2 Corinthians 9:6-15
The reading we heard this morning from second Corinthians takes place within the context of fundraising. You probably don’t think of Paul as a fundraiser, but he did a lot of that on his travels. To set the context for you: You need to know that ‘Achaia’ is a province in which the city of Corinth was located. While the letter is titled ‘to the Corinthians’, in the text itself Paul refers to these people as ‘Achaia’. (It would be like titling it ‘Letter to the church in Munich’, but referring to us as ‘Bavarians’ in the body of the letter.) Evidently, this congregation had previously pledged some money to support the Jerusalem congregation. And Paul has sent two brothers, one being Titus, to Corinth to collect the money.
Listen carefully as I read the first five verses of 2 Corinthians, chapter 9:
“There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. 2 For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 3 But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.”
So (hand motion) – pay up on your pledge.
Now the very next verse is a real gift. It is rare in the scriptures to have such a large red arrow as these next words: THE POINT IS THIS -ie pay attention – “The one who sows sparingly, reaps sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully, reaps bountifully.” Now that is just common sense, but very applicable to us as well. If enough money is not given or pledged, then the Vestry has to cut things out of the budget. If the budget is cut too much, the church eventually ceases to exist.
But how you give is also important. Notice he doesn’t want them to feel coerced into giving reluctantly. “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Now, we all know want a reluctant giver looks like. In the ballet, The Nutcracker, the first Act takes place in the home of a Burgermeister who is throwing a Xmas party. Invited to the party is a mysterious toymaker named ‘Drosselmeyer’, who appears to have magical powers. Drosselmeyer gives a beautiful present to his goddaughter, Clara. It is a wooden Nutcracker dressed as a soldier. Clara’s younger brother is very jealous. He grabs the Nutcracker out of her hands and runs off with it. A chase scene ensues, which only ends when the Burgermeister stops the young boy and demands he return the gift. Fritz screws up his face and throws the Nutcracker on the floor at Clara’s feet, and it breaks. THAT is a reluctant giver. We have all seen that scenario among children. Maybe you were the Fritz or Clara among your siblings. As adults we internalize it. We may not show that feeling quite in such a raw and dramatic way, but don’t we sometimes feel it? ‘Oh! Hear comes that man. I hope he doesn’t ask me for money again.’ We cringe inside when asked to part with our money.
God wants us to give cheerfully. Why? Because to give reluctantly shows a lack of trust in God’s ability to provide. God shows us over and over again, not only in scripture, but in nature as well, that the Lord is the creator and sustainer: “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.” Some of you may be familiar with the ‘prosperity teaching’ that is popular in places in the USA. This particular interpretation of scripture teaches that ‘for every dollar you give, the Lord will multiply it a hundredfold and make you rich.’ It promises that if you give to their particular ministry, you will be able to drive a fancy car and own a big home. That is NOT what scripture says. Or more precisely, like any good lie, it is only partially true. Verses 10 and 11: “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. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us…”
You are familiar with the Christmast Carol, right? Tell me, do you think that Scrooge after his night with the ghosts had more money in his coffers after paying Tiny Tim’s medical expenses, buying Christmas gifts, and raising his employees’ salaries? Of course not! It is only when he started giving the money away that he became truly rich. Heavenly riches are not made of this tool we call money. The “harvest of your righteousness” is more souls saved. It is the Image of God sitting in the pew next to you. Look left, look right. If you want more souls in the pews, be a generous giver.
I want to address briefly what it means to trust God. I have heard people say things like, “How can I trust the Lord when I prayed for God to heal my child who later died?” and “How can I trust the Lord when God allowed the storm to take my house? or fire… or war that tore up my country?” Trusting God isn’t about having things resolve the way you want them to. It is, in fact, just the opposite. Trusting God is about handing over the power, putting a situation in God’s hands and saying, “You are the Lord. Your will be done.” It is scary to give up that power. We can trust in God’s ability to provide because we know who God is: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.
Now I am going to take you back to 1876. (Hmm, lots of examples from the 19th century in this!) Horatio Spafford was a lawyer in Chicago whose business burned down in the Chicago fire. He decided to send his family to Europe while he cleaned up and tied up loose ends. Now, I am certain that Horatio Spafford prayed for the safety of his wife and four daughters as they crossed the Atlantic in 1876. But there was a shipwreck, and when he heard that only his wife survived the ship’s sinking, and that he had lost all four of his daughters ages 2, 7, 9 and 11, he penned these words, „When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‚It is well, It is well with my soul.“ THAT is trust in God.
But the Spafford’s story doesn’t end there with the pretty words of a hymn. Anna and Horatio Spafford had lost everything. He lost his business in the great Chicago Fire, and then they lost their 4 children at sea. (Sounds a bit like Job, doesn’t it?) So what did they do? Scream at God? No. They regrouped, trusting in God-the-Provider, and decided to bring a little piece of Heaven to Earth. Along with 16 other members of their church, they set up the American Colony in Jerusalem. At that time, Jerusalem was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. And if you think the city is fractious now, it was much worse then. The lines between peoples and faiths were thickly drawn. The American Colony accepted whoever came through its doors, not caring what race, religion or nationality they had. The colonists treated all human beings as bearing the image of God and deserving of respect. It was, at times, a hospital for the wounded, at others an orphanage, but always a place where the weary traveler could arrive and be welcomed with open arms. Eventually many more Swedes, and Americans joined the Spaffords and purchased a much larger venue. The American Colony eventually (thanks, in part, to the grandfather of Sir Peter Ustinov) became a hotel. Quoting from the archives:
“The American Colony Hotel has a unique place in the history of the area, having endured countless challenges and a series of wars. It was the venue from which the white flag—made from a bed sheet from one of the Colony’s hospitals, currently displayed at the Imperial War Museum in London—was taken in 1917 to initiate the truce that ended Ottoman rule in Jerusalem.
The Colony has always been known locally as a neutral island, remaining outside the turbulent politics of the land. Owned neither by Arabs nor Jews, but by Americans, British and Swedes, it has always had friends from all sectors of Jerusalem’s mixed society. An oasis where Jews and Arabs comfortably meet, it is also a favorite haven for international journalists, high-ranking officers of the United Nations and diplomats from across the world.
The original founders retained their former home in the Old City and used it for charitable purposes, providing care to needy children with services that grew over the decades. Today this building houses the Spafford Children’s Center, which runs medical, infant welfare and social work departments for local children.
Although the daily management of the hotel was handed over by the Spafford’s grandson, Horatio Vester, upon his retirement in 1980, to Gauer Hotels of Switzerland, the American Colony is still owned and run by the descendants of the original founding community. Its board of directors is composed of family members who remain closely involved. The Colony is a part of their family history, just as it is a part of the history of Jerusalem.”
Note the comment about the Spaffords’ grandson. The Spaffords had three more children, two of whom lived into adulthood. Now to steal Paul’s words, THE POINT IS THIS: The Spaffords’ greatest contribution came AFTER they had lost everything. They trusted in God’s ability to provide. And that is exactly why we also can give cheerfully.
God isn’t Superman who swoops in to right all the wrongs in your life upon your request. The story isn’t about you and your little piece of the world. The story is not about me and my little piece of the world. It is about ‘us’ collectively. God is the sovereign Lord, who is in charge of eternity, the fount of life and love.
Be a cheerful and grateful giver, money is only a tool, a means to an end. It is not the end in itself.
Praise be to God!