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.