God Loves a Cheerful Giver 2 Corinthians 9 1-2 If I wrote any more on this relief offering for the poor Christians, I’d be repeating myself. I know you’re on board and ready to go. I’ve been bragging about you all through Macedonia province, telling them, “Achaia province has been ready to go on this since last year.” Your enthusiasm by now has spread to most of them. …….6-7 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. Intro: Last week we began the Biblical story of the prophet Jonah. While this story is best known for Jonah’s encounter with a big fish, you might remember that God told him to go and preach in the city of Nineveh. Jonah finally comes to his senses and God rescues him from the bottom of the sea. Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches. And the effect of his preaching is spectacular: the people of Nineveh repent and turn back to God. And God forgives them and loves them And here the story of Jonah gets interesting – let me explain: God rescued Jonah from the depths of the sea – this is the nature of God: to get alongside of people when they are drowning and help them to find dry land again. God freely blesses the life of Jonah – even when Jonah did not deserve it because he had disobeyed God. This is called Grace – God’s undeserved favor. Jonah was shown Grace by God, but when God shows the same Grace towards the people of Nineveh, Jonah loses his cool. Listen to him getting angry with God: 4 1-2 Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at GOD, “GOD! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness! 3 “So, GOD, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!” 4 GOD said, “What do you have to be angry about?” 5 But Jonah just left. He went out of the city to the east and sat down in a sulk. How is it possible that one who has been blessed finds it so difficult to imagine God using him to bless others? I suspect that this is buried deep inside of each of us: we who have been blessed find it difficult to share our blessings. In fact we become angry at the thought of sharing what we have with others: I have heard people suggest that rich people should not pay taxes – because why should the poor get a share of their wealth. “It is mine. I have a right to it. I worked hard for it” Such people never pause to ask: so who gave you this gift of life that you are living? Who gave you your gifts and skills? Who gives you rest at night and strength for each new day? Who planted the drive and creativity in you that helps you get through the day? There is an alternative to the attitude that says “It is all mine”: We find an alternative view in the words of St Paul. Paul writes to the Christian church in Corinth. And he is delighted with their capacity to share their blessings: (1 Corinthians 9) I know you’re on board and ready to go. I’ve been bragging about you all through Macedonia province, telling them, “Achaia province has been ready to go on this since last year” Here is a church that has been blessed – and in Paul’s words they are “on board and ready to go” to share their blessings with others. This sums up our Christian spiritual principle: we have been blessed – so that we can share our blessings with others. In Paul’s words : God loves it when the giver delights in the giving…. Or the version we are more familiar with “God loves a cheerful giver” Invite us to allow the story of Jonah to ask the question for us: Are we like Jonah, who becomes angry when God asks us to share our blessings, or will we follow the example of the church in Corinth? These are people who set an example of cheerful giving.
We are at the point when we begin to wish one another a Happy Thanksgiving – let us make this more than just words: move our good wishes into actions of blessing: Invite someone to join you for your Thanksgiving celebration Or if you cannot do this then: Choose to sponsor a meal for someone who needs to be blessed Send an offering to our church – that we can continue to be a blessing in our community . We give away food and diapers because of your generosity. Even better pledge a regular monthly amount so that we can bless people throughout the year. I close with an illustration of generosity:
In 1995, Dolly Parton launched a dream to teach children to read. Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write Dolly started her Imagination Library to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee, USA. Dolly’s vision was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. Today, her program has grown to cover five different countries and she gifts over 1 million free books each month to children around the world.
We read earlier of a man who was called by God to go to the city of Nineveh: Jonah, son of Amittai. He was a prophet who lived 700 years before Jesus – but the story in the book of Jonah is bigger than a historical figure: it is the kind of story that has become a parable that can speak to every generation since then. Invite us to pause with this story and be challenged to grow in our faith: God tells Jonah to go and preach in Nineveh. And so Jonah was on a mission – to go in the opposite direction to the way God had called him! God said “Go to Nineveh – and Jonah went to Tarshish”. This is not strange: we human beings often ignore the stuff that God tells us to do. In fact we often do the exact opposite of what our Christian faith teaches us: Listen to some of the words of Jesus from Luke Chapter 6: “Do good to those who hate you” And yet if I am insulted – I will return the insult ….preferably with interest! “Do not judge” – but we fill social media with our judgement of other people: or at the very least we fill our homes with our opinions of other people. And there is more: Jesus tells us to - Forgive easily Lend your possessions to other people Give generously But our human preference is bitterness, and selfish accumulation, and endless debate about my rights and my freedoms. We are not very different from Jonah who heard God, and then went in the opposite direction. The amazing thing about the story of Jonah is that God’s love never wavered! God kept track of Jonah, even when he was in the middle of a storm – a storm that he brought on himself. Even when Jonah’s world fell apart and he was overwhelmed by a fish: God never walked away from him. God would have been justified had he abandoned Jonah: it would have made sense if God had decided to find another messenger instead of Jonah. But at this point we see the truth of our God: God does not repay us as we deserve: Jesus says this in a number of different ways: Luke 6: 35 “God is kind to the evil and the ungrateful.” Luke 6: 36 Your heavenly Father is merciful Luke 6: 37 You will be forgiven Luke 6: 38 He will bless you - A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap This is the beginning point of our gratitude in life: When we discover that God loves us we do not need to hold onto to our bitterness and to our pain and to our anger…. We can unclench our fists and open our hands in gratitude When we discover that God loves us we do not need to cling so tightly to our possessions, and to our collections of things. We can release our tight grip on our possessions and become gratefully generous. Let me return to the story of Jonah: There comes a moment when Jonah comes to his senses: From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. 2 He said: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. …………… But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.” Here is what gratitude looks like: “I will make good”. Grateful praise is expressed in obedient service.
And the best way to express this is to become generously open handed: I challenge us to pledge sacrificially to the work of God in this church so that we can become a witness to the generosity of God. Let this city learn about the kindness of God in the generosity we show as a church. We can only do this if you as members commit to this: if you, like Jonah, are willing to give generously and regularly to our church. Please fill in your pledge forms for 2023. This is your moment to say thank you to God.
I challenge us to express our gratitude by being generous to every person that walks through our doors: everyone is welcome: Open Hearts, Open Minds Open Doors. Everyone – adults and kids / physically challenged/ Mentally challenged / straight and gay and transgendered / people caught up in substance abuse / regular people who listen to country music and drive pick ups, and city people who listen to classical music and drive a Toyota Prius…. (and even guys like me who ride a motorcycle and listen to rock music) Here is your welcome – and if you have been welcomed through the doors and cannot welcome someone else – you were not grateful for your own welcome: Because this is the house of Jesus: we will be grateful people.
Text for the day: 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5) Introduction: Have you given thought to your Thanksgiving gathering? For many, this day is a time for joy, merriment, and amazing food — but for others, it's a source of stress and anxiety, thanks to family drama around the dinner table. So here is the question for today: Is it possible to be thankful under difficult circumstances? St Paul seems to think so: here is our text for the day: 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Let me give us some context to this text: to do so I need to take you to an ancient city in Greece called Thessalonica. It was founded in 315BC and named by a Greek King after his wife – who was the sister of Alexander the Great. Thessalonica was important because it had a seaport on the Aegean Sea and so became part of a major trade system. In 148BC it became the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia – and 50 years after Jesus, the Apostle Paul visited this city. His visit did not go well: He spent three weeks teaching about Jesus in the Jewish Synagogue, and a number of people chose to follow the way of Jesus. But the Jewish leaders of the city heard rumours that Paul was teaching about a new King called Jesus who would oppose Caesar. They were afraid of Roman soldiers shutting down their businesses and they chased Paul out of the city. This was a messy and unpleasant event, which involved a mob dragging Paul’s host through the streets, and rioting people, and a gathering of city officials. Paul and Silas escaped Thessalonica after dark, and travel 45 miles at night to the southwest city of Berea. This was not a happy event: and here is where things get weird: Do you know the very first letter Paul writes – in fact the oldest writing in the whole of the New Testament? It is the letter to the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica. The city that chased him out at night – is the first city on Paul’s heart: and here it gets even more weird – because of the tone of the letter! I would have expected Paul to write a letter that refers to the difficulty of being a disciple / perhaps a complaint about how hard it was to leave like that – and how hard the rest of the journey was – because people from Thessalonica followed Paul to the next city and persuaded them to chase Paul out of Berea. Listen to the letter Paul writes: He is reflecting on what happened to him in his visit to Thessalonica: 5 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! : Paul speaks of how life can change in an instant – and just when you think that there is peace and security, sudden destruction will occur. He was peacefully preaching in the Synagogue …..and then he was running for his life. Paul’s life was not securely fixed: And all of us say “Aha I understand this” This is the one big thing I have learned in South Dakota – life can change in an instant: •For example: do not think that you understand the weather: just when you think it is a lovely day – everything changes! •The same can be said of the economy, or of the politics of our day, or of our own personal circumstances: we think we are healthy, until we are not; we think that all is well with our family, until it is not. I am reminded of Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, who is quoted as saying "change is the only constant in life." The fact is: we do not have control of the environment around us. (of course we wish that we did – and some even try to keep control by making more rules, or by erecting walls, or in my case - by telling my daughter to keep away from the long haired musician!) What we do have control over is our response to what happen s to us: Let me read a bit more of the writing of St Paul: 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. Paul – who had suffered great evil at the hands of the people of Thessalonica – responds by saying : “do not repay evil with evil”. This runs counter to the world we live in – ours is a world that says – make sure that you get your revenge for the evil done to you. No so says St Paul: instead seek to do good to all people. Paul then goes further and says that when you are doing good, do it with a heart full of joy. Give thanks in all circumstances. Here is Paul reminding us of an important lesson. He had struggle in his relationship with Thessalonica. Even so, he is thankful: he is grateful that there were people who heard the Gospel – and that God had accompanied him. Again this is counter to our culture: We come to expect the good things and complain when things do not go our way. We give thanks when we are happy and we curse when we struggle. Here is the invitation for this month: let us learn to give thanks: Giving thanks is not a natural action: we have to learn to say thank you / we teach our children to say thankyou / and as we grow older it is easy to forget this lesson. Four Opportunities: 1.Keep a Gratitude Journal
2.Come to our Thanksgiving Breakfast
3.Complete a Pledge Card.
4.Join in celebrating the people who set us an example of faith: the Saints who have gone before us.