First Congregational Church
November 23, 2014
Thanksgiving Sunday, 24th Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
“Living Out of Extravagant Gratitude”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
With all the crazy weather this year, especially the last couple weeks, we can perhaps more appreciate the life of farmers. They worry constantly about too much rain, not enough rain, freezing too soon, freezing too late, cattle get enough feed, expensive hay. The cornacopias, the dried ears of corn, gourds, gourds and more gourds remind us of the cycle of life, the time of sowing and the time for reaping, as the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us. But I wonder if this season calls us back to our roots, to being grounded, not just for the “stuff” in our lives, not just the people in our lives, but in all that comes up, rises up from far deeper than we realize.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15 The Message
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.
8-11 God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,
He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out.
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.
12-15 Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they’ll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need. Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!
Thank you, Jim. Part of what I love about this passage is that it is what we do here. Over the years, I’ve participated in and heard about bad experiences with church pledge drives gone wrong. There is huge potential for those sob stories and arm-twisted giving that Paul was talking about in our scripture passage. As much as it drives the financial folks here a little mad - trying to create a budget against an unknown income - during the 16 years I’ve been here, people have seemed much happier in their giving than those churches I’ve been in where pledges and programs were annual events. Yes, people need to know when our funding is on the low side, so, our funding is on the low side. But whenever we’ve had a real need for money - since 1998, anyway, the need has been met, and most often, gladly so. Thank you, for trusting that God will provide, what and who, when we need them.
I don’t know about anyone else, but when I was a kid, I couldn’t get enough of the Little House on the Prairie books. Maybe it was because I lived so close to The Little House in the Big Woods and The Little Town on the Prairie where Laura and her family lived. It’s been years since I read it, but I still have the mental picture of Pa spreading the wheat seed by hand, bag over shoulder, walking the freshly plowed furrows, and praying for the right amount of rain and sun - at the right times.
I don’t remember if Pa’s father was a farmer, or if he learned about farming from the Bible, but somehow he knew how to sow extravagantly enough, but not wastefully, so that the stalks had enough room to breathe, and enough closeness for support. Out of that sowing, no matter what the weather, when a neighbor was in need, Ma made sure that Laura and sister Mary would take food and anything else they may have needed. They didn’t have reclining chairs or comfy sofas, they didn’t have iPhones, iPads, or iDon’tKnows, but what they had was for whoever needed it. Even when life was hard for the Ingalls family, they lived large - definitely with love - but also because of what God gave them that grew out of the earth.
Whether it is pioneering days or pilgrim days, this week reminds us of those earlier days, when there was certainty of purpose, where roots were crucial to the survival of everyone, and life seemed to be simpler. I wonder, if in earlier days, the connection to the land grew great gratitude for sheer survival.
And yet, despite a sort of disconnect with the land, we are still living amidst those who are grateful for for their survival. The real financial state of our country is - I think - somewhat unknown, because statistics and numbers can be easily made to support one’s cause. On top of that, whatever political party you listen to, a case for their position and cases against oppositions can be made. Although there are people who abuse the system, somehow, so many of the poor have become vilified as cheaters and low-lives that teeter on the brink of being criminals.
Way back in the book of Deuteronomy (15:7), God says, “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them.” Just a few verses later, “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Those verses, and I’d guess all the verses in the Bible pertaining to the poor, don’t speak about deserving or proving their need. We are simply to give. We are to be prudent in our giving, so that we don’t become enablers, most especially when emotions become involved and the temperature of relationships can get way out of control.
So it is good that we have this season, this upcoming holiday, to remind us to not only take a look at the giving of our treasure, storehouses, or whatever you call the “extra” God gives us, but to take a look at what we give - in terms of thanks - to God for the richness that rises from God’s extravagant sowing of blessings.
We might offer up grace around the table this coming Thursday, and that’s good. We might offer grace at a restaurant before eating, and that’s good, too. But how about when you first get up in the morning? I know, for some of us, instead of Good God, it’s morning!, it’s Good God, it’s morning.
But within those first moments, as soon as we “come to,” and aside from not seeing our name in the obituary of the news paper or internet sites, do we, can we - give thanks - real, honest-to-goodness thanks that comes from deep within us? Before we go to sleep, is there something for which we can give thanks to God, with every fiber of our being, out of our “delight?”
Maybe - for some of us - the prayer has to start, “Lord, help me be willing to thank you - for this hard thing.” “Lord, help me to see your giving this day, so that I can “give back” to you”. Perhaps for many more of us, the prayer is more along the lines of, “restore to me the joy of your salvation,” what it means to understand and live out of extravagant gratitude. So should we start.
Gracious, gracious God, thank you for calling us to be your people, and for providing all that we really need. Help us to be willing, when life is hard, to see the extravagance of your love, that we can live out of equal gratitude. Help us to realize our rootedness to this world as we are reminded that all that we have comes from you. Thank you for those we love, the food and shelter with which you bless us, and help those who don’t have enough. And most certainly, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your son, who lives and reigns with you. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.