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2018.10.14:

Preached at First Presbyterian Church, East Aurora, October 14, 2018, by Langdon “Buddy” Hubbard

Gratitude:  The Heart of Giving

Matthew 6:19-24; Psalm 136:1-26

2 Corinthians 9:1-15

 

            Have you ever kept a gratitude journal, in which you record all the things you are grateful for?  While I didn’t set out to do that 40 years ago when I started seminary in 1978, that is what has evolved.  Writing now in my 84th 100 page journal, I end nearly every entry every day with the same words Paul uses here in 2 Corinthians 8:16 and 9:15, “Thanks be to God!”  Here was the conclusion to my entry this past Thursday, “Lord, you are good.  I have trusted you all these years.  I will keep on trusting.  Thanks be to God!  Amen!”  I don’t always use that prayer and I certainly don’t force it.  But most days it simply rises to the top of my thoughts and I just can’t help but say it again and again, “Thanks be to God!”  It has transformed my life.  I may begin my prayer time feeling  down or angry or hopeless.  But when I  come into the presence of  God with an open heart and mind, ready to receive God’s gifts, invariably my thoughts are transformed.  And thanksgiving wells up in my soul and I burst out with gratitude:  Thanks be to God!  I encourage you to try keeping a gratitude journal.  It could transform your life too.

 

            Here’s the thing.  If your life is anything like mine there are plenty of negative stimuli that threaten to take us captive.  Whether it be our aches and pains, or the physical challenges of someone we love, our stressful relationships, jobs, the news, our nation’s politics, the Bills, the Sabres, long-winded preachers.  You name it, it would be very easy to get stuck in the negative.  And that is not a good way to live.  We all know the negative Eeyore types, to use an often-negative character from Winnie the Pooh: “Oh my.  The sun is shining.  That would be nice if it weren’t for the fact that eventually it’s going to rain.  You can never enjoy anything for long.  There’s always a cloud around your silver lining.”  A negative spirit is a terrible place to get stuck in.   Gratitude is what gets you out of the tailspin of negativity.  Thanks be to God!

 

            Paul’s teaching on giving in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is all about gratitude as the basis of giving because it is the basis of good living.  And at the heart of it all is God’s grace, that is God’s gift of love and goodness that at times overwhelms us.  In fact the center piece of such grateful living is the word grace or in the Greek, Charis.  Paul uses it 10 times in this  short passage.  And it is translated in different ways:  generous undertaking, privilege, blessing, and thanks. To live in the awareness of God’s great love for us is to acknowledge the blessings of life, to give thanks for it all, to understand what a privilege it is to share in God’s love for the world, to give generously, and then to give thanks  again for all God has given us so that we can give for  the sake of others so that they might be so blessed.  And so the circle of grace and giving goes on and on. 

 

            Besides the word grace, the four other  essential words for Paul here are ministry and service, fellowship or community, and glory, that is doing everything we do  for the glory of God.  In a nutshell the message is this:  God has shown us so much grace we can’t help but say thanks.  And out of our gratitude, we can’t help but share what we have with others in community – we want them to be as blessed as we are; everyone should know so much joy.  By ministering through service to  others,  we do all not to our glory but to the glory of  God.

 

           

 

           

Here’s how Paul lays it all out, in 10 principles of grateful living and generous giving:

 

1. God’s gracious act of giving us Christ is the basis of our giving.  Jesus who was rich became poor for us that we who are poor might become rich. (8:9)

 

2. Desire to be generous like God, begin, do it, and finish it. (8:10-11)

 

3. Give according to your means, according to what you have, not according to what you do not have. (8:12)

 

4. There should be balance and fairness in the Body of Christ, with those with abundance giving to alleviate those who are in need, knowing that at any time the ones in abundance and need can switch. (8:13-14)

 

5. The one who gives sparingly, receives sparingly, and the one who gives bountifully receives bountifully. (9:6)  What goes around comes around.

 

6. Give as you have prayerfully decided, and give for joy, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver. (9:7)  Translation:  when the offering is taken everyone should break into applause and laughter; you may even want to dance because you just can’t contain  your joy.  Yes, as C.S. Lewis said, “Don’t give until it hurts.  Give until it feels better.”

 

7. God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance. (9:8)  God who supplies seed and bread will supply and multiply your seed and bread. (9:10)  Trust God for you needs to be met.

 

8. Being blessed abundantly, we give abundantly in every good work. (9:8)  God’s generous supply to us makes us generous in return, increasing the harvest of our benevolence or giving. (9:10)

 

9. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us, not only supplying the needs of the saints but our joyful thanksgiving in the giving. (9:12)

 

10. Giving is a test of our faith, an opportunity to glorify God by being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ, by showing generosity in our sharing, a witness and testimony to how blessed we have been by God’s grace, and how much we trust in God.

 

What else can we say, but Thanks be to God for God’s indescribable gift of Jesus!  Gratitude is the heart of  giving.  God has given so much to us; we just can’t help but give like God.

 

Diana Butler Bass, in her latest book, Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks (New York: HarperOne, 2018) says this: “Gratitude comes from grace, that is, unmerited favor…When I think of grace, I particularly like the image of God tossing gifts around – a sort of indiscriminate giver of sustenance, joy, love, and pleasure.  Grace – gifts given without being earned and with no expectation of return – is, as the old hymn says, amazing.  Because you can neither earn nor pay back the gift, your heart fills with gratitude.  And the power of that emotion transforms the way you see the world and experience life.  Grace begets gratitude, which, in turn, widens our hearts toward greater goodness and love.  Thankfulness is a feeling in response to gifts.” (p. 19)

 

She continues: “We do not really give gifts.  We recognize gifts, we receive them, and we pass them on.  We all rely on these gifts.  We all share them…This is not a fulfillment of duty or a single act of kindness, but an infinite process of awareness and responsive action.  The gift structure of the universe is that of an interdependent community of nature and neighbor that extends through the ages in which we care for what was handed to us and give gifts to others as a response.  This is not a closed circle of exchange; it is more like the circles that ripple across a pond when pebbles are tossed into the water.  Everything is a gift.” (p. 21)

 

Everything is a gift.  Life is not all our own doing.  We have received from God and others, and the creation itself.  And we give back to this circle of life that goes on giving and giving. It’s hard to believe that at times and trust God for the provisions of life.  But one person who has done that  consistently and well is a former professor  of Jan’s and mine, Jake Jacobson, Jan’s and my math  professor and class advisor when we  were at Houghton College.  Jan and I went to visit him this past Thursday.  He is 82 years old  now and his wife Shirley is in the nursing home.  He cried a few tears with us as he thought of Shirley’s impending death.  But then he brightened as he began to recount the ways God has taken care of them all their years together.  He told us how he decided at the very beginning of his work not to take a pension but rather to  give the money that would have gone into his pension to Christ’s mission in the world.  Now at 82 he lives only on Social Security but all his needs are met. And he’s so glad he gave.

 

He then told us how his son and daughter -in-law needed a car but didn’t have the money  to  buy  one.  So they prayed and one day someone came up to them and  said, “Hey.  I’m getting a new car.  Do you want my old one?”  And they received the gift gratefully from the hands of God.

 

We prayed with Jake and got up to go, and he said, “Oh, and here’s another story, another sign of God’s provision.”  And he told of how his son helped someone  out and the person gave him firewood to heat his  home for weeks. 

 

We turned for the door, and Jake said, “Oh yeah.  Here’s another one.” And with childlike wonder he told us of story after story of how God has blessed him and his family, who have chosen to live by faith, not by the accumulation of money and things.  And there was so much joy in his voice and light in his eyes.  I came away renewed in faith, and questioning why I put so much more faith in money and things than I do in God.  Jake lives in a realm of faith and trust most of us, myself included, do not.  It  is a world of grace and faith, of  awe and wonder, of gratitude and giving, of celebration and freedom.  Jake lives like a child in the world, who has no worries, but lives simply by faith in a loving God, knowing that everything we need will be provided.  I long for such faith. 

 

Consecration Sunday is an invitation to us all to enter into such a world of faith, and live such a life of faith, even if it is only as a new beginning of first steps.  God has been so good to us, showering us with gifts.  If we take the time to ponder that truth we can’t help but be overcome by gratitude.  And out of that gratitude we offer our gifts, knowing that the God who has provided thus far, will provide for us all the days of our lives. And we will find ourselves once again grateful for the gifts, which we can’t help but share.  And the circle of gratitude and giving goes on and on to the glory of God and  our  unending  joy and thanksgiving.  Thanks be to God!