward anticipation about losses of various kinds. But I would also hear about depression, anger, and self-pity. I’d hear about these painful emotions mixing and crashing around inside of people, and oftentimes, I would be helpless to do anything about it, except listen.

In personal life today, I have concerns. Sure, I have thoughts that sometimes preoccupy my mind. I can live in yesterday for too long of a time. I sometimes look forward to tomorrow—or next week or next month with some fear and anxiety. But what is the overarching message of this reading? What does Jesus tell us in this paragraph from the Gospel of Matthew?

He talks about the beauty and the vastness of God’s creation. He tells us to lift our heads and look around. Doesn’t God take care of the birds of the air and the beasts of the field? Yes, stuff happens. Life happens—and then some, at times. But if God takes care of the birds and the beasts, think about us. Think about you and me. Do you think for one minute that God would forget about you? Or, that God would forget about me?

In preparing this sermon, I found this wonderful article online. A Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Dr. Janet Hunt says this about this section of Matthew: “Somehow, sometimes, God does use the really terrible things that do happen to many of us to remind us of what is worth worrying about and what isn’t.  Only in Jesus’ words today?  Nothing is worth worrying about, not even the worst tragedies and struggles that are ours, for it is all in God’s hands.  The big things, absolutely. And the small ones, too.”

I think some of you might have heard these little sayings: “It’s hard by the yard, but it’s a cinch by the inch.” And, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Anything can seem overwhelming, if we look at the whole huge thing at once. Sure, life does have challenges. And then some! However, Jesus’ words are really wise: “34 So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own.” In other words, one day at a time. “Don’t worry about tomorrow!” Those aren’t my words—they’re the words of Jesus!

Some of you might be saying, “That’s all very well, to say those words. Words are pretty, but do they have any action? Do they have any lasting effect on me, on you? How does it work? In real life?” What does worry and concern do to me? To you? In real life?

One way to deal with worry and concern is to practice a breath prayer. A breath prayer has two parts: first, a name of God that fits the prayer and the second a short request for help in dealing with the problem. For example, “God, help me feel okay at the dentist.” We can say God’s name while breathing in, and the request is said while breathing out. Breath prayers can work for little worries, and big concerns, too.

Jesus says these one-day-at-a-time words from Matthew 6 to each of us, today. We can take these words home with us, today. These words urge us to let go of our worry.

Jesus offers us an amazing gift. The possibility of God’s presence, through the challenges of life. God being with us, protecting us from that worry and anxiety. Shielding us from anything that would rob our lives of peace and joy.

Praise God! God continues to help us deal with worry and anxiety, no matter how big our concerns are, or how little. Whenever and wherever they might pop up.

It seems there is nothing greater for us to be thankful for. Gratitude? You bet! Grateful to God for God’s love, protection and tender care. Here, and hereafter.

We can all say amen to that. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!