Sermon delivered September 30, 2007.
One of my favorite bible passages is "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24). I try to say it each day in the morning to remember that, no matter what happens, I should be joyful. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail but the ideal of rejoicing, being joyful and having joy in our hearts is one of the most consistent themes in the Scriptures. It's one of the central themes in today's Epistle reading, the 20th Sunday, from 2 Corinthians 9:6-11.
Before examining the reading, let us look at the context of the passage. St. Paul, starting in Chapter 8 informs the Corinthians that the Apostle Titus and others are coming to receive, and then bring, their material offering of assistance to the Christians in Macedonia. Some 2,000 years later, the situation amongst Christians has changed little. Our stewardship offering not only supports our ministries to our members, but to non-members who come into contact with our community and to other parishes and people throughout our Metropolis of Chicago, the Archdiocese of America and throughout the world. In today's reading, St. Paul articulates four principles of Christian giving.
The first principle of Christian giving is to "make up your mind" (v.7). In other words, Christian giving, which is generous and sacrificial, requires forethought and planning. We must begin now for the next year to anticipate our income, consider the ideal of tithing, decide how much we will give, and then order our other expenses and obligations around our stewardship commitment. The Israelites were commanded by God to give their first-born to Him along with the first-fruits of their harvest. This helped reinforce the first of the Ten Commandments, "I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before Me" (Ex.20:1-3) If we wait until the end of the year to see what is left-over, then we are not giving our first fruits and most certainly we have not sacrificed anything in our giving. We must make up our minds and plan ahead.
The second principle is "God loves a cheerful giver" (v.7). In other words we should feel joy in our heart when we give. As St. Paul says, we should not give grudgingly, nor out of obligation. Perhaps you have heard it said, "Give until it hurts." However, in giving to God and His Church, we say "Give until it feels good." So, if we cannot seem to feel good about our giving, it's probably because we are not giving generously and sacrificially. Our pain or discomfort may be due to the fact that we separate ourselves from God's love when we give grudgingly or out of obligation. God loves a cheerful giver.
The third principle is "Sowing bountifully leads to reaping bountifully" (v.6,11). In other words, the more you give, the more you get. As Orthodox we do not teach what some call the "Prosperity Gospel" that says if we follow God that He will make us materially rich. Rather, our obedience to God's commandments, including the commandment to give materially to Him and to others, will enrich us with spiritual gifts like wisdom, knowledge, and faith (1Cor.12:8-11). In our generous and sacrificial giving, God will helps us learn how to live with less thereby cutting-off the passion of greed.
The fourth and final principle from today's reading is "generosity produces thanksgiving to God" (v.11). When people receive a gift, their immediate response is thanksgiving. When Christians receive help from other Christians, they not only thank the giver but they thank God for inspiring the gift. So our gift to those in need and the Church help build-up the faith of others in Christ our Lord. In addition, our giving mystically produces thanksgiving within our own heart. Through generous and sacrificial giving, greed is crucified, and we are better able to be thankful for what we have and thankful for the opportunity to give.