Cheerful Givers

“Cheerful Givers”

2 Corinthians 9:7-12 (9:7) – November 15, 2020

            Have you started thinking about Thanksgiving yet? Thoughts of Thanksgiving turkeys full of seasoned stuffing, mashed potatoes heaped high, creamy green bean casserole and tangy cranberry sauce bring sure-fire memories to many, many people at this generous, giving-time of the year. Except – will anything like an ordinary Thanksgiving celebration be possible this year? Can anything save this beloved holiday from the ravages of this pandemic and the stress and anxiety that seem to accompany it at every turn?

            Yet – with all the personal trials and tribulations that were continuing to happen to the apostle Paul, how could he even focus on generosity? Just two short chapters after today’s reading, in chapter 11, Paul talks about the dozens of times he was beaten, stoned, jailed, shipwrecked, and repeatedly denied freedom of religion. Yes, I suspect Paul had a close acquaintance with stress, fear and anxiety. Perhaps he did not allow them to take root and settle down in his head and heart, but I suspect Paul knew these deep feelings pretty well.

What did the apostle Paul write just before our reading for today? In the paragraphs before today’s reading, Paul asks for a collection to be gathered together. This collection of money is to be given to the persecuted, needy church in Jerusalem. The Christian friends in Jerusalem certainly knew what it was like to be in distress, too! It’s then Paul tells more about giving. How to give, and why. How not to give, too.  

            Of course we are preoccupied. Many things are on people’s minds. Not only the coronavirus, and public health, but stress, uncertainty and political upheaval. Is there any reason stress, fear and anxiety would NOT be running rampant in the United States today?

            Who can possibly turn our minds to giving and generosity, with so much going on in our lives? How can each of us follow this command from God to give generously? Paul would remind us that many, many Christians in his day had lots of things going on in their personal lives, too. Many were truly persecuted in a way that would make our skin crawl; many were in trouble with the imperial forces and government, too. Yet – Paul praised his former church members for remembering the faithful believers in Jerusalem – sending them a much needed financial gift.

            There is a clear difference between certain people who give freely and generously, and other people who give like their arms are twisted behind their backs – out of a matter of grudging obligation. And oh! Can we tell the difference!  

            We have a proverb of Paul’s day included here, in verse 6: “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Here Paul uses a common saying of the day to illustrate his point. Talking about bounty, about being generous, and about grudging giving out of obligation—being stingy.

            Do you know someone who is really stingy? Someone who is really pained to spend even one dollar of his or her own money? When I was young, there was an older man in our neighborhood who was exactly like this. So stingy he would creak when he walked. So stingy he couldn’t think of putting a penny in a Salvation Army kettle at the holidays.

            I suspect all of us know a tight-fisted person like this. Not at all the generous, open-handed way of giving that the Lord Jesus models for us. God never gives out of an attitude of grudging obligation, and neither should we.

            As each person purposes – or decides in their own heart, that is why we are to give. Did you ever think of giving because you want to give and because God has put it in your heart to give? To give out of the pure joy of giving? Paul had churchgoers remember the church – by sending a much needed financial gift.

One of my acquaintances knew a stingy old woman. So stingy, she would cut coupons and live on the bare minimum in her tiny house. But, she surprised us all after she died. Her will left $50 million dollars to Monmouth College. She never experienced the joy of giving away that money. She never experienced Thanks-GIVING. Don’t miss the joy of giving.
            Our giving “reveals the purposes in our own heart. “If we say we love the Lord more than surfing, but spend all our money on surfboards and do not give as we should to the Lord’s work, then the way we spend our money shows the purposes of our own heart more accurately than our words do. Jesus said it simply: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’” [1]

But, wait! If we have this generous attitude towards giving, being open-handed, positive and cheerful, then God will bless us abundantly with every blessing. Isn’t a warm heart and abundant blessings what we all really want?

What a marvelous promise. What wonderful words. And, this is not “maybe,” or “I hope so,” but it is a blessed promise from God! This is not only for our gifts of treasure, for our gifts of money. This blessing is for our gifts of time and of talents, as well.

For the person who comes and volunteers on Sunday mornings to start the coffee, sets out the bulletins, does the pandemic safety checks, or turns on the lights in the sanctuary—thank you. For the person who bakes a cake or makes a table decoration or repairs the church building—thank you. These are the gifts of time and of talent, and God is so pleased with that, too. God is pleased with whatever gifts you sincerely, truly offer with all your heart.

Alleluia, amen!


[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide2017-2Cr/2Cr-9.cfm

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Love as Jesus Loves

“Love as Jesus Loves”

John 15-12 love one another, words

John 15:9-17 (15:12) – May 6, 2018

Love, love, love. When you think of love, what comes to mind? Valentine’s Day hearts and heart-shaped boxes of candy? Bouquets of roses? What about popular love songs from musicals or the radio? Or, do you think about loving your family—your parents or children, or grandchildren? Loving your spouse, or your pets? Or, how about dear friends?

At first glance, this seems like something natural, common sense. Of course, I love my children. Of course, I love my husband. Of course—when they were alive, years ago—I loved my two dogs. Of course, I go out of my way for my loved ones. I bet we all do those things.

But, is that the kind of love Jesus is talking about here? Jesus gives His friends the command to love: what does that look like?

Some people say they love one another. They talk really big. You know the kind I mean. They might speak of loving all different kinds of people, and put on a great show. How much they talk the talk of love! Telling everyone how big their heart is. But, when it comes to doing anything related to love, and caring, serving, and helping others, where are these people? Do they walk the walk of love? Do they practice loving like Jesus loved?

When I was in kindergarten, my parents started me in piano lessons. As the youngest of six children, I followed all of my older brothers and sisters in having at least a few years of playing the piano. And, practice I did. As I practiced over the years, I became better and better at playing the piano. I had a teacher to show me how to play an instrument, and I practiced.

The same could be said for anything people want to become skilled at. Practice! Whether it’s playing baseball, football, hockey or tennis, when we practice an activity, we can’t help but become better at doing it. Whether it is sewing, dancing, painting or whatever else we are striving to get better at, practice doesn’t necessarily “make perfect,” but it does help us to improve. A teacher or coach helps us to become more comfortable and accustomed to doing whatever thing we are trying to do.

Let’s go back to the blowhard, the one who says they love everyone. Can you hear them bragging and boasting? Look at them! They are so tremendous at loving. In fact, no one loves half as well as these super-special lovers.

Question: is their talk of  “love” only self-serving and selfish? Or, do they walk the walk of love? Can we see the genuine effects of their loving, in their families, among their friends and acquaintances, and out in the community?

Let’s take a closer look at the Gospel reading for today, from John 15. Jesus starts His command with a few words of preparation: “10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

The big thing I get from this introduction to our Lord’s command? Jesus tells us to keep His commands. This ought to be a no-brainer. We all need to keep, or follow, Jesus’s commands. Piece of cake, right? Walk in the park! No problem, Jesus.

Well, not so much. Jesus must have known how much of a problem we all would have with this command. He said, “IF you keep my commands.” I am assuming we are not braggarts and blowhards like some people. No, we really mean to try to love others. So help us, God! But, it is not so easy. That thing called sin gets in the way, snarling and tangling us all up.

But, why does Jesus say this? He wants us to be filled with His joy. It says so, right here in this reading. We all have the possibility for the joy of Jesus of be in each one of us. Not only the joy of Jesus, but the complete joy of Jesus. Chock full to the brim! Filled with His joy!

I don’t know about you, but I think that being filled with the complete joy of Jesus sounds amazing. Beyond awesome.

However, I keep coming across this problem. I know very well that my heart is sinful. I have sinful thoughts, and sometimes I say sinful words, and do sinful deeds. Self-serving things, selfish, bragging, and boasting. I wonder whether you might do or say selfish things, too?

I suspect Jesus knew that this was the case, which was why He phrased His command in this way. But, wait! There’s more. The next thing out of Jesus’s mouth: “12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Now, wait a minute, Jesus! What do You mean? Sure, “love one another,” that I get. But, “love each other as I have loved you?” Didn’t Jesus sacrifice a lot? Didn’t Jesus love people with an unconditional love? Jesus finishes the command by not only telling us about unconditional love, but He shows us what it can mean.

I consider these words of loving command serious words, indeed. Show one another unconditional love, just like Jesus. Let me tell you how one commentator’s mother followed Jesus’s words of command to love as He loved.

“My mom started a backpack program 8 years ago with an elementary school down the road from my parents’ church that has morphed into a partnership. Among many other ways that they support the school’s students and teachers, congregation members pack food every week for more than 100 children who may not otherwise have anything to eat during the weekend.

This story was relayed by the mother of a child who receives a weekly backpack.

“This mom watched from her window as her child and his friend got off of the school bus one Friday afternoon. Her son took his food bag out of his backpack and started unpacking some food at the bus stop. This little one shared half of what he had with his friend. When his mom asked him about what she saw, he told her that his friend needed some extra food, too.

“Word got back to the school counselor. We sent extra food in this little one’s bag, until we could get the new child enrolled in the program. We added a note telling him how proud we were of him and that we would send extra food for him to share with his buddy until he could get his own bag of food on Fridays.” [1]

That weekly commitment – shopping, packing, delivering – is a way to put action to the words of love, a way to show others we care. We have the opportunity to stop being selfish. That makes possible other acts of self-giving and generosity. It’s a way to love with actions, the way that Jesus would love.

What self-sacrificing love! This kind of love is not self-centered. It does not brag or boast, it does not get all puffed up and just blather on about how loving they are. No, this kind of love is love with workboots on. Love that rolls up its sleeves and goes to work, for anyone. Loving one another, no matter what. Loving people the way Jesus would love them.

I ask periodically, “what would Jesus do?” Would Jesus roll up His sleeves, get in there and pack backpacks for kids who did not have enough to eat? I think so. What can we do for Jesus? How can we roll up our sleeves and show others that Jesus loves them?

We all have the opportunity to follow the commands of Jesus. Love one another. Go and do. Go and love, in Jesus’s name.

[1] http://www.ekklesiaproject.org/blog/2015/05/what-is-love/

“What Is Love?” Anna Macdonald Dobbs, Ekklesia Project, 2015.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

The Widow’s Contribution

“The Widow’s Contribution”

Mark 12-42 widow, mite mosaic

Mark 12:43 – November 8, 2015

I have a friend who is recently retired. He goes around town, quietly, and does good. He was raised in the church, but that was a good many years ago. Yes, he does have a belief in God, and he expresses that faith by doing good for others and being faithful.

Sometimes that means driving people to a doctor’s appointment. Or volunteering at a local not-for-profit organization. Sometimes that means picking up the left-over baked goods from a business at the end of the day, at closing time. And then, delivering the baked goods to a homeless shelter. He does all of this without thanks, with little or no fanfare. He is faithful. He is dependable. He contributes, in any way he can. And, I am so glad he is my friend.

We turn to the Gospel reading for today, from Mark 12. Jesus and His disciples are in Jerusalem, and Jesus is having another in those continuing discussions with the chief leaders and teachers of the Jewish Law. They happen to be in the rear of the Temple. Large sanctuary, lots of coming and going, to and fro.

These are several verses from Eugene Peterson’s excellent translation, The Message. Mark sets the scene in verse 41: “Sitting across from the offering box, Jesus was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection.”

Wait, didn’t the congregation at the Temple in the first century pass an offering plate? How did they collect money to keep the doors of the Temple open? And, was there any outreach, any charitable giving being done?

For this, we turn to Matthew Henry’s commentary on this chapter from Mark. “There was a public fund for charity, into which contributions were brought, and out of which distributions were made; a poor’s-box, and this in the Temple; for works of charity and works of piety very fitly go together; where God is honoured by our worship, it is proper He should be honoured by the relief of His poor.”;

So, different cultures and different places of worship, not to mention different centuries. We are looking at a slightly different practice of collecting money. Just to make sure everyone is on the same page. The principles of giving and generosity are the same, and those principles span the cultures and the centuries.

Apparently, people used to hang out at the back of the Temple and talk, have discussions, and sometimes debate. Oh—and they would also check out how much other people were contributing to the Temple and to the charitable fund. (I’m quite serious.)

Remember how open, how blatantly obvious the religious leaders were, about their religious observance? Their ostentatious prayer practice, their ritual observance of washing and cleanliness, their attention to the least little bits of the Jewish Law Code, and their finger-wagging and complaining about other people who weren’t quite as observant? So, of course the prideful extra-observant people among the religious crowd would be extreme in their giving practices. Talk about being a show-off!

Jesus has dealt with this kind of prideful observant attitude before. Here in our reading, we see Him dealing with this kind of show-offy attitude again, only in the matter of giving to the needy. What is the next thing He notices? From Mark 12: “Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents.”

What is this? Jesus does a compare/contrast sort of thing. He compares the large contributions of the rich people with the measly two small coins that the widow contributed. Large amount compared to a small amount.

We will take a short detour and look at our reading from the Old Testament for today. This passage from 1 Kings is a fascinating reading, about how God provided for the prophet Elijah in the time of an extended drought.

I could have preached my sermon to you from this reading! But pairing this passage with the reading from Mark makes a more powerful story.

Elijah was one of the most prominent prophets in the Old Testament. He was God’s spokesman in a time when the nation of Israel was not following God very well at all. King Ahab was married to a foreign Queen named Jezebel, who led Ahab and much of the rest of Israel into idolatry and worship of false idols. That is one of the reasons why God sent an extended drought onto the whole region of the Middle East.

Elijah listened to God, and God communicated to Elijah to head up north, near Damascus, to the home of a non-Jewish widow in the town of Zarephath. Ordinarily, widows were not very well off, with no husband and little means of support. This widow was really, really poor. By the time Elijah arrived at her house, she only had one bag of flour and one jar of oil left in her pantry, and that is all. Hard for us here in the Chicago suburbs to believe that she had so little. Remember, it was a time of extended drought,food prices must have been going through the roof.

Elijah worked a miracle. God provided for the widow, her son, and the prophet. The widow made food for her, her son, and for their tenant the prophet Elijah, every day. The bag of flour and the jar of oil did not run out for months, until the Lord allowed the rains to return and the crops to grow again. Did you hear? God provided for them, out of God’s abundance.

This is what I suspect Jesus was thinking of when He pointed out the widow who put the two coins into the collection box. What did Jesus say? “Jesus called His disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”

Did everyone hear what Jesus points out?

All of these show-off rich people gave a portion out of their abundance. But the poor widow? The widow gave extravagantly. She gave over and above. She gave, trusting in God’s abundance. She gave, hope-filled, looking to God to provide for her needs. Like the widow in Zarephath, centuries before, this widow in Jerusalem trusts God to provide. This widow decides that everything she is and has belongs to God.

But, the treasurer and trustees at the Temple might have had a problem with this kind of thinking, and this kind of giving. Guess what? Too bad! What is valued and lifted up by Jesus, what is important to the Kingdom of God is not what is valued in this world. God does not have a dollars-and-cents kind of perspective!

This vignette is just a slice of the widow’s life. But, I’d like to follow the widow home. See how she treats her neighbors. Does she bring over a pot of soup to a sick friend? Does she clean the apartment of someone who has fallen and broken their leg? And what about her listening skills? Is she someone people come to, to talk about their troubles? Giving to God is so much more than just dollars and cents. So much more than just the coins the show-offy rich people put into the collection box in the Temple.

What about us, today? How can we take this scripture lesson today, and apply it to our lives? Is it just a nice story about what happened to people in Jesus’s day? Or, is it much more?

Today, we all can be like the widow in Jerusalem. This widow gave extravagantly. She gave over and above. She gave, trusting in God’s abundance. And, this widow decides that everything she is and has belongs to God. Like my friend I told you about, who does lots of things without thanks, with little or no fanfare. We all can be faithful. We all can be dependable. We all can contribute, in any way we can, to God and to God’s kingdom.

God willing, I’ll contribute to God’s kingdom. Will you contribute, too? Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!