Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Provisions of God

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Every day we get bombarded with requests for help and assistance. The causes might be good, but how do you decide when and where to give? Of course, these appeals come even faster the closer we get to Christmas. Although we must be careful and discerning in our giving, we also must be aware of the temptation to close the heart and wallet, and become overly protective of our assets. When we do this, we fall prey to the miserliness that cut Mr. Scrooge off from humanity.

Paul made an appeal to the Corinthian Church, that might not have gone over very well. He told them that he was coming south and was taking up a collection for the church in Jerusalem, which was experiencing famine. I’m not sure, but it seems like he was hearing some grumbling about having to give to strangers when there were troubles enough at home. In answering them, Paul focuses on the heart of the giver, the provisions of God, and the blessings of giving.
1. THE HEART OF THE GIVER
Paul does talk about obligations earlier in this chapter, but now he focuses on the joys of giving from the heart. According to C.K. Barrett, Paul is calling for an "outward act expressing inward conviction rather than desire for praise or fears of censures."1 You can find a similar principle in the extra-canonical book of Sirach, which says: "with every gift show a cheerful face, and dedicate your tithe with gladness" (Sirach 35:11).

In talking about sowing and reaping, Paul uses the language of the farmer, but he could just as easily have used the language of the investor. If you invest in something of value, you will likely receive something of value in return. If you invest nothing, you get nothing. Jesus understood this principle, because he talks about just this idea in the parable of the Talents. In this parable the one who buries the one talent out of fear of losing it, ends up losing everything (Lk. 19:11-27).

Giving joyfully or cheerfully is a bit like investing. If you’re afraid of the future, you won’t invest. If you’re afraid of God’s future, then you won’t give. By investing cheerfully in the things of God we benefit from the works of God in our midst.
2. THE PROVISIONS OF GOD
Cheerful giving is an expression of trust in the God who gives generously. As that old hymn says, God is the "fount of every blessing."

Now, God might not put two Beemers in every driveway, there is the promise of having enough to live faithfully. Although Jesus will occasionally talk about giving up everything to follow him, he doesn’t preach the kind of ascetism that denies the value of the material world. But, both Jesus and Paul speak of keeping things in balance, so that the things of this world don’t rule our hearts. As the author of the book of Hebrews puts it:

Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you. (Heb. 13:5).

3. THE BLESSINGS OF GIVING
As we approach a national day of Thanksgiving, it’s good to stop and recognize the blessings of God. If we do this, we discover the blessings that come from giving. The greatest blessing that comes from giving is being free from the fear of what the future holds. When we’re afraid of the future, we tend to hoard and hold on to things, but when we give, we open ourselves up to the blessings of God. Richard Foster writes in the Celebration of Discipline:

But if we truly believe that God is who Jesus said He is, then we do not need to be afraid. When we come to see God as the almighty Creator and our loving Father we can share because we know that He will care for us.2

So, is there a benefit to giving? Paul says, yes! "You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity." (2 Cor. 9). In fact, when we give, everyone benefits, including us. Although the Judeans might benefit materially from this gift, they would benefit spiritually from the connection comes when we give to another part of the body of Christ. So, when we give to the Week of Compassion or to the Thanksgiving Offering others may benefit materially, but we benefit by growing in our trust tin God. By giving to others, we get to share in their lives.

As this congregation looks forward into future, we’re being called upon to stretch our selves by giving generously so that our ministries can expand. I know that many here are faithful and even sacrificial givers, but you seem to know that when you give you receive in return uncountable blessings, and as we give now we build upon the gifts of previous generations who chose to invest in God’s work in Lompoc.

When we give, we show that we trust God to be our provider. And when we give cheerfully and freely, we do so, knowing that through this act of giving our hearts are opened to God, and our relationship with God is deepened. It is deepened because by giving we put aside the things that get in the way of our relationship with God – the materialism that tells us that we’re not complete unless we have the latest gadget that comes down the pike. Our giving is a recognition that we’re complete in Christ, the giver of every good and perfect gift.

CONCLUSION

In the next week or so, many of you will receive a letter from the chair of the congregation and the treasurer. This letter will contain an estimate of giving card. By signing that card and turning it to the Financial Secretary, you can make a commitment to give faithfully and cheerfully in response to the many blessings poured out upon you by God. It’s not a bill, it’s simply a call to embrace the kingdom of God.
1. C.K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (NY: Harper and Row, 1973), 236.
2. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978), 78.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
Thanksgiving Sunday
November 18, 2007

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