II Corinthians 8.7-15
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
Abundance has become a watchword for some new age-ish groups, who think that it has to do with “manifesting” wealth or that if you are thinking very clearly and correctly and have made financial gain your objective, it will simply happen. (Unless, of course, you live in Carbon, West Virginia, or Zimbabwe or Bangladesh or you’re a woman in Saudi Arabia or a Black farmhand in Louisiana or living on the Navajo Reservation.) That’s a misapprehension of the word abundance, and not what Paul is talking about, and it’s not what I’m going to refer to today. Abundance is about having enough, not about oversupply. And God provides abundance. It’s all a matter of whether or not we humans can learn how to share it with one another.
Much of what we perceive about God’s abundance, specifically what God has entrusted to us, comes from our family and personal history. The attitudes of our families of origin play a very large part in the way we ourselves think about money, time, and abundance.
My dad was born in 1920 and lived through the Great Depression. His father died suddenly in 1933, leaving my grandmother with six children to feed, house, and clothe. She worked for the telephone company and owned a duplex, so she had a bit of money from renting out the other half of their home, but I imagine that their financial situation after my grandfather’s death was precarious at best. My dad became a professional jazz musician and traveled with a big band in the late 30s, and when World War II was on the horizon in 1941, he enlisted and eventually became a B-17 pilot. Coming home from the war as an officer, he probably felt as though he had a bit of real money for the first time. Like many of his generation, he went to college on the GI Bill, started a career, bought a home, and raised a family. It was a world of possibility. There were financial ups and downs along the way for my parents, but one of the messages I got from my dad was that money is a tool to be used, rather than an end in itself. My parents were also very generous with the church, both with their time and with their money. As part of the Greatest Generation, he had an optimistic outlook that things were going to get better, because they always had.
In ways that I probably don’t fully understand, my father’s experience of abundance — surviving the Depression, becoming a professional musician, an officer, going to Marietta College (founded by Congregationalists, by the way), grad school at Duke, becoming a marketing executive — informs some of my attitudes about abundance. His optimism is often alive and well in me.
What about you? How did your family’s experience with poverty or wealth or having just enough telegraph its way into your life? Do you see patterns in your attitudes about abundance that are expressions of your parents’ experience?
Whether we sense that we have much or little depends largely on perspective. Some folks might feel as though they are just making it on $100,000 a year, while others can’t imagine what they’d do with all that money. It also depends on what kind of societal messages we’ve internalized.
Many of the advertisements we see are geared to make us think that we don’t just want a product, but that we need it, and sometimes that we are inadequate if we don’t have it. It’s hard to imagine the impact of advertising on our children, who start seeing ads on television and on other screens from the time they are quite young. Advertising is incredibly pervasive, and many of its messages are antithetical to the idea of God’s abundance.
Many years ago, I was traveling in West Africa, and our bus stopped outside a village in Senegal. Some of us had tiny “fun-size” candy bars, which we shared with some local kids. Most American children would likely have scrambled to take the candy and eat it, but the kids in this village gathered around while one of the children divided the tiny candy bar so that everyone could have some. That was many years ago, but it really stuck with me, because those kids who had so little also had a sense of abundance — that there was enough to share around with everyone. Their culture focused on “us” and “ours,” rather than just “me” and “mine.” They have a surprising attitude of abundance!
Paul is writing to the church in Corinth in this chapter of his letter, describing for them the generosity of the churches of Macedonia, who have given generously for the support of the church in Jerusalem. And he is encouraging generosity among all of the churches for their mutual support. He opens the chapter writing “about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches in Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” Does that sentence sound a little bit off to you, linking “abundant joy” and “extreme poverty?” I think Paul is getting at what the kids in Senegal knew: that if we’re in this together, even when we are experiencing poverty, we can be joyful together. But the Macedonians apparently push one step further by experiencing a “wealth of generosity” to share with the church in Jerusalem. Paul writes to the Corinthians that “it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need.” (You’d think Paul had never heard of laissez-faire capitalism!)
I want to let you know that this congregation is much like one of the generous churches in Macedonia; we are giving out of our abundance. Throughout the pandemic, you have continued to support not just Plymouth, but the wider church and community as well. This year in our budget, we are committing $44,000 to Our Church’s Wider Mission, the program that supports our conference, the national setting of the church, and our global mission and national justice ministries. Even though we don’t have the largest budget among the churches of the Rocky Mountain Conference, we give more than any other congregation. And I don’t say that to disparage them, but rather to thank and to encourage you. Thanks to our sense of abundance, we are in a position to be generous in supporting the other churches of the Rocky Mountain Conference, the churches of the UCC, and our global mission. Even in the midst of the pandemic shutdown, you have continued to sense of God’s abundance, rather than give way to the fear of scarcity. We even used income from our endowment to provide video-recording equipment to congregations too small to afford it otherwise. And I give thanks for your generosity.
Each morning, I sit with my prayer beads (outside when the weather is good) and offer the lines of some Celtic prayers I’ve collected and adapted, and recently I’ve done something additional. I offer the 28 lines of prayer, but then I go around the prayer beads again and give thanks to God for 28 things or places or people for whom I am grateful. It’s much like a gratitude list, but I also remember to thank God, who is the giver of it all. On Wednesday morning, I noticed the profusion of growth and color in our backyard.
The sun peeking between the branches of an Aspen tree…bougainvillea blossoms that have become deeper red in the sun…small yellow blossoms that will turn into tomatoes that we’ll enjoy later this summer…the pink peonies that came from Jane Anne’s family home…the bushy basil destined to become pesto…the verdant mixed greens that will find their way to our dinner table…tiny green apples beginning to populate our trees…purple flowers that will turn into Japanese eggplant…and lavender that sweetens the air.
The abundance of God is everywhere, if we just take a moment to see it and experience it. It is there in new life and baptism. It is there in our return from pandemic exile. It is there in the long days of summer. My invitation to you this week is to spend a few minutes outdoors on a walk, or sitting on a park bench, or even looking out the window, and simply soak in God’s abundance and give thanks. I also invite you to make a gratitude list of the people, places, and things that God has provided in your life that give you a sense of deep joy, and to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for them.
God’s abundance is there for us to enjoy, to give thanks for, and to share. May you become ever more aware of the abundance that God has brought into your life.
© 2021 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact hal at plymouthucc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
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.