Enriching the Giver

Enriching the Giver

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

October 16, 2022

Enriching the Giver

Homily for Sunday, October 16, 2022
The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
2 Timothy 3:14–4:5

In her book The Dream of God Verna Dozier writes,

Institutions come into being in order to preserve an idea.  When an institution begins to speak about its survival, it has lost track of its mission.  As long as the institution is doing its job well, the institution is unimportant.  If the institution is failing to do its job, that is when it becomes important to preserve the institution.

Given her book’s title, you might guess that the “institution” of which Dozier speaks is the Church, which Dozier wonders if sometimes is more concerned about its maintenance and survival than about mission.

Next Sunday is Consecration Sunday, the day on which we are invited to make a pledge of financial support to Trinity Parish.  Though at first glance we might think that pledging is about the institution and about keeping the lights on and the doors open and the roof tight, pledging is not about the institution but about deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. Pledging is not about the institution and its preservation, but is about more fully coming to know, love and follow Jesus Christ.

And I want to get back to pledging and how it deepens our relationship with Jesus Christ, but first, Paul’s second letter to Timothy, from which we heard this morning.  As I’ve mentioned before (e.g., homily for September 11, 2022), there is a “heavy handedness” in Paul’s letters to Timothy.  If in previous letters Paul’s zeal for Christ and the Gospel takes center stage—in Galatians, for example, Paul exuberantly claims union with Christ: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (2:20); or in Philippians Paul tells how he eagerly presses forward to gain more of Christ: “forgetting what lies behind,” he writes, “I press on toward the goal, toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14); or in 1 Corinthians Paul tells of his evangelical zeal, how he will become anything to anyone in order to win more for Christ: “I have made myself as a slave to all, so that I might gain all the more,” and “I do it all for the sake of the Gospel” (9:19, 23)—in the letters to Timothy, Paul (or whoever the author may be) writes more about the institution.

Note, for example, how in today’s reading the author is concerned with institutional matters such as:

  1. apostolic succession: “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed,” the author writes, “knowing from whom you learned it.”
  2. with the inerrancy of scripture: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
  3. with sound doctrine: “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but… will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”
  4. with clerical duties: “I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message… convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”
  5. and with clerical discipline: “As for you, always be sober… do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”

It is thought that the letters to Timothy (whether or not they were written by Paul) are from a later generation than Paul’s earlier letters.  In this later generation, after the initial fervor of the Gospel that had planted them had moderated, the churches now were taking on institutional characteristics with typical institutional concerns about maintenance and survival.

Back to pledging.  Though one might think that pledging is not about zeal for Christ and the Gospel and more about maintaining an institution, Paul’s letters suggest otherwise.  The later letters of 1 & 2 Timothy (and also Titus), letters that speak to institutional concerns, say almost nothing about giving money to God and God’s work.  In these letters it is matters such as apostolic succession, the inerrancy of scripture or the soundness of doctrine—and not money—that are understood to be key issues for the institution.  (See the exception of 1 Tim 6:17–19.) But Paul’s earlier epistles—those epistles that are filled with zeal for Christ and the Gospel—are also filled with references to giving.

In Romans, for example, Paul appeals to the example of the Macedonians and Achaians to ask the Romans to give: “Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem,” he writes, “and indeed they owe it to them, for if the gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things” (Romans 15:26–27).  Paul’s joy-filled letter to the Philippians was prompted at least in part by the Philippians’ generous giving: “For even when I was in Thessalonica,” Paul writes, “you sent me help for my needs more than once… a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (4:16–18).  In addition to references to generous giving in 1 Corinthians (16:1–14) and in Galatians (2:10), Paul’s most extensive reference to giving is found in 2 Corinthians, which contains not one but two lengthy stewardship appeals.  It is in these appeals in 2 Corinthians that Paul tells us that generous giving aligns us with Christ: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (8:9).  It is in 2 Corinthians that Paul reminds us that “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (9:6).  It is in 2 Corinthians that Paul famously advises that “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not regretfully or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7).  It is here that Paul assures us that when we give generously, we will in a mysterious way still have enough: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (9:10).  And it is here that Paul reminds us that giving, rather than depleting, enriches the giver: “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us” (9:11).

As we consider what we might pledge to Trinity Parish for the coming year, I invite us not to regard our pledge merely as giving to an institution to help keep the lights on and the roof tight.  Though those things do cost money, giving to God and God’s work is about much more than maintenance and survival.  If Paul’s epistles are any indication, giving generously to God and God’s work is not a maintenance matter but a spiritual matter.  Giving generously to God and God’s work brings abundant joy, fosters gratitude, progresses our faith (Phil 1:25), unites us with Christ, deepens relationship with one other, opens us to receiving God’s gifts, frees us from anxiety, brings peace, brings satisfaction, nurtures our prayer, opens to us a way of excellence, sets our priorities in order, showers us with abundance, leaves us enriched… and—did I say?—brings abundant joy and gratitude?  And brings more joy and more gratitude?  I have never met a 10% giver who did not have joy.  I have met plenty of, say, 1% givers who were looking for joy, but whose rationalizations about their giving (which are probably ultimately fears) precluded their joy.  Why not next week become a generous giver, maybe even this year (if you have not already done so) making the leap to being a 10% giver?  Our generous giving is not about helping the church to survive, but is rather about offering our hearts—our souls, our lives—the space to thrive in Jesus Christ.

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