2 Corinthians 9.6-15
Stewardship Consecration Sunday
Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
6What I mean is this: the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop. 7Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn't give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver. 8God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. 9As it is written,
“[They] scattered everywhere; [they] gave to the needy; [their] righteousness remains forever.” 10The one who supplies seed for planting and bread for eating will supply and multiply your seed and will increase your crop, which is righteousness. 11You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us. 12Your ministry of this service to God's people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God. 13They will give honor to God for your obedience to your confession of Christ's gospel. They will do this because this service provides evidence of your obedience, and because of your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone. 14They will also pray for you, and they will care deeply for you because of the outstanding grace that God has given to you. 15Thank God for the gifts of God that words cannot describe! 
For the Word of God through scripture, for the Word of God among us, for the Word of God within us….thanks be to God!
And echoing the words of Paul again, Thank God for the gifts of God that words cannot describe! What are the gifts of God in your life that words cannot describe? Think about it. I invite you to pause this video and take the time you need to really think about and/or discuss this question. Take a moment to name a few these gifts with those who are with you or to jot them down.
What did you discover? As I did this exercise alone in my study, I found I first went to the “macro” of family and soul friends and loving community and having an abundance financial resources to generously share with those who have less. Then I went to the “micro” of a warm, comfy, safe bed and blue skies over a sunny, warm beach with gentle ocean waves and tomatoes just off the vine and coffee in the morning. Somewhere in between “macro” and “micro” I found the gift of story with its imagery, metaphor and wisdom, the gift of poetry, of alone time with God, of the sound of laughter with good friends around a dinner table.
I could go on and so could you….the point is to celebrate God’s gifts and receive them whole-heartedly so that we are really nurtured and blessed by them so that we can share God’s gifts with others in need with open hearts and hands. And thus share God’s love revealed in Jesus! Remember, friends, we cannot give away what we do not have. If we do not take time to let God’s gifts and God’s love sink deep into our souls, how can we share them? We can do a lot of good works, but are we sharing from open and abundant hearts and from the abundant heart of God? Just doing good works can lead to soul burn out and scarcity feelings.
The abundant soul place of open-hearted generosity is where Paul is leading the church folks in Corinth as he encourages them to give to the offering being collected for the poor in the Christian community in Jerusalem. Paul knows that there is great financial need in that community, and he is compelled by the love of God he has experienced in Jesus Christ to help. He also knows that the mutuality of giving and receiving will unite the Christian community which is expanding from its Jewish roots in Jerusalem across the empire to include Gentiles in God’s love in Christ. He knows that many – not all, some are poor or are slaves – yet many in the Gentile Christian communities have more to give, they are wealthier. They have not been oppressed and persecuted by the empire as are the Jewish communities. This offering collection is a brilliant opportunity in practical sharing to meet needs and in building bridges across class, ethnic and religious interpretation divides.
So Paul exhorts the church at Corinth, and exhorts us as 21st century church, to greater generosity! He uses with harvest imagery which is familiar to Americans at this time of year… those who sow a small crop reap a small harvest and those who sow a big crop reap a big harvest. Hmm…there is an underlying question: do we want a small or a big harvest? He alludes to and quotes Psalm 112, saying, the faithful followers of God are those who “scattered/shared their resources everywhere; [they] gave to the needy; [their] righteousness or goodness remains forever.” Hmm…. there is an underlying question: do we want to be God’s faithful followers like our ancestors in faith? Paul continues the exhortation by saying in essence, “And don’t worry because the one – and yes, he is referencing God, the Holy One here…the one who supplies the seed for sowing and then the bread for eating will supply you. You will be rich in blessings as are the righteous, the trustworthy followers of God and this will produce in you great thankfulness and generosity. Blessings will overflow!
All this makes for feeling good about harvest and abundance and a donation to the Food Bank, doesn’t it! But hmmm….as I reread the text, I find another underlying question: How much? How much do we give to get this overflowing feeling good of being blessed and being a blessing? Paul writes at the beginning of his exhortation, “Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn't give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver.” There’s an over-used stewardship quote for you. “God loves a cheerful giver.” Maybe you have seen it embroidered on a pillow or cross-stitched on linen and hanging framed on a wall.
After pondering the Greek word for “cheerful,” hilaros, which also means “joyous” and “prompt to do anything,” … and yes, is the root of “hilarious,” I asked myself what are the implications of being a “cheerful” giver? A giver who is joyous and prompt to do anything needed? Do I, personally, give with any hesitation or because of pressure? Or do I give readily and without guilt or fear? Do I give out of an attitude of abundance or from an outlook of scarcity? Think about that for a few moments. [On screen: 15 seconds of shots of trees/beauty.]
I know I have experienced giving from a scarcity attitude, an attitude of reluctance or hesitation. Have you? In scarcity giving we might say to ourselves, “I have enough in the bank; I have more than enough for my own needs, but I can’t let go of the “what ifs”, the fears of not having enough sometime in the future to give as generously as I really deep down might want to give.” OR we might say to ourselves, “I don’t have a lot to spare and I want to give more. I should give more. I will say I will give more just so I don’t feel guilty and feel like God won’t like me if I give less. I wonder if I can pay the utility bills if I give that much, but I don’t want God to be mad at me.” OR we might say to ourselves, “If I give this much, perhaps I will receive a some external reward or get noticed in the community or get a bigger place in heaven.”
New Testament scholar Ernest Best writes about this passage saying, “Those who give out of self-interest to receive a reward here or hereafter are reluctant givers, for they act under an inner compulsion to seek their own good. There is no genuine joy, only a cool and calculating self-concern. If we give or withhold giving out of fear, if we give because we feel guilty and want to get right with God, if we give out of needing reward we are hesitant givers giving out of pressure and fear, self-concern and scarcity rather than out of joy and abundance.
Now I tell you these things on peril that I will persuade some of you not to give! If you are thinking “Yikes…I don’t know why I give so maybe I just shouldn’t give or pledge at all….” DON’T GO THERE! Take a deep breath!! There is an alternative!
Give from joy… Joy, along with love, casts out fear and guilt and the need to look good in others’ eyes. Give from joy that you have found this church community to be with even in the midst of the social distancing we have at the moment. Give from the joy of watching your children grow up in this community and experience God here in learning and playing and service. Give from the joy of knowing how connected we are to ministries and agencies in northern Colorado that help prevent homelessness or care for the homeless or welcome the immigrant with shelter and clothing or feed the children who could go hungry without the Food Bank of Larimer County. Give from the joy of learning together and praying together in small groups, of knitting prayer shawls together, of singing together even if with the weird parameters we have around singing right now. Give from the joy of all those gifts from God that you thought of that cannot be described with words! Give from the joy of being in the midst of our trying times surrounded by God’s people as we lift one another up with the love that Jesus made manifest in our world! Give from joy even if it is very hard to “feel” joyful emotionally right now. Giving is a way of connecting and I find connecting with others brings me out of my pandemic, election, fire danger, and racism examination anxiety and dismay!
Be a joyful, cheerful giver…and whatever amount you challenge yourself to give, don’t look back! Just give from your open heart. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us. Your ministry of this service to God's people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God. In other words, says Paul, your joyful, thankful giving will produce thanksgiving in those who receive from your gifts. They will give thanks to God for you even as you give thanks that you can give to help them. It’s a win-win situation. The more abundance flows the more there will be to do the joyful work of God in this world.
In a moment you will have a chance to say a prayer of consecration over your pledge card or a symbol of your pledge card, if you have already sent it in or pledged online. We joyfully pray over our pledges to recognize and honor that giving is sacred. Giving brings us closer in beloved community and closer to the Holy One. God does have work for us to do, to continue doing, in our tired and troubled world, my friends. We are a community of faithful and hardworking pilgrims on this sacred journey. Let us be joyful, cheerful givers as we walk the road together. Amen.
©The Reverend Jane Anne Ferguson, 2020 and beyond. May be reprinted with permission only.
 Bible, Common English. CEB Common English Bible with Apocrypha - eBook [ePub] (Kindle Locations 44634-44637). Common English Bible. Kindle Edition.
 Best, Ernest. Second Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (p. 86). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
Associate Minister Jane Anne Ferguson is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. Learn more about Jane Anne here.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
Today we are experiencing a synchronicity of observances in the life of our church: it is both World Communion Sunday and the kickoff of our stewardship campaign. Initially, I thought about it as more of an eclipse, with one special Sunday covering the other, but as I thought more about it, it provides an opportunity for us to see our faith, our generosity, our giving in a global and a local context.
By a show of hands, how many of us think of ourselves as rich? A few years back the Occupy Wall Street Movement took aim at the “One Percenters” -– the people who are in the very top income bracket in our country -– and denounced the disparity of income in our country. And to be sure, even though that movement has dissipated, the problem of income inequality worsens. But it isn’t just a problem for us nationally…it’s a global issue. Let me ask you another question: By a show of hands, and looking beyond the United States, how many of think that you are not simply doing okay, but wealthy in the global scheme of things?
This may surprise you, but if your household income is $32,400 or more, you are a “One Percenter,” globally speaking. The median income for households in Fort Collins is $60,110, and the mean household income is $80,591. Does that help put things in perspective?
Median household income in Italy is just over $20,000 a year (one-third of Fort Collins), and in Portugal it’s just over $16,000 a year…those are developed European economies. In Angola, it’s about $3,500 a year, and in Liberia it is only $781.
Let me ask that first question again: By a show of hands, how many of us think of ourselves as rich? So, when we celebrate World Communion Sunday, perhaps it’s helpful for us to have a global perspective on our own wealth. [Jesus interrupts…]
* * *
[Jesus: Hal? … Hal?]
Who is that?
[It’s Jesus, Hal.]
No, it’s not!
[Sure, it is, Hal! Let me prove it…you know this one, don’t you: “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.”]
Yeah, that’s from the end of the Parable of the Unfaithful Slave. And if you really are Jesus, are you trying to tell us that I – we – have been entrusted with a lot and that we will be asked for even more?
[You figure it out, Hal. Duh! Okay, see if this makes sense: “There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day. At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores. (I know it’s gross, but I’m trying to make a point here…)
“The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain. Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us.’
“The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so that they don’t come to this place of agony.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them.’ The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their hearts and lives.’ Abraham said, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”]
Okay, Jesus, I’m feeling persuaded – since you are, after all, someone who rises from the dead. Can I ask you a question? Why is it that you are always talking about money? Are you trying to lay a guilt trip on us?
[Jesus: I talk about two things more than anything else, especially when I’m at dinner with sinners and tax collectors: love and money…both have a lot to do with you becoming a co-creator of the kingdom of God that I came to proclaim. And the reason I talked so much about love and money is that you have so much to give…sometimes you just need to be…well…prompted.]
Okay, then. Consider me prompted. And thanks for the reminder, Jesus.
[Jesus: No problem, Hal, and just remember, “I am with you always…even until the end of the age.”]
* * *
I know that’s a lot to think about. We’ve been showing you videos about how Plymouth is changing peoples’ lives and by extension why your financial support is so essential. And you can see all of those videos at plymouthucc.org/give. But I wonder if the reason that most of us give is that Jesus calls us to open our hearts, and that heart-journey helps us know where we should invest the money that has been entrusted to us.
When we examine ourselves, we know that we are rich by comparison to most of the world, even if Madison Avenue tells us that we are lacking and that our personal wants come before all else. And we know in our hearts that God has entrusted much to us and that we are being called to pay it forward, to go deeper, to give generously. You and I are being called by God -– and not by the advertising industry –- to put our treasure where our hearts are, to invest in the kingdom of God whose hallmarks are faithfulness, justice, peace, and freedom. That is a deeply counter-cultural message in our nation today.
I’ve thought in the past about the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler, who... [Jesus interrupts: Oh, yeah, that’s a good one!] Thank you, for that! I’ve wondered how I might respond if Jesus himself were to ask me face-to-face to give up all of my possessions and follow him. Would it make a difference if it was Jesus standing in front of you, asking you to search your soul and to use what has been entrusted to you for God’s realm? If you don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then you probably won’t be persuaded by someone who rises from the dead.
There are a lot of ways that you can invest in God’s realm. There are different ways to bring faith and justice and peace into God’s world. But for me, Plymouth and the United Church of Christ form the most immediate and sustainable way available. I know that all of us are in different financial situations, some have student loans, big medical bills, kids going to college, car payments, and that it isn’t as simple as saying, “Yes, Jesus, I’m going to give all that up and follow you.” But that doesn’t let us off the hook…it isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. [Jesus interrupts: “Yeah, Zacchaeus (Za-KEY-us) the tax collector to just give half of his possessions away, and…] Okay, thanks, Jesus. We get the idea. It’s not all or nothing; it’s do whatever you are able to do — the very best you can.
I started looking at that Graduated Giving Chart that was in the bulletin last week, and I did some math and figured out that Jane Anne and I should increase what we are giving, and both of us feel as though we need to put our money where our hearts are, and our hearts are here with Plymouth and the United Church of Christ. So, Jane Anne and I have decided to increase our pledge to Plymouth next year to $10,000. I don’t say that because I think you should give exactly the same, but because I don’t believe in asking you to do something that we ourselves are not doing. We’re trying to set an example and to encourage you to stretch. And it will mean some sacrifices on our part, which is not all bad…it makes us more intentional about our giving.
Plymouth is at a crossroads with great opportunities for ministry and mission ahead of us. I know that many of you find tremendous value in what we are doing here, in our community, and around the world. As you consider your pledge for 2020, please use the Graduated Giving Chart, be prayerful, and also put your treasure where your heart is.
© 2019 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 Thanks to Bill Tucker, who was the “off-stage” voice of Jesus.
 Luke 12.48 (CEB)
 Luke 16.19-31 (CEB)
 Matthew 28.20 (my translation)
 Luke 19
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.
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