Sermon preached on 27th June 2021 – Trinity 4 based on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 exploring generosity
May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
Toddlers, certainly between the ages of two and three, are often very egocentric, the world revolves around them and is purely there for their pleasure. Still there is no harm in starting to teach them that sharing is a good thing; a kind thing; a generous thing to do. A few months ago, if you had attempted to ask my granddaughter Helena if you could share one of the chips she had on her plate, her reaction would have been to move the plate further away from any attempt to extract the said item.
However, the consistent attempts to instil in her that sharing should be a natural thing to want to do resulted in her asking me the other day if I’d like to share a bit of her custard cream biscuit the other day. ‘That’s very kind of you’ I said, ‘Yes please’ – only to be presented with the merest smear of cream that she could manage to pass over on her finger before disappearing to play with her toys!
I think we’re going to work a bit harder on the question of generosity, but the sentiment was there. But is generosity a sentiment, a feeling or is it something more calculated, a financial transaction or negotiated timetable?
I wonder how many of you have picked up on the Winchester Diocesan initiative called ‘Generous June’, which offers individuals within our churches an opportunity to engage with the theme of generosity in a number of different ways. Not only as a key part of our discipleship and walk with God; but as an encouragement to reflect on our own position on generosity and see how it can affect our day to day lives.
With it’s many and varied resources it’s certainly worth dipping into, but like all initiatives, generosity shouldn’t be seen as a one month a year focus, but an ongoing response to God’s generosity.
So this morning we have a passage from a letter that Paul was sending to the church in Corinth, basically exhorting them to complete a charitable collection for the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem, many of whom were Jews who had been disowned by their families when then had become followers of Jesus. It would seem though that the Corinthians were being slow to respond
How did Paul present his arguments to appeal to the Corinthians to give generously? Well, although we don’t hear this in the reading, he had cited the example of the Macedonian churches, who though poverty stricken had reached into the very depths of destitution to overflow with the wealth of their generosity – so in other words don’t be penny pinching!
He also cites the example of Jesus, whose generosity came not simply through his death or even his birth but the fact that he laid aside his glory and consented to come to earth – so self-preservation had better not be a reason for holding back!
He even calls on their pride, you did it once you can do it again – so don’t drop your high standards!
But perhaps his next appeal was the most important argument. He stresses the necessity of translating fine feeling into fine action, ‘but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it’. The Corinthians had been the first to feel the appeal of this scheme, they had been moved in an emotional way to do something, and that’s where generosity starts.
It starts right here [placing hand over heart] in our hearts, it doesn’t start in our heads or in our pockets. It is not negotiable or calculable. Generosity is an overflowing of our hearts desire to action.
But a feeling that remains only a feeling, a pity which remains a pity only of the heart, a fine desire that never turns into a fine deed, is a sadly unfinished and frustrated thing. The tragedy is that so often it is not that we have no high impulses to act generously, but that we fail to turn them into actions
Of course, we could say that having an infinitely generous heart will get us nowhere if we don’t have the means to act out our desires, and it’s true that financial generosity is limited by our financial means and generosity in service is limited by the amount of time available, but true generosity is limitless because love is limitless.
As Paul reminds the Corinthians, life has a strange way of evening things up; when we give generously, we often find we receive generously. As Jesus explained in his Sermon on the Mount,
‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’ Luke 6:38
Life has a way of repaying generosity with generosity, but no gift can be in any real sense a gift unless the giver gives with it a bit of himself or herself, above and beyond what they think they can give, beautifully expressed in a quote by the Lebanese author and poet, Khalil Gibran, ‘Generosity is giving more than you can.’ Which is why personal giving is always the highest kind, of which Jesus Christ is the supreme example.
Paul concludes this passage, before going on to speak of practical arrangements, with a quote that come from Exodus (16:14-18)
‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’
which tells how, when the Israelites gathered the manna in the wilderness, whether they gathered little of much, it was enough.
It is out of a fresh understanding of God’s limitless love and generosity that we are able to give beyond ourselves. Yes, our financial generosity may need to be constantly reviewed. In good times we may have more to give and in lean times it may be that we accept the abundance of others. In the same way our giving of time and energy, has to produce a good balance between church, work and family lives.
But that should never stop us from being extravagantly generous, because the treasures we store up on earth are nothing compared to the treasure that awaits us in heaven, ‘for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ and there’s nothing that God loves more than a generous heart, because it mirrors his own.