A Generous Heart

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

November 13, 2016

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

 

A few years ago I was flying on a commuter airline, you know the type where you have to squeeze yourself in and the aisle are not very wide.  Sitting across the aisle from me was a young girl, three or maybe four years old.  The flight attendant came by with peanuts and I was hungry, so opened my pack and tossed them down fairly quickly.  The young girl watched me intently as her mother helped her open her pack of peanuts.  She must have thought I was famished because she ate a peanut and then took another and held it out for me.  Part of me thought, no way, there’s no telling where those hands had been.  But then I realized that to turn her down her offer would deny her a chance to learn about sharing and giving. I took the peanut, thanked her and made a big deal out of eating it.  She smiled and laughed.  There were more peanuts to come.

Today, as we continue to work our way through the themes of Jeff Manion’s book, Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption, we’re talking about a generous heart.  A generous heart is one that gracious receives the gifts we’re given in this life while giving back to the church, to ministries doing God’s work in the world, and to those in need.

Our text is from the ninth chapter of 2nd Corinthians.  Let me give you a bit of background information.  In the eighth chapter of this letter, Paul begins his discussion of the offering being collected for those in Jerusalem who are suffering from a famine. The conversation continues through the ninth chapter.  Paul is in a bind.  The Corinthian Church has promised a gift which hasn’t been forthcoming.  Paul doesn’t want to humiliate the Corinthians into giving, although he does suggest that if their gift doesn’t materialize, he and the Corinthians are going to have a hard time living it down.  After all, their poorer neighbors to the north, the Macedonians, have already made a generous gift.[1]  But giving to maintain honor is not a good reason.  Paul doesn’t want them to feel compelled to give.  He wants them to give cheerfully because they are sharing in God’s work.  Listen as I read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.

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It had been a long hard winter.  The snow piled deeper and deeper as the mercury plunged and rivers froze.  People began to suffer in the mountains and the Red Cross responded.  They lined up helicopters and as soon as the weather cleared, they flew the supplies in.  One crew had been working all day when they spotted a little cabin buried in the snow, with a wisp of smoke coming from a chimney.  The team assumed they could use some help, but there was no way they could get the ‘copter down near the cabin.  They sat down about a mile away and one of the rescuers volunteered to ski in with some essentials. It was exhausting work, pushing through snow drifts as he broke trail.  Finally he reached the cabin and knocked on the door, exhausting and panting.  A startled mountain woman opened the door and the man gasped, “I’m from the Red Cross.”  “I’m sorry, Sonny,” she said closing the door.  “It’s been a long and hard winter and we don’t have anything left to give.”[2]

Friends, as God’s chosen, we need to practice how to give and receive.  Paul gives us some clues about how to do this in our passage today.  We’ve been blessed in order to give.

Paul makes it clear in this passage that God supplies the gift and blesses the giver.  God provides the gift because God wants us to be able to participate with him, doing his work in the world.  Verse eight reads, “God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to what needs to be done.”[3]

Notice it doesn’t say anything about an amount of a particular type of gift.  Nor does it even say anything about the need of the recipient.  Paul doesn’t shame the Corinthians into giving by pointing out how those in Jerusalem are starving and malnourished.  He doesn’t show any photos of kids with skinny arms and legs and extended stomachs, suggesting that for just a dollar a day, this child can have a better life.  Now, there are a lot of groups that do good work using such techniques, but that wasn’t Paul’s way. Shaming is a technique that works well in the world, but it’s not Biblically grounded.  Instead, Paul points out the need for them (and for us) to give in order to fulfill God’s intention in our lives and to allow God to bless us for our generosity.

Like the Corinthians, we need to give.  Some of us are able to make large gifts while others of us are only able to make a modest gift, or what may seem to be only a small gift. But all are valuable.   As it has been pointed out in many sermons, the largest and the smallest gift in scripture is the same one.  The widow who gave her two small coins gave all she had.  By percentage, it’s the largest cash gift recorded in scripture.  But because the two coins were so small, it’s also the smallest. [4]  We give, not because we can make a difference.  We give because God gave to us first and because we want to be a part of the work God is doing in the world.

By the way, although Paul is talking about a financial commitment with the Corinthians, our giving is more than just putting money or checks into the offering plate, electronically transferring money to the church bank account, or the gifting of stock or real estate.  God has given us so much more.  The financial part is critical to our spiritual development.  You’ve probably heard before that Jesus talked more about money and the proper use of treasure than any other topic except prayer.

Beyond money, it is also important for us to give of our time and talents, to show of empathy, and the willingness to be with others during times of trial.  As God’s elect, we are to be doing God’s work in the world.  Through the church, God partners with us so that we might show the world a better way of living.

It’s exciting that God wants us to be in partnership with him, but more than that, God also gives us the means to contribute.  It has often been said that the church will never have enough, but it always has enough for its mission.  God sees to it that we have what we need to carry forth our work in the world.  From a business standpoint, this might not make sense.  Our analytical minds want us to have all the resources lined up in advance, but God doesn’t work that way.  He wants us to go forth while trusting and being dependent on him.  When everything is assured, there is no room for faith.

Paul doesn’t end this discussion with the benefits that giving has for the giver, but he goes on to discuss the spiritual impact upon the recipient of the gift.  He’s suggesting that those in Jerusalem, who receive the gift, will give thanks to God for the Corinthians and their faithfulness.  The believers in Jerusalem are Jewish Christians and they’ve not been overly thankful for the Gentile Christians.  But Paul suggests that because of their gift, those in Jerusalem will have a change in heart and instead of looking down their noses at the Gentiles, they’ll give thanks to God for them and will pray for them.  The Jewish Christians are being prompted for a second conversion, one that will welcome all those who Christ calls to himself.[5]

God’s generosity should melt our hearts; our generosity has to power to melt the hearts even of our enemies.  As Jeff Manion points out in the book we’re reading, our generosity is anchored in God’s generosity.  As we give, God graciously provides.[6]  When we train our hearts to be generous, God can bless us even more.  When we are generous and gracious to all, including our enemies, we are living as God intends.[7]

Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, her first book which also won her the Pulitzer Prize, tells of a game she played when she was a child of six or seven years old growing up in Pittsburgh.  She’d take a penny and hid it where someone could find it. It was great joy to her, as a young girl, to be a blessing to the one who found and pocketed her penny.  She would hid the penny along the sidewalk near her home, cradling it within the roots of a sycamore or in a chipped off piece of concrete.  But it wasn’t enough to just hide the penny, as she wanted to experience the excitement of it being found.  She would take chalk and draw arrows toward the penny.  As she began to be able to spell, she’d write, “SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY.  The thought of a lucky by-passer, who without merit found the penny as a “free gift from the universe,” excited her.[8]

Think of the excitement of Annie Dillard as a child or that young girl feeding me peanuts on an airplane.  We can have just as much excitement as adults, partnering with God and giving to programs that help build God’s kingdom. Generosity is counter-cultural.  It is an antidote to a self-centered, narcissistic, me-first society.  Cultivate a generous heart.  And as you give, trust that God will continue to give to you so that you will be able to be even more generous.  Amen.

 

©2016

 

[1] 2 Corinthians 8:1-6.  The idea of a gift is introduced in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4.

[2] James Hewett, ed. Illustration’s Unlimited as used by John Salmon.

[3] 2 Corinthians 9:8, The Message Translation.

[4] Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4.

[5] When I am speaking of a “second conversion, I am thinking of it in terms of Peter.  Even after accepting that Jesus was the Messiah, Peter had to another conversation in order to be open to the Gentiles.  See Acts 10.  Often times, our Christian walk isn’t about just one conversion but a series of conversions as we make small steps toward becoming the people God calls us to be.

[6] Jeff Manion, Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 148.

[7] See Exodus 23:1-9.

[8] Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (NY: Harper and Row, 1974), 15.

 

The Opening of Today’s Pastoral Prayer

Almighty God, Lord of all lords, our Sovereign King, we who have gathered this morning come with raw emotions.  Some are excited about the election results and others fearful.  We’ve heard enough hate and rhetoric from both sides.  We’re heard more than enough blame from both parties, and not nearly enough about what needs to be done.  Instead of gloating or pouting, there is great need for confession and for apologies.  It is as if we have forgotten that which we should have learned on the playgrounds of our childhood: harsh words can hurt and violence isn’t the answer.  We live in a divided country, yet we also know that we, who are a part of your church, are not just citizens of this nation.  Our allegiance belongs first and foremost to you and to your kingdom.  But it is not just the elections for even in the excitement and the drowning within the news coverage, life still goes on.  There are those in our church family and in our community who grieve over the deaths of loved ones.  There are those in need of healing, encouragement, friendship, and hope.  In our community, as around the world, the poor suffer and the prisoner is forgotten.  Give us the courage, O God, to be the church.  Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you broke down the wall separating us from you.  May we also break down the walls that separate us from one another. May we show the world another way of living, the way of love, the way that leads to reconciliation and to eternal life.


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