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.
How good are you at languages that are not English: Today I want to take you to three phrases of our faith – that are in a foreign language.
The First is in Italian. These words are used by Dante Alighieri in his poem called “Divine Comedy” – which was completed in 1320. In his poem these were the words written over the gates of hell – “Abandon hope all you who enter here”. This poem expresses the ideas of the Medieval Church of the 14 Century: put more simply: if you did not belong to the Christian Church when you died you went to hell – where there would was no more hope for you.
There are still many Christian who cling to this idea 800 years later. That some people have no hope of salvation and they might as well give up now. My task today is to say to us that this is simply not true: There is never a moment when we abandon all hope: And I know this because Jesus went to the place without hope – and Jesus redeemed it. And here I take us to the second bit of foreign language: Here are the words of Jesus on the cross: eli eli lama sabachthani
We read the translation in Matthew 27:46: My God, My God – why have you forsaken me? Here is the place where Jesus abandons all hope: Here is the moment that the image of Dante becomes real: Jesus has entered that place of no hope – he is using an ancient prayer of desperation – Psalm 22 - and those standing at the cross hear him literally enter the gates of hell.
But here is the good news of our faith: not even the gates of hell could hold him….
Do you remember the Creed we say: I believe in ….. Jesus Christ… Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven, This is our faith: that nobody should abandon hope, because on the third day Jesus bursts the gates of hell and offers hope to all who trust in him
Nobody should believe that they are forsaken by God. Because each person is God’s, and no matter how far you have strayed, God keeps loving you.
It is time to teach the last word: At the end of 1 Corinthians St Paul Uses a word that is written in Aramaic: “Maranatha”
A statement of faith – and a cry of hope: Translated as “The Lord has come – and may the Lord come”. Today I am inviting us to replace our despair with hope – to learn the word “Maranatha”
Invite Jesus into our lives Choose to live your life in the shadow of the teachings of Jesus Instead of despair – speak this word each morning: Maranatha.
John 5:1-8: The Healing at the Pool 5 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic[a] called Bethesda,[b] which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.[c] 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” There are times when a question is so obvious that it almost should not be asked; this story told in John 5 is one of those times. John tells of a man who has been physically impaired for 38 years and Jesus asks him: “Do you want to be healed?” Let me give some context to this story: In the time of Jesus this man would have been considered “unclean”: physical impairment suggested that he had been cursed by God: his physical limitation was thought to be a sign of God’s anger. This had profound implications for him: it meant that he would have to call out to people not to come too close to him in case they too became unclean. Because of this he could not work. Anything he touched would be unclean. It also meant that he could not enter the temple in Jerusalem – or even the local synagogue. Unclean people were not welcomed into the perfect presence of God. Here is a man on the margins of society. This was a man who depended on family and friends for food, and for assistance in anything he needed. This man is found by Jesus lying at the pool of Bethesda – which John tells us is near the Sheep Gate in the wall of Jerusalem. The belief of that time was that an angel touched the water, and if you could get yourself into the water in time you would be healed. Which brings us back to the question asked by Jesus. “Do you want to be healed?” Here is a man at the margins of society – with no work prospects, no social standing, living in a twisted body – and he is asked if he wants to be healed? What a stupid question – of course he wants to be healed – why else was he desperately lying at this pool? But there is a purpose behind the question. Healing means that your life will be changed. There is no going back – you will have a “before” and an “after” . And this requires thought and decision making. As I read this story it struck me that all of us could find ourselves in such a space as this man: Let me explain: we all are aware of broken places in our lives •Sometimes there are broken places in our bodies that we should pay attention to, but we would rather not think about this. Sometimes these are broken emotions inside of us because of things that have happened in our past, and we try to bury our emotions •Sometimes there are broken relationships with other people. We had a difficult moment, and no longer speak to a family member, or a friend. •and Sometimes we know of places where we are spiritually broken in our relationship with our Creator. We have given up on praying, or we have stopped meeting for worship. This is the moment that the question of Jesus can be heard echoing through history: “Do you want to be healed?” This is a serious question – that asks if we are willing to do what it takes to become whole. And we know that this is not easy to answer: because healing might mean that we must change our lives in order to be healed: Healing in our bodies might mean changing our diet, or doing some exercise, or going to see a doctor. “Do you want to be healed?” Healing relationships might mean making the decision to mend the broken relationship : “Do you want to be healed?” Healing of our Spirits can mean admitting that our emotions are broken, or that our relationship with God needs mending. “Do you want to be healed?” Today I offer you the opportunity to learn from the man at the Pool of Bethesda: a man who chose to be healed. His answer is interesting – he did not just say “Yes, I want to be healed”. He said: “I have no one to help me.” Getting better is not simply deciding to turn over a new leaf. It is not just gritting our teeth and doing better. Most often getting better involves the help of others: •Our physical well-being can mean visiting a doctor, or asking for the help of a personal trainer. •Our relational health often means asking for mediation from a third party, or going for counseling to understand how a relationship breaks down •And our spiritual health is greatly assisted by therapy, or by praying with a pastor or a spiritual companion. Like the man at the Pool of Bethesda – can you hear Jesus saying to us: “Do you want to be healed?’ I am suggesting this begins with the decision to become better. Do not become comfortable with your broken-ness. Choose instead to begin the process – why not begin today: I am going to pray for you: that you might have the courage to find healing. But this is often the beginning point. We might also need to pray that God will send people who can assist us in our healing. O Lord God, you seek wholeness of every aspect of my life. I come to you with my broken and battered life. I have stumbled many times, and I carry the scars of my mistakes. I surrender to you my past brokenness, my present struggles, and my fears for the future. I ask You to take hold over every aspect of my life. I surrender to You all my hurt, pain, worry, doubt, fear, and anxiety, and I ask You to hold my life in your Grace. I release everything into Your compassionate care. I surrender to you everything that I am and everything that I'm striving to be. I offer you my life, heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit. Speak to me clearly, O Lord. Open my ears to hear Your voice. Open my heart to the prompting of your Holy Spirit. Allow me to experience Your loving embrace. Open the doors that need to be opened and close the doors that need to be closed. Please send people across my path who can direct me in your ways. And begin the healing of my life today. These prayers I ask in the name of Jesus – the great healer Amen.