2 Corinthians 9:6-end
6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 9 As the Scriptures say,
“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”
10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.
11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.
13 As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. 14 And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you. 15 Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!
16 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’
21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”
22 Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. 23 For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. 24 Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! 25 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? 26 And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?
27 “Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 28 And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
29 “And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. 30 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs
Happy Harvest – the Sunday of our year when we celebrate all that God has given us, and give gifts in return. For all its joy, it is a bit of a challenging Sunday for me as your vicar. I am not very good at preaching about giving. There are two reasons for this. The first reason is that I don’t think that I have my attitude to money and material belongings completely sorted, and so I worry about being a hypocrite. The apostle Paul says in one of his letters that he has learned to live contentedly with little and with plenty – I know I am not quite there yet. I could be more generous. I could be less anxious about stuff. I’ll come back to this in a moment.
My second reason is a bit more positive. I am so keen for people to know the abundant, freely offered love, forgiveness and grace of God, I worry that talking about giving will get in the way. God is a God of such generosity, and I long for people to know it to their very core. As the traditional harvest hymn puts it: For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth, over and around us lies. The beauty of creation, the love and life we experience – all this is a gift from the God who loves us so dearly, he would do anything to ensure we could experience that love. Even live among us, die for us, defeat death for us… To follow up this message of free, abundant and outrageous love with “and now, would you like a standing order form?” can feel a bit off.
But even though these are two good reasons, I am not doing my job if I don’t talk about giving from time to time. Giving out of all God has given to us is a fundamental part of being a Christian. It is no more an optional extra than prayer, or reading the Bible, or taking communion. There are many reasons why giving is so important to our Christian life, and I will explain three briefly now:
The first is that giving demonstrates faith. In our gospel, we have the farmer who puts his trust in bigger barns and hoarding all the good he had been given, but in the end he has missed the point. In this story, I don’t think Jesus is suggesting that money, clothes and food don’t matter, but rather that they are not what matter most. Our relationship with the God that loves us and our relationships with one another are at that heart of what it is to be human. Giving – sharing what we can with others instead of hoarding for ourselves – demonstrates our trust in the God who provides for us and help us to keep our priorities right. Relationship over riches.
The second is that in giving generously, we become more like the children of God we are called to be. God is a God who gives abundantly. God’s children are in the family business, so we too should give where we can. I don’t know how many of you have younger children in your family or extended family. There is nothing that melts an adult’s heart like one of the children they adore choosing to be generous to another person. Seeing the little person you love learning to show love to others is a huge joy. We bring such joy to God when we share what we can with one another. In our first reading, Paul argues that as we do this, God will send us more opportunities to share and show love to each other. We will develop generous hearts that echo the generous heart of our God.
The third reason is that in our acts of generosity, we help others see God. In these days of direct debits and standing orders, we are sometimes disconnected from the outcomes of our giving, but they are there nonetheless. Some stressed and struggling person is going to be able to feed themselves and their family because of your generosity to our harvest appeal. Someone who just needs life to give them a break is going to be able to sit down with a cup of tea and a bourbon because someone from our church cared enough to pop some teabags, sugar and biscuits in their shopping this week. A refugee camp somewhere has a hygenic toilet block because of our Toilet Twinning appeal last year. Somewhere a community is a little better protected against climate change because of our Christian Aid fundraising. And across your community, during the heartache of covid, grieving families have had a priest to be with them and – when allowed – a building to welcome them on the saddest days of their lives because you faithfully give, week in week out, to enable the loving Christian ministry of this place. These things matter. Your giving enables someone to show God’s love in places where it is really needed.
St Paul’s is already a generous church – the table of provisions in our churchyard is a visible sign of that. This sermon is not to harangue anyone, but to encourage you at this time of gratitude, gifts and giving to remember again why we give at all – to show love is our priority, to bring God joy and to share God’s love. It is also – in the light of all those important reasons – an invitation to you to think about your own giving. Maybe this is something you do regularly. Maybe this is the first time someone has suggested it. But, for many of us – me included as I admitted at the start – this is an area of our life which needs a little tweaking from time to time. For some of us, circumstances have changed and we need to give less, and that is okay. Please don’t feel guilty if that is you right now! But for others of us, if we look at our bank statement, it may come as a shock to discover we give less to church and charities than we do to Costa and it might be a time to rebalance things in ways that show what is truly important to us.
So at this time of giving, may we rejoice again in all God has given us and commit ourselves afresh to living as generously and joyfully as we can, sharing God’s love with all.
As we celebrate and give thanks for our blessings at Harvest, this prayer helps us also to remember those who do not have such good things.
When we hear the gentle sound of the rain watering the earth,
help us to remember the thirst of those whose land is dry.
When we feel the warmth of the Sun on our faces,
help us to remember the plight of those locked away in darkness.
When we buy the fruit of the world’s harvest,
help us to remember the hunger of those whose basket is empty.
When we enjoy the ease of communicating around the world,
help us to remember those who are isolated from their friends.
When we relax in times of holiday,
help us to remember those who have to work without ceasing.
When we celebrate our blessings at harvest time,
help us remember those who experience disaster.
May our remembering reactivate our conscience
and result in a renewed commitment to Christ in our neighbour.