Congregational Church of Grafton, November 5, 2017
2 Corinthians 9:6-15 . . . God loves a cheerful giver
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Have you ever thought that giving money to the church is something like paying God off? . . .like we’re thinking, well I’ll give a good pledge and in return God will keep my family safe, make my business grow, protect me from getting arrested when I drive too fast…or whatever?
You see what I mean? And when we think like that, when stewardship feels more like a euphemism for a sales pitch, when it sounds like God is hustling for a pay raise, we find ourselves thinking, golly, what’s the least I can offer without totally offending God?
When I first started attending church, I knew nothing about stewardship or offerings; I only knew that plate was going to be passed, and I needed to put something in it. But what? How much? A dollar seemed cheap, but ten dollars was extravagant – remember this was back in the 70s… So, I figured that between the music and sermon I was getting the value I’d get out of attending a movie, and gave what it cost for a regular movie ticket. I figured I should pay for the value I received.
Well, while my offering was more than appropriate, I had the whole thing backwards. Because stewardship, offerings, giving to the church, isn’t about paying for what we’ve received any more than it’s about paying God off to guarantee a good life.
It is about one of the bedrock principles of the Christian life, and that principle is encapsulated in the phrase in today’s lesson: God loves a cheerful giver.
God loves cheerful givers. Cheerful givers, not cheerful purchasers. Giving is part of who we are. We give socks to the homeless, money to the needy, our presence to the lonely, our energy to this fellowship so that, as a church, we can give to our community. We are a community of givers, not takers; givers, not purchasers.
Now we give to particular needs most of the time. A house burns down and we gather clothes, toys, kitchen supplies to set a family up in a new place. That’s exciting and immediately rewarding. It’s harder to get excited about giving to pay for cleaning supplies, as necessary as they are. But the foundational reason we give is the same whether we’re responding to an emergency need or purchasing Dawn for the kitchen.
We give because God first gave us love. We give in response to what God has done in our lives.
Chrysostom, one of the great preachers of the early Church (his name means golden tongue in Greek) once wrote that when we are giving alms, helping someone out, we shouldn’t just be thinking about that person, but remembering who it is who loves us. So, give to whatever – give time, talent, or treasure – but in your giving, remember that your gift, the act of your giving, is itself a gift to God.
Psalm 115 begins: Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. You see what I mean? Good giving, God-blessed giving, is all about love; it is a joyous response to what we’ve seen, what we’ve experienced, what we’ve known about God.
During this fall, we’ve heard testimony from three different people – each of them in their wonderful ways, told us how they had met God here, that this company, this fellowship, grounded them, made them welcome when they weren’t sure where they belonged, and continues today to give them strength for each day.
For some of us, being here is like when I go home to Woodstock, to my family’s church, and can sit in the pew my grandparents sat in – and almost feel as though I’m sitting next to my grandmother. For others, this is a new place, and it’s glorious to realize that here is a family where I belong; here I’m not the one who’s different. And other times, this is the place, the group, through which I can work to help heal the pain of the world. For all of us, this is a place where we can give with joy, in response to God’s love.
This, also, is a place where we can practice the practice of loving. Here we try to love one another, and when we fail – because failure is part of the reality of life – here we are dedicated to figuring out what went wrong and aiming to be better at it going forward. We’re a kind of school of love. And every time we give – whether it’s socks, or money, or time, or whatever – we practice that love. And every time we practice, we get a little better.
We are investing in our ability to grow love. We are investing in the future when we give to this church. Our investment is one of love, to be sure, for we love this building, this fellowship, one another. But it’s also an investment of resources, our time, our talents, our resources. It’s much more than an investment in the maintenance and continuation of the building, as important as it is.
But let’s be clear. If the building, as beautiful as it is, burned to the ground tomorrow, the building would be gone, but the church would still be here. The church would re-build, but the building that would be put up would not be “the church”, it would hold us, shelter us, but not replace us! Our building is important, but it’s not us. It is we who are called to be love in our world.
Too often, when offered the opportunity to give, we measure our ability, our abundance, by what we don’t yet have, and so we feel as though we don’t have enough, and our giving is constrained. We say, oh, I can’t afford this, or I’d like that, but it costs too much… and think of ourselves as people who don’t have enough. And, of course, we don’t…. we don’t have enough to indulge our every wish.
But we have more than enough of what really matters. We have enough food for today and tomorrow. We have heat in our homes, water comes out our faucets. Our cars run, mostly reliably. Our children have schools to attend, clothes to wear. Most of all, we have the gift of the knowledge of God’s everlasting love.
When we count up what we have, instead of listing what we don’t, we can see that we really do have “enough”, and our lives can be seen through a lens of abundance rather than scarcity.
We are a people surrounded by abundance, called to a life of generosity. Today, I’m asking us all to respond with generosity to the love which God has extended to each of us through this congregation. Give back to God a token of the love which God has given to each of us through Jesus Christ, and be one of God’s loving and generous disciples.
© 2017, Virginia H. Child