THEME: Stewardship 3
Relationships, Ordinary Time (green)
How our attitude when we give affects how things turn out.
We will also learn that how much you put in affects how much you get out of something.
Little effort gives little results; a lot of effort gives better results.
SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 9:6‒7 (Inclusive Bible)
Keep this in mind: if you plant sparingly, you will reap sparingly, and if you plant bountifully, you will reap bountifully. You must give according to what you have inwardly decided—not sadly, not reluctantly, for God loves a giver who gives cheerfully.
One: This is the witness of The Church,
Many: thanks be to God!
THE MESSAGE: “Relationships” by Rev. Tracy Robertson
When Paul wrote these letters to the Corinthians, he was pushing them. Pushing them to succeed while at the same time pushing them to give additional money to new church plants. He was the ultimate born-again Christian and believed that no matter what you had, you still needed to give more to the new churches. It seemed like Paul didn’t care whether churches were barely getting going or struggling to stay open, he was asking them for even more financial support. This morning’s scripture continues in that vein, but in the mere two verses shared, one seems to contradict the other. Paul is essentially saying that if you give generously, you will receive generously and then, in the same breath, says that whatever you give must be given cheerfully, not out of guilt or obligation. Well, Paul, which is it? Because, to me, it seems like your first message is making me feel guilty about not giving enough (which, if someone were to do that to me today, would result in my giving nothing, thank you very much) while your second message is encouraging me to make sure I’m giving to what I believe in so that I am giving with a happy heart. We read these two verses this morning using the Inclusive Bible translation, but here’s The Message version: “Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.” The modern language helps a bit, but don’t they still seem like contradicting messages?
To Paul, in his time and place, these contradicting messages made sense. It was a time of change because many Jewish people who had followed Jesus felt called to continue Jesus’ messages and teachings and that ultimately resulted in a whole new faith called Christianity. Now, at the start of this movement was Paul and because it was a brand new faith, it needed crazy promotion. Paul needed to be the cheerleader and live out his public, intentional, and explicit beliefs that what Jesus taught was something to not only hang on to, but to promote and grow. Thus, his strong encouragement to the followers to help with that growth. Even if they already had their own established churches, they needed to continue the mission of growing the church and sharing the words and teachings of Jesus. And it was in that growth and sharing where people felt their faith ignited and most probably gave very generously, even if they didn’t have much to give; and I have no doubt that this lavish giving to help continue what Jesus started, was done so with cheerful hearts. It was a cause that was important to the people of Corinth, and Paul knew that. He was making sure that the people didn’t become complacent or only focused on their own churches.
It reminds me of when I went to Zambia in 2017. We were attending a church service one Sunday morning, and it was the offertory time and people had just come up to give their donations, which took a while since there are hundreds of people attending church. After that time of giving, the leaders were talking about another project still in the works and how there was still so much to be done and that regular givings weren’t cutting it. And, complete with guilt, they proceeded to ask for people to give more. It was so uncomfortable to me because the minister wouldn’t let up until a certain amount had been raised in addition to what was already given. There were long bouts of silence where we were sitting in our discomfort until one person came forward to give more. Then cheers filled the church, more encouraging words from the minister, and another bout of silence… until it was broken with someone else making an extra donation. And that went on for 15 or 20 minutes until the leaders were satisfied that they had encouraged their people enough and the rest of the service resumed. Now, this congregation has often given extra for special projects and we have asked for those donations during a worship service as well, but we never halted the service until we had reached our fundraising goal. The experience in Zambia was, to say the least, very awkward for me, but I can’t argue it’s effectiveness.
To me, the scriptures are a living document – they were written in a different time and we need to pay attention to the context of the story and by understanding the context, it guides us to what it might be saying to us today. For Paul, asking people to give even more so that other churches could be built, made sense. To those in Zambia, halting the service until they’ve made their financial goal made sense. But for us at St. Thomas, that wouldn’t work. We know that this message of “giving abundantly = getting abundantly” doesn’t work out every time. Sowing a lot or planting lavishly doesn’t always end in abundance as most gardeners and farmers know. Just because we’ve planted in abundance, doesn’t guarantee an abundant crop. Maybe the seeds were too old or the plants weren’t strong enough or there wasn’t enough moisture or the soil needed fertilizer or had too much fertilizer, maybe your kids over-watered while you were away. There are all kinds of reasons why things don’t grow and thrive, even if those things are planted in abundance. Sometimes things just don’t work out.
Here at St. Thomas, I’m always very grateful to this congregation for trying new things and the reality is that sometimes those new things we’ve tried, or seeded, just don’t ‘take’. Like that advent bush that didn’t gain any traction. Or the little library that people thought was a great idea but no one took the lead on. Or the Halloween trick-or-treat that was a great success last year, but this year just didn’t get off the ground. Or that bible study that was very poorly attended. What I love about St. Thomas when things don’t work out, though, is that it’s never held against anyone. The refreshing attitude of this congregation towards things that don’t work out is, “oh, that’s okay. At least we tried it and now we know”. There’s often open and honest debriefing about why some project didn’t work out or ideas on how it could be made better the next time we do it. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we planned. And sometimes success needs to be seen from a different angle.
There’s a saying that every little bit helps and there’s some real truth to that saying. As an example, instead of paying $60 per pet per month for pet insurance (because I think that’s outrageous), I put aside $60 a month for vet needs and that little bit of money every month can really add up over the years to a point where, when something does happen that will cost a lot (I think vet charges are outrageous too, by the way), I’ll have the money to manage that financial burden. Now, of course, that doesn’t always work out because sometimes our pets need extensive veterinary help before we’ve had a chance to build up any savings, but I think you get the jist of what I’m trying to illustrate when I say, every little bit helps.
Have you ever noticed the pure joy on child’s face when their parents allow them to put change into the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time? We’ve all seen that joy of giving even a few coins, followed by the the conversation about what that money is for. It brings delight to the giver. There is real truth in the belief that every little bit helps. Many of you are familiar with Mennonite Central Committee, or MCC. They do all sorts of good works around the world including immediate aid in a crisis, to programs for new immigrants. MCC does so much good in the world; and they are definitely the doers, living out their faith in very real, tangible ways felt by many people. MCC has a thrift store here in NE Calgary and I know some of us regularly shop there and regularly donate used items as well. When I did my practicum at MCC with their Restorative Justice Team, I attended their weekly staff meetings and I will always remember the day when the Director was talking about finances and said, that the thrift store downstairs is one of their top fundraisers supporting all their good work around the world… and he used these words specifically: it’s all done with 25 cent items. The bottom line is that every contribution matters. All of it matters and makes a difference. In the case of MCC’s thrift store, even if you’re not buying items, you can donate items. And here’s the cool ripple effect of giving: you can be assured that tea set that hasn’t served you well for quite some time will be purchased by someone who will appreciate it or gift it to someone who would absolutely love it and use it every day. They might even feel they can finally invite someone over for a visit with this new tea set and voila relationships are being formed and nurtured. Before I went to Zambia I bought some simple capris from MCC. Cost me something like $5 but I imagine that the person who donated those capris had no idea how much I would appreciate them and use them in Africa; they would have had no clue that their donation of used capris helped me build new friendships and relationships in Zambia. So you see, every contribution matters and this scripture gives us an opportunity to look at giving in a different way; being excited about what our money might help foster, wondering who might feel excited about the item we’ve donated or the volunteer time we’ve spent on a project. It’s a modern way of reflecting on this message of ‘generosity begets generosity and doing so cheerfully’.
This morning, we’re invited us to give and receive out of love, and not because of shame, fear, or a sense of responsibility. Giving and receiving out of love, a love that has no limits, has but one desire, that is to experience and work towards a better and happier life and to ensure that the good work continues. This is the point: Give and receive generously, give and receive intentionally, give and receive with love in mind, for out of that, care for one another is built; it builds relationships. And that’s how we can interpret Paul’s words to the Corinthians for our context today. It’s all about relationships. May we continue to build and nurture relationships in all we do, and do so generously. Amen.