Reading: 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15 Translation: The Message
Eliot Church Jack Farrell, Seminarian
The holiday of Thanksgiving is upon us, and it’s one of my favorite holidays. It is a time when we gather together with our loved ones, we sit at a table and share a meal, share good conversation, share laughter, jokes, football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade! But it is also a time when we give thanks for the blessings we’ve received this year.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he talks about giving, and while – on the surface – he’s talking about almsgiving from the Corinthian Church to the Church in Jerusalem, I think he has another message beneath that. I think Paul is also talking about a thanks giving. It isn’t the type of giving that is limited to monetary or material giving; it is also a giving of gifts. It isn’t a giving bound by duty or responsibility; it is a giving of one’s self and one’s time. That’s what I want to talk about today.
Paul uses agricultural imagery to illustrate his point. The agricultural lifestyle was relevant to his congregations. While we’re a society that’s somewhat removed from this agricultural lifestyle, I think Paul still speaks to us of a harvest, of planting and reaping. For us it isn’t a physical harvest; I think it is a spiritual harvest. A planter must establish a relationship with the produce: the farmer plants the seeds, then waters them, then turns the soil and attends to it over a lengthy growing season, letting nature do what she does best. Then, when the growing season has ended, the farmer reaps the yield for harvest. We tend to a spiritual crop too, and we reap a spiritual harvest through our daily giving of ourselves. It is a tending to the relationship we have with our Providence: God.
Paul writes that “God loves the giver who delights in the giving”, but for us that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? What does it mean to delight in the giving? Here’s an idea from my life. I grew up in an apartment unit in New York, and it wasn’t a big space, but with five kids and two adults, it was a lot smaller than you’d think. But, no matter how busy our lives were, for eighteen years my parents gathered my siblings and me to the table every evening. We’d sit down and hold hands and then we’d pray in unison: Bless us, Oh Lord, for these thy gifts, which we’re about to receive from they bounty through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Bless us, Oh Lord,
For these thy gifts,
Which we are about to receive from thy bounty,
Through Christ our Lord.
That’s a thanksgiving prayer, isn’t it? It’s a thanksgiving to God for the blessings and gifts we have been given from God’s bounty, but more than this, it is an affirmation of our spiritual connection to God, and that is through our humanly model, Jesus, through Christ our Lord!
I grew up as a Catholic, and as a Catholic, I was taught that there are two influences in your daily decision-making: on your left shoulder, there’s a devil, and on your right shoulder, there’s an angel. That’s pretty harsh language, I think, so as a Protestant I’m going to reclaim that imagery through different language. We’ll call the influence on the left our tempter and we’ll call the influence on the right our encourager. I think that my spiritual connection with God is constantly tested on a daily basis because every day we make decisions about how we’re going to live our lives with others. Paul’s message of the spiritual harvest factors in here in a big way. I like to think of the image of a gingerbread person when I think about how I make my decisions on how to give of myself. I invite you to think about that too. And while we’re thinking of that image, let’s think about five Greek words Paul uses in his original letter to the Corinthians about how they ought to give. Here we go.
The first word is kenothe [pronounced KEN-oth-EY] and in English it conveys a sense of impulsiveness or vanity. Paul warns us not to give impulsively because then it will be a gift that we feel duty-bound to give, not a gift of blessing. So let’s put that word on our left shoulder along with the tempter. Our second word is charis [pronounced CAR-ees] and in English it conveys a sense of grace. Paul urges us to give from this sense of grace so that our gifts will be blessings from God. So let’s put that word on our right shoulder with the encourager. Related to this word is our third word, which is diakonia [pronounced deeya-ko-NEEYA] and in English this word conveys a sense of service or ministry. It’s not to be confused with kenothe or impulsive or duty-bound giving because this giving is from a place of graceful selflessness. So let’s put that word in our right hand. When we give from a sense of grace (touch your shoulder) then the gift from our hands (slide your hand down your shoulder to your palm) can only be a service or a ministry.
On the other hand… PUN intended!... we have our fourth word, which is pleonexia [pronounced playo-nek-SEEYA], and in English this word conveys a sense of greed or covetousness. (Touch your left shoulder) When we give impulsively, or when we give in vain, we aren’t thinking of others but of ourselves. (Slide your hand down your shoulder to your left palm) And when we are thinking of ourselves in the giving process, then our gift is one that expects something in return, and that is covetous and greedy of us. Give an altruistic gift, not a gift that places the receiver in debt to you.
But… hang on! We’re just human! How can we be expected to follow through with this sort of giving plan? I understand that it’s tough to be good all the time, and everyday we’re influenced by so many things. Sometimes its just not realistic (right?) to give selflessly. We face decisions that weigh down on our shoulders and make us physically tired and anxious: that is because of the on-going debate between the tempter and the encourager, the on-going test between giving impulsively and giving gracefully. And sometimes it’s just so difficult to let go a gift, and we feel our hands are tied: that’s because of the on-going debate between giving altruistically and giving with an expectation of receiving. How do we give so that we delight in the giving? We need our fifth and final word to help us answer these questions. That word is eulogia [pronounced YOU-OH-lo-GEEYA], and in English that word conveys a sense of gift and blessing. Let’s place that word right in the center of our gingerbread person: right at the heart! It is through the heart that God communicates with us, and it is from the heart that we communicate with our spiritual harvest and those around. When you give from your heart, your gift is nothing less than a blessing and a gift, but, when you give from your heart to others, you are also giving thanks to God and honoring God for the gifts you’ve received as well! That’s what Paul is telling us and the Corinthians in his letter and in the reading today. Give from the heart, and it will be both a blessing and a thanksgiving to others and to God!
This image we’ve created together, its ours now, and I invite you to take that image into your own hearts as you enter this holiday of Thanksgiving. Keep it close by you as you gather with your loved ones and share. But I also challenge you to keep it in your hearts as a greater holiday season approaches, a holiday season in which giving and receiving are expectations for our society. Think about whom else you can give blessings to, and live into this image and its message as you go about your daily lives this holiday season!
And as you go about this holiday season, may the brightest blessings of love, peace, kindness and kinship be with you and your loved ones, today, tomorrow and for all your days. Amen.