A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Stewardship Series 4 ~ 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
We’ve been looking at mission and ministry this month and lifting up all the wonderful ways this church engages in loving God, loving neighbours, and loving one another, with an emphasis on the loving our neighbours part. It’s been stewardship month – a concept that reminds us that we are called to participate in the mission and ministry of the church through our energy, gifts, skills, passions, time, and faithfulness – and also through our money.
Last week I said it pretty plainly – mission takes money.
This fantastic facility costs money.
I cost money.
Staff costs money.
Programming costs money.
It’s just a reality.
We don’t like to talk about it usually because it can feel a bit unseemly. I mean, how do you put a price tag on Jesus? Well, you don’t, obviously. But it can kind of feel that way so we get a little squeamish.
And to make matters worse, the guy who’s the most expensive item on the menu is the one who ends up making the pitch. It can feel more than a little self-serving.
But there’s no avoiding it – mission takes money. So I’m going to go right at it, and I’m also going to try to help us see it in what I hope are helpful and inspiring ways.
To get there I’m going to have us dive into three little words from the 2 Corinthians 9 text – and I’m going to start by saying the bible is wrong!
Do I have your attention?
Well, it’s not totally wrong, but in the reading you heard a today there are three Greek words that are absolutely vital to understanding my message today, and two of them are mistranslated.
Now, I know that sometimes I dig pretty deep into the field of meaning in a word to try to get more richness and nuance out of a text, but what I’m talking about this time is just a plain mistranslation.
And that’s really surprising because the bible we almost always read out of – the New Revised Standard Version, or NRSV – is the best translation there is.
So when the editors of the NRSV make a blatant error it really needs to be investigated.
Here are the verses, and as I read them it will all sound perfectly normal to you – mostly because that’s the way most of us have always heard them, but there’s also another reason I think is important, that I’ll get to in a minute.
2 Corinthians 9:6-7 – The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Familiar right? So which are the wrong words?
If you sow sparingly you reap sparingly – and if you sow bountifully you reap bountifully.
Totally logical, right?
It completely suits our understanding of the world. If you want more, work harder!
That’s good, old fashioned, common sense capitalism!
The wrong word here is bountifully. In fact, it’s translated so badly they substituted an adverb for a noun. Bountifully is the manner in which one sows. It’s a how. But the plain Greek word is eulogia which is the word for blessing – a noun. That’s not a how, it’s a what! It’s not the manner in which you sow, it’s the stuff you’re supposed to be sowing.
It should read: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows blessing will also reap blessing!
That is a huge difference!
The next verse has the second error – Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Give as you’ve made up your mind.
Again, sounds totally logical.
“I’ve received the nice letter from the church, crunched some numbers, looked at the step chart to see where my givings are, weighed the pros and cons, thought about the mission of the church, and made up my mind to double my offering!”
(A guy can dream, can’t he?)
Did you hear what I said there? Made up my mind!
Because that’s what we do, right?
Except the Greek word has nothing to do with your mind at all.
The Greek word there is cardia.
You don’t have to speak Greek to know that one.
What’s cardia? Your heart!
So when it comes to giving you’re not supposed to just do the cold calculus and make up your mind – you’re supposed to make up your heart!
Giving is not a just head thing – it’s more of a heart thing.
I’ve got to admit, I’m at a bit of a loss as to why the editors of the esteemed NRSV bible made two such basic errors in the course of 2 verses.
But maybe it’s because the translation was formed in the mid-20th century in North America?
Maybe they wrote it that way because it so perfectly captured middle-class Western values of working hard and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps?
Maybe it’s because using the other words was too alien to the culture they were aiming at?
But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?
The Christian faith is supposed to be counter-cultural.
We’re supposed to be knocked off guard and shaken from our complacency by concepts that are above and beyond our usual human interactions.
God’s way is always disorienting for us because it draws us to our higher selves – and it requires us to perceive and navigate the world differently.
It’s not about sowing bountifully, but sowing blessings.
It’s not about thinking with your head so much, but being moved in your heart.
That’s a stewardship message! That’s a pitch I can confidently make on “giving Sunday”.
I want you to be thinking about all the wonderful blessings you are already sowing, and all the wonderful blessings you can help to sow.
I want you to feel it in your heart and soul, to be moved by the mission and to let your heart speak to supporting it.
Now, we may end up in the same spot.
We’ll still be looking for more money.
But instead of it being about compulsion, or guilt – instead of us grudgingly agreeing to give more because if we don’t the leaky roof will cave in, or the next big repair item will go unrepaired – instead of me saying things like “Well, we’re running about $1200 over budget each month which means that if everyone here gave just $10 more per month – that’s just $2.50 per week (less than a cup of coffee) – then we’d be in the black
– instead of that head stuff I can celebrate all the great mission work we do both here in this building and in our community – and even across the country and around the world.
And I can say “look at all the blessings!”
And I can say “let your heart be moved!”
And the money will surely flow! (Right?)
Eulogia – blessing, cardia – heart, and the third little word is translated perfectly, but a little too plainly.
The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows blessing will also reap blessing. Each of you must give as you have made up your heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
For God loves a cheerful giver!
The favourite scripture verse of every church treasurer in the world!
But it’s more than just cheerful.
The third little Greek word of the day is hilaros.
What does that sound like? Hilaros.
Yes, it sounds like hilarity, or hilarious.
How many of you have ever looked at the offering plate going by and thought to yourself “That’s hilarious!”?
So our giving is meant to be more than just cheerful – it should be hilarious, as in joyful, effervescent, making us giddy with delight!
Sure, the treasurer feels giddy with delight if enough of us give enough – but the scripture is telling us that we’re called to be the giddy ones because we’ve had the joyful privilege to give!
Sow blessings. Give from the heart. Be giddy about it.
Because we’re blessed.
Because our hearts are overflowing with God’s loving-kindness.
Because that love makes us joyful.
Stewardship is about gratitude – gratitude for all we’ve received.
Friends, we live a life of absolute abundance! Thanks be to God!
2 Corinthians 9:8 – And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
Abundance means more than enough. Now, I know that that does not describe everybody in this church all the time. Individually we may well not always have enough – at least materially. But collectively, as the body of Christ in this place, as the church community together, we have more than enough. We have resources in overflowing abundance.
So collectively, verse 8 really rings true – And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
By having an abundance, more than enough, we can share abundantly in every good work.
Yes, the scripture is primarily talking about spiritual abundance – but it also directly points to the sharing of more material expressions of our abundance too.
We are really fortunate here at Faith United because this is such a vibrant and healthy church that when I talk about abundance we aren’t glancing around the room at empty pews and concerned faces about keeping the doors open.
Sadly, in too many church gatherings the theology of scarcity carries a louder voice than the theology of abundance.
I don’t have a quick fix for that.
What I have is three little words – blessings, heart, giddiness. I hope they speak volumes.
Today is meant to be an encouragement to us all. Each of us, including me, is being encouraged to share more from our abundance, if that is possible for you in this season. I told you this last year too, and I’ll say it again, not to brag but to demonstrate that these aren’t just words for me – my family is among the top 5 givers on that step chart of offerings. It’s important to me to lead by example in this way. And I will be raising my givings with this campaign. I do so with giddiness!
I’m also on PAR – that’s our pre-authorized remittance program where you can decide your monthly offering and have it come directly from your bank to the church. Being on PAR takes away all the fuss of doing an offering each week, and worrying about making up for the Sundays you’re not able to be here, and all that stuff. And it helps the church to have a more predictable number of dollars each month – which helps us operate the church. I strongly encourage you to sign up for PAR – it’s easy.
If you haven’t received it yet a letter is about to come to your mailbox at home. It’s a financial appeal letter.
Mission takes money.
I hope you will read that letter and take some time to pray about it.
There’s also a response card in the letter. We strongly encourage you to go through the exercise of filling out the card and writing down your intention, your commitment. And it would be fantastic if you’d consider bringing that card along and placing it in the offering plate next week.
Finances are tricky things. I hope I haven’t made you too uncomfortable today with all this plain talk about money.
And I hope even more that you’ve been listening intently to this whole series about mission, and ministry, and loving our neighbours, and have been moved by it all.
We have a fantastic story to tell here.
And I’m incredibly grateful for all you do, and all you give, because that’s what makes the story come to life.
So there’s my pitch.
Sow blessings. Give from the heart. Be giddy in gratitude.
We have an awesome, abundant life!
2 Corinthians 9:15 – Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!