2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Gratitude Season #4
Elizabeth M. Deibert
Several months ago, I mentioned to my sister Carol, a Baptist, that at Peace we have this really amazing way of working on a life of gratitude. We keep rocks in our pockets to help us remember to say thanks to God for the many gifts we receive throughout the day. So instead of griping about life, as is so easy to do, we give thanks for all the good. She thought that was a great idea, and shortly thereafter, she sent me a book, called “Choosing Gratitude.” She said she had found it very helpful, in her own life, particularly as she struggles with a chronic illness to choose gratitude over grumbling, worship over whining. Several years ago, if my sister sent me a book, I might have grumbled even about that, thinking I have nothing to gain from her theological perspective, but lately the Spirit of God has challenged me to a greater sense of unity in the midst of Christian diversity. So I read the book and was grateful for it, and in fact, it helped shape this sermon series on Growing in Gratitude this year.
Let’s remember where we’ve been these last three weeks. We began with Paul’s rejoicing over the steady faith of the Thessalonian Christians, despite persecution. We talked about gratitude being the bedrock of faithfulness. Gratitude grows in a heart that trusts in and loves God, no matter the circumstances. We heard the story of Jonni Eareckson Tada, who says that many decades in a wheelchair have taught her to thank God even for her quadriplegia. It’s a gift wrapped in black she says. It is a bruising of a blessing, the shadowy companion that walks with her daily, pulling and pushing her into the arms of Jesus. The next week was our equation – Guilt + Grace = Gratitude. We were challenged to have an attitude of gratitude. Because it is no platitude that we will not wilt, our heart riddled with guilt. Go on, full tilt, in this race of full of grace, always ever seeking Christ’s face, never willing to step out of pace, working for God, with God conquering sin, ready every day to do it again.
Last week we read the story of the rich farmer who thought that a bigger barn was the perfect the answer to his surplus, but God called him a fool for being storing up so many treasures on earth. We must guard against the greed we see in this story because we recognize that we are the rich, living in a country with 1/20 of the world’s population, consuming ¼ of the world’s resources. There are multiple ways to simplify our lives, but it begins with a commitment to being rich toward God. We need to grow toward a pattern of God getting the top 10, savings getting the next 10% and then living on the 80% that left, unless you are blessed with a larger eighty, in which case you might be even more generous.
Today we are focused on the connection between gratitude and generosity. If we were mathematical again this week, the sermon title would be as you see there at the bottom of the screen. (click) I worked on this equation quite some time yesterday so I do not want you to miss its full value. X Gratitude divided by N E grumbling + I B greedy = Y B generous. For those of you who have never enjoyed word problems in math, let me offer this simple explanation. Grumbling and greed steal away our generosity, no matter how much gratitude you had in the beginning. Faithfulness begins with gratitude to God, but if when you start to feel sorry for yourself, grumbling about this or that, and if you start to let the world’s values about money and your own fears of the same start making you cling to your possessions, then there’s not much left to give away. If on the other hand, we have arrived at gratitude from the sum of guilt and grace, and we add on generosity to that, then we find that instead of negative numbers, we have the positive factor of a grace-filled life which then leads to more gratitude.
It is time now to read what Paul is saying to the church in Corinth, a church about which he could have grumbled quite a bit, because they were questioning his pastoral authority and generally demeaning his person, just because he had some physical weakness, some near-death experience or thorn in his flesh. But Paul did not grumble, he just challenged them to be generous toward others in need because of the surpassing grace of God which is a gift from God.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
The point is this:
the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind,
not reluctantly or under compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.
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.
9 As it is written, "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever."
10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food
will supply and multiply your seed for sowing
and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity,
which will produce thanksgiving to God through us;
12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints
but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.
13 Through the testing of this ministry
you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ
and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others,
14 while they long for you and pray for you
because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you.
15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
The key factor is the surpassing grace of God. If we are overwhelmed by the surpassing grace of God, such that you see it as an indescribable gift. If you start with the perspective that you deserved nothing and got everything, then you understand surpassing grace, the indescribable gift. If you thought you were dead and found out you were living by the gift of God, then you have gratitude for the indescribable gift. If you’re like the Mission Beth-el farmworker kid living in a crowded and dilapidated down mobile home and you receive your first brand new bike for Christmas, then you know the feeling of an indescribable gift. If you lost a job, or a house or and by the grace of God and the help of friends and family, you are still able to pay your bills somehow, then you know the indescribable gift of God. If you’ve lost a marriage or a child or a close friend, and you are still able to wake up in the mornings with gratitude in your heart, then you know the depths of God’s gift of grace. Grateful hearts are always full, and easily contented, while an unthankful heart is never content, always dwelling on scarcity, never having enough this or enough that.
True story. A church group from New Bern, NC went to the Caribbean Islands on a mission trip. They went to a leper colony, and that evening in worship, they were profoundly afffected to see so many people with such disfigured bodies. At the end of the service, the pastor invited the congregation to choose a final hymn, and one of the lepers, a woman who had no nose and no lips, stood up weakly and asked for the hymn, “Count Your Blessings.” Are you grateful for the roses on thornbushes, or griping about the thorns on rose bushes? (Choosing Gratitude, p.89-90)
German pastor Martin Rinkart, who wrote the hymn Now Thank We All Our God, a hymn we sang a couple of weeks ago, served in the walled town of Eilenburg during the horrors of the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648. Eilenburg became an overcrowded refuge for the surrounding area. The fugitives suffered from epidemic and famine. At the beginning of 1637, the year of the Great Pestilence, there were four ministers in Eilenburg. But one left his post for healthier areas and could not be persuaded to return. Pastor Rinkhart officiated at the funerals of the other two. As the only pastor left, he often conducted services for as many as 40 to 50 persons a day--some 4,480 in all.
In May of that year, his own wife died. By the end of the year, the refugees had to be buried in trenches without services. Yet, while living in a world dominated by death, Rinkart wrote this timeless prayer of thanksgiving for his children. This was their table blessing:
Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done, In whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother's arms, Hath led us on our way,
With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.
We should never measure our own generosity by what we give but by what we have left. And it is amazing how God supplies what we need when we actively trust and give generously. As Anne Frank said in her diary, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” When we give to God, we are just taking our hands off what already belongs to the Creator of heaven and earth.
So we should give to God what’s right, not what’s left. :) Some people say we should give til it hurts. But it seems from this passage, we learn to give until it feels good, until our hearts are so practiced at trusting that we are joyful and even cheerful, knowing that our lives are no longer in our hands, but in God’s hands. Rejoice in the indescribable gifts of God and take the seeds God’s given you and cast them out, knowing that the more you cast out, the more you will reap. We give not to prove our devotion to God, but because we are filled with gratitude because of God.
God is able to provide you everything in abundance, so breathe. Breathe in gratitude and breathe out generosity. The key is believing that God is able to provide, but you can’t believe it until you give enough to have to trust it. As you are giving more than you think you can, don’t count what you are giving away. Count your blessings, name them one by one. Keep an inventory of the gifts of God, and keep reaching in your pocket for that gratitude rock to remind you that God has given you the best gift you’ll ever receive – everlasting love.
This is love not intended to leave you as you are but love aimed at transforming you into the best person you can possibly be. And because of God’s abundant love, there will always be enough of everything you need and even more than enough, when you share generously.
Paul does not want the Corinthians to give because he is pressuring them. He wants them to give gladly and from the heart. It is truly more blessed to give than to receive. So we can be cheerful givers of God’s grace all that we have and all that we are, even in these hard economic times, remembering that we have so much for which to be grateful and thereby so much to give.
Every time I touch a gratitude rock, I am grateful to God for you and for the way the equation of gratitude and generosity rocks our little piece of the world when we live into it. Peace Presbyterian Church would not exist apart from the generosity of the people in this room, who have given their time, their talent, and their treasure “to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of Peace, and caring for the needs of others.” You are a generous people. And in your generosity, you are discovering that you reap what you sow. For many of you, this is the first church, where you’ve had a strong sense of responsibility for the ministries of the church, and you never knew how meaningful it could be.
I’d like to end with a Thomas Merton quote:
To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything he has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.