Yr A ~ Canadian Thanksgiving ~ 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Today marks the end of our 5 week celebration of the Season of Creation. We’ve delighted, we’ve listened, we’ve worked, we’ve loved, and today, on Thanksgiving Sunday, we pause to be grateful for creation and our remarkable relationship with God, and to remember what we learned in kindergarten – that good things are meant to be shared.
Our key word today is abundance. When you’re dealing with God you’re dealing with abundance! Abundance means more than enough. It means overflowing, teeming, a profusion. It means copious, plentiful, bountiful, filled to the fullest and more.
This is what God offers.
This is what God freely gives.
This is how God loves us, abundantly!
Wherever I may take you today we need to keep this truth absolutely central. We are loved and blessed with immeasurable abundance. Whether or not we choose to receive, accept, and embrace that abundance, just like whether or not we choose to notice God’s sacred Presence that is always and everywhere, is very much up to us.
For example, today’s scripture passage from 2 Corinthians 9 is overflowing with an abundance of great spiritual teaching. Let’s see how we receive it.
2 Cor 9:6 “The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows blessing will also reap blessing.”
I know it says ‘sows bountifully’ in the NRSV text but that’s actually not the best translation of the Greek word eulogía – blessing is. We’re not just supposed to sow bountifully, we’re called to sow blessing. Sow blessing! Sow Godstuff! – bountifully, for sure, but the point isn’t the amount you’re sowing it’s the nature of what you’re sowing. Sow blessing and you’ll reap blessing!
Then it gives us every church treasurer’s absolute favourite scripture verse: For God loves a cheerful giver! The whole verse 7 is this:
“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Again, the NRSV lets us down because for some mystifying reason they translated kardia as mind. Everyone knows what your kardia is: your heart. You are cheerful because you made up your heart to give, not made up your mind to give. You give from the heart, not the mind. You love from the heart. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. [MSG]
Cheerful, delighted givers give when they make up their heart to do so. And the word for cheerful in Greek is hilaros. Hilaros, as in where we get our word hilarious!
Have you ever equated giving with hilarity, with glee, with joyfulness?
And then we get verse 8 and the abundance abounds.
“And God is able to provide you with every grace in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”
If I were to ask you ‘what do you have an abundance of?’ what does your mind go to first?
Do you think of yourself as having an abundance of material things – possessions, money, power?
How about an abundance of spiritual things – faith, love, hope?
Here’s a thought. Maybe part of the issue with abundance is our understanding of how it comes to us?
How do you get more material abundance? You work for it.
It’s not a quid pro quo guarantee, of course, if it was African women would be millionaires. Nevertheless, generally speaking, an increase in material abundance comes about through work.
Ok, then how do you get more spiritual abundance? Do you work for it too? Not directly.
You don’t earn spiritual abundance you receive it.
You do the hard work of opening your eyes, opening your heart, opening your hands, and letting go of your need to control everything and you will receive and receive and receive abundance upon abundance upon abundance. Sometimes the hardest work is trusting, opening your hand.
Now, have you ever experienced the opposite of abundance – scarcity? Was it a material scarcity or a spiritual scarcity?
(for the record, I see everything as infused with the spiritual but I’m going to talk in dualistic either/or terms for expediency.)
Material scarcity is in many cases a very real thing, and something that needs to be seriously addressed. We don’t tend to choose material scarcity. I can’t afford a sail boat, or a cottage, or a Beamer, but that has nothing to do with scarcity. Real material scarcity is when you don’t have enough to pay the bills.
But what about spiritual scarcity? I will argue that this is a matter of choice, and the sad part of our human nature is that we choose spiritual scarcity even when we are drenched in the overflow of spiritual abundance. Surely God is in this place, and too often we choose not to notice, not to see.
I will also argue that you can have material scarcity and enjoy spiritual abundance (not much stuff but great faith), and conversely that you can have material abundance and be plagued by spiritual scarcity.
Of all of these scenarios the most damaging one is spiritual scarcity, because our chosen spiritual scarcity warps our perception of the world and we start to see our material abundance as scarcity.
Again – Our chosen spiritual scarcity warps our perception of the world and we start to see our material abundance as scarcity!
It’s all about perception.
Jesus and the bible teach a theology of abundance.
The world insists on an attitude of scarcity.
So how does the church deal with this? If you’re in a healthy, positive church like this we do just fine with it. We sense we have abundance here, not of money, necessarily, but certainly an abundance of Spirit.
But it might be a very different story if we didn’t know if we could pay the heating bill this winter, or if we had so few people in the pews that we couldn’t offer any programs or didn’t have enough resources to keep the place afloat.
Can people hear spiritual abundance when the budget is screaming material scarcity?
Can people hear calls to share their abundance when society has them convinced the bottom line is the only measure, and they have to hold tightly to every single penny?
I’d love to say that churches don’t need churches [buildings] but without a place to gather how do people hear these things? It’s a catch 22.
I think there’s a way through this for the Church but it isn’t going to be easy. The answer, I think, is to shift our perception of things. Surely God is in this place – help us notice – help us so embrace the spiritual abundance that surrounds us that we can be courageous enough to let go of the material scarcity that we think is handcuffing us.
Can we learn to joyfully share the abundance of our personal and church resources with others?
Can we learn to celebrate the gifts God has so lavishly poured on us and not cling to them so tightly?
I’d like to show you a video and then talk about it with you.
I find this very powerful, because I can see myself as one of those people in the food court. In my defence I could argue that the homeless guy shared because he had received a gift so he wasn’t that attached to it, whereas if I’m eating in a food court I’ve bought the food with my hard-earned money and therefore the food is really mine.
Of course, the gaping hole in that logic is that I could reach into my pocket and produce enough money to buy my lunch 10 times over and probably not really miss the money. And that homeless guy, yeah it was a gift that he didn’t really ‘deserve’ or earn but he certainly didn’t have the resources to get more easily and yet he still gladly shared his gift – he shared what he perceived was an abundance of love in the form of a sandwich, or a buck.
It’s convicting. I’m guilty of this. I bet most of you are too. We’ve allowed the blaring voices of the world to convince us that we never have enough when actually we are probably overflowing with abundance. Surely God is in this place! – help me notice!
I want a heart that will cheerfully give to the one who asks me out of their need. That doesn’t mean I walk around throwing resources at everyone who has their hand out, but it does mean that I need to let God’s light shine into some of the darker corners of my life and reveal some of my ugliness.
Why am I so possessive of that which I am lucky enough to have – and if you don’t think you’re lucky you don’t understand that being born here you’ve already won the biggest lottery there is! We live in utter abundance!
But really I’m not making an argument that we’re a bunch of tight wads who walk by homeless people and ignore needs. What you do with your money is your business. Comparatively I’d bet church people are quite generous. Your financial standing is not the core of this teaching.
The Thanksgiving message here is that we are called to embrace the abundance we’ve received and in response sow blessing. Blessing takes many shapes. Yes, to that homeless or hungry guy blessing took the shape of food or money. But most often in our lives our opportunities for sowing blessing come with how we spend our lives and our time and our energy, not our money.
I’d like to change the name of this holiday weekend. The first thing we should call it is Thanks-receiving. As we are moved to love because we have first been loved, at Thanks-receiving we are moved to gratitude because we have received. Then, in response to what we have received, we share our abundance.
And here’s the thing – as we share our abundance we’re grateful that we can do so. We’ve made up our hearts to give because we’ve received so much abundance, and our hearts are joyful in the act of giving – sharing our resources, sharing our joy, sharing our spirit, sharing our love, sharing our light, sharing ourselves.
Be grateful for what you’ve received.
And then be grateful for what you give in response to the abundance you enjoy, for God loves a cheerful giver, because a cheerful giver is a person whose heart has been warmed with God’s presence.
I wish you a wonder-full Thanks-receiving, and pray that it inspires in you a joyous Thanks-giving.