Thanksgiving Sunday is a day for returning thanks, for expressing our gratitude. What I’d like to do today, is to go one step beyond that… from gratitude, to generosity.
Listen at Ralph Connor Canmore YouTube Channel, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGwCVmy7pIs
PDF download here: Sermon_11October2020_Thanksgiving
Today’s scripture reading from 2nd Corinthians uses an agricultural analogy that is easily relatable: “the one who plants little harvests little, and the one who plants plenty harvests plenty.” Anyone who has put seed in the ground, will know that while there is no guarantee that a seed you put into the ground will germinate and bear fruit, or that the fruit won’t be devoured by bugs or birds or hailstones before you get a chance to harvest it, we can be absolutely certain that the seed that stays in the packet won’t bear fruit.
Generosity is a wonderful thing. Indeed, as the Apostle Paul put forward in 2nd Corinthians, sowing handful upon handful of seed is way more likely to produce a bountiful crop than a single seed, no matter how well-placed that one seed may be. These words are in the middle of a financial plea being made by Paul on behalf of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. He is encouraging his friends in Corinth to give, and to give generously, but he immediately follows his first statement with this one: “Giving grows out of the heart—otherwise, you’ve reluctantly grumbled ‘yes’ because you felt you had to or because you couldn’t say ‘no,’ but this isn’t the way God wants it. For we know that “God loves a cheerful giver.’” Paul has no intention of guilting them into this, or badgering them into giving beyond what is reasonable. There are needs to be met, but the harvest will be that much greater for everyone if the gift is heartfelt. To use a modern adage, Paul is wanting to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” among the people, so that the gifts received in Jerusalem will be infused with the sacred gift of love.
As I was pondering today’s message, my heart was filled with gratitude because even in these strange days with such turbulent headlines, I have seen the power of generosity. As mentioned in the Minute for Mission earlier in the service, I am so grateful for the generosity of this congregation in these trying times. Your financial generosity alleviates so much stress for those of us involved in Church governance, and the generous sharing of your time and talents is so important right now. The help offered by those of you who have recorded content for our weekly YouTube services has been huge to me. And as you see, it takes many volunteers and a lot of volunteer coordination to mount even simple gatherings right now, let alone something bigger like this gathering at the ballpark. And nearly twenty of you stepped forward to be Care Contact phoners, giving of your time and your emotional energy in order to make sure that others – some of whom you had not met until that first phone call – did not feel abandoned.
Several of our Care Contacts reported something they heard back from many people on their contact lists: while some were feeling isolated, in many other cases casual acquaintances, barely-known neighbours, and local businesses, had checked in on their well-being, and done shopping or other errands on their behalf. Neighbours and family and Church friends and absolute strangers have combined their efforts in a wonderful, generous web of care.
So today, my task is not to put “generosity” out there as something that isn’t happening and should happen; I want to celebrate the generosity that is very much in evidence. On Thanksgiving Sunday, we give thanks for the fruits and vegetables that come forth from this amazing planet, for the sense of kinship with all creation, and for the gracious, generous God whose love infuses all of it. And we celebrate any and all generous acts: the size of the gift is not unrelated to its impact, but the spirit in which it is given, makes all the difference.
I do want to name one more type of generosity that the world needs right now, which may not immediately come to mind: that is, generosity of spirit.
What adversarial times we live in, times when the seeds of divisiveness are being sown with great abandon. I fear for friends and neighbours in the US as their election day approaches, and for the ways that this divisiveness is shown in Alberta as peaceful demonstrations are turned on their head with the shouts and fists of violent opponents. My heart sinks at the nastiness that germinates and blossoms on social media, where dialogue is so often replaced by lobbing insults and/or falsehoods. But that image from today’s reading, of sowing seeds of love generously and joyously, taking God’s gift of grace and embracing it in our lives in the form of gratitude and generosity, calls the world to another way of being, a form of generosity defined by The Virtues Project in this way: “I listen to others with openness and receptivity”.
Scripture repeatedly calls us to generosity of spirit, particularly in the 7th chapter of Matthew where Jesus says, ““Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get”. Generosity of spirit is the opposite of smallness of spirit, it’s a spaciousness to it that allows people to express their best selves, and for you to perceive it as such. Generosity of spirit gives room for change – for another person to change, for an unjust system to change, for me to be changed. That’s not to say that we just sit back in silence when something needs to be challenged or even confronted, and it certainly does not call us to allow ourselves to be victimized; but it does call us to stand down from the self-righteousness and judgmentalism that will poison whatever crop of goodness we had hoped to harvest. The generosity that resides at the very heart of God, calls us to a spirit of graciousness and generosity towards ourselves, towards those with whom we share our lives, towards even those who present themselves as enemies. The type of seeds we sow will determine the type of harvest we can expect, just as the quantity of seeds sown will greatly impact the harvest.
For the past month, a spiritual practice known as The Examen has shaped our Sunday services. We have invited God into our assessment of things, given thanks, reviewed the current state of affairs, and opened ourselves to be changed and forgiven as needed. The final step, today, is “to look forward to the day to come” – and what a great way to wrap up this message. As we review our lives, our relationship to the earth and all who dwell therein, as we seek to infuse our way of life with the gracious, loving purposes of God, we name our yearning, for a new day. We long for a day when Christ’s promises of peace, and justice, and light that illumines all lives, will come to fruition, and we commit ourselves to be the hands and feet and hearts and voices who will embody those aspects of powerful, engaged love. With thanks for the gifts of gratitude and generosity and hopes for a new generosity of spirit to bring dialogue and respect to this beleaguered world, we give God our thanks and praise. Amen.
For further reading:
Barrett, C.K. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1973.
Martin, Ralph P. Word Bible Commentary 40: 2 Corinthians. Dallas, TX: Word, 1986.
© 2020 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church