I find one of the lines from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians a Paul’s line, “God loves a cheerful giver” from our reading this morning grates on my nerves a bit. It is a little too convenient for preachers like me. Every time the church needs to increase givings, we can use this one line to explain it all, “God loves a cheerful giver.” What does that have to do with living a life faith? What does that have to do with the abundance of God’s grace that we daily receive? Over the years, I’ve seen this one little phrase printed and quoted in so many ways, that I thought to myself, “I’m not going to preach on that phrase.” Famous last words.
So here we are its Thanksgiving and one of the passages set for the day is from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminding us that God loves a cheerful giver. Because that one line bothered me, I’ve never bothered looking too closely at the rest of the letter. I didn’t ask myself why Paul wrote this phrase? I’d skip right to our Luke reading and talk about the one leper out of ten who turned back to give thanks and the importance of gratitude. But this Thanksgiving Paul called to me and invited me to look deeper.
Our reading this morning is part of a larger story. Paul is writing to the community at Corinth from Macedonia where he is encouraging them in their faith. While he is there, he has a collection for the Christians at Jerusalem. The community in Jerusalem is poverty stricken and facing many hardships. As Paul travels from community to community he collects for the community there. Paul is writing to inspire the community in Corinth not to forget about their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Paul writes, “If I wrote any more on this relief offering for the poor Christians, I’d be repeating myself. I know you’re on board and ready to go. I’ve been bragging about you through Macedonia Province, “Achaia province has been ready to go on this since last year.” Your enthusiasm by now has spread to most of them.” It is only then that we get to giving cheerfully. Paul is trying to remind them of the importance of helping brothers and sisters who need it and doing it with an open heart. The Message translates the same phrase with these words, “God loves it when the giver delights in giving.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
That changes everything doesn’t it! Giving generously and delighting in the act of giving is one way of saying thanks for the gifts we have. Carla Works writes on this passage, “How believers use their resources -- time, money, talents, and attention -- is a reflection of what they believe about God and God's actions in the world. Furthermore, how those resources are used preaches a message to others. Paul wants the Corinthians' actions to be a reflection of the gospel in which they believe.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1319) God not only invites us to live out our faith by giving thanks but in giving back.
This week, I read an article from the New York Times called, “Giving Proof” which reports on a study published in Nature Communications. The study explores what happens to our brains when we are generous. “Scientists at the University of Zurich and elsewhere began by recruiting 50 men and women and asking them to complete questionnaires about their current mood. They then were given 25 Swiss francs (about $25) once a week for the next month. Half of the 50 were asked to spend this on themselves. The other half were instructed to choose a new recipient each week on whom to spend the money. In other words, half the volunteers agreed to be selfish and the other half to be generous.” (https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/magazine/giving-proof.html?referer=http://m.facebook.com)
At the beginning each person was asked questions about giving gifts and personal cost while in an MRI so that the researches could monitor brain activity. The same thing was done at the end of the study. At the end of the study the people who were generous made more generous responses to the MRI questions and were happier people.
This, I think is what Paul is getting at – when we give thanks, when we give back, when we are generous – our lives change for the better. There are so many ways for us to be generous. We can share out time with friends and family. We help someone who needs it. We can host a meal for friends and family or for someone who needs company. We can give money. We can sit with someone who is grieving or going through a really hard time. We can raise awareness and write letters to make our community a good place for everyone.
This week I heard a wonderful story about a group of people in Port Blandford. Carol needed new shingles on her roof and a group of 20 volunteers showed up on Saturday morning and got the job done. Carol tells Here and Now, “It just makes you realize that in a world that’s so full of terrible things, it seems these days, that you just got to look across the road to your neighbours and there are wonderful things that are happening.” (CBC News)
This fall there have been a lot of things that make it hard to hold onto what is good between hurricanes and earthquakes that have devastated so many communities in so many places to and mass shootings that killed and injured so many. But the generosity of so many people have made it possible for people to find shelter, find healing, and find hope. Today as we give thanks for God’s many good gifts to us, we give thanks also for the generosity of neighbours, friends and strangers who somehow make our world a better place to live and whose actions remind us of God’s love at work in our community and in our world. For as Paul says, “God loves it when the giver delights in giving.” Amen