A Cheerful Giver
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
Nov. 19, 2017
I don’t like to ask people for money. I think it started when I was in high school, and we were trying to raise money for a charity. I stood outside a store, along with some others, and asked people to give some money—even just some change—anything for a good cause. We were doing well, we were asking and people were giving. But then it all changed. A woman came toward me and I asked her to give. She said no. And continued walking past me. I pushed a little, saying something like, “C’mon, surely you can spare a little change.” She turned around and gave me a nasty look, and said, “You don’t know me or my circumstances, how dare you guilt me into giving what I don’t have.” Ever since that scolding, I have had a hard time asking others for money.
Motivating people to give is difficult. The needs are endless and many different organizations ask for money, sometimes relentlessly. This is the season for asking for money. Radio stations NPR and KLove just finished their fall pledge drives, where all you heard all day was an appeal for money. And in churches, this is the season of Stewardship drives. One woman asked: Can you help me find a church where they are not talking about money this Sunday? As much as I don’t like to ask for money, I know you don’t like to hear it.
In the first century, Paul faced many of these same challenges when he appealed to the Gentile churches to contribute to the Jerusalem collection. The Jerusalem collection was successfully completed and the funds were delivered by Paul to those in need. How did he do it? He did not use marketing strategies like sensationalism or coercion. He kept it simple. He sent a letter and in his letter, he said three things: Give because giving is good for others, ourselves and God.
Giving is good for others. Paul said, “Your ministry of this service to God’s people is fully meeting their needs.” In the 1st century, the need was genuine. A famine had resulted in harder than usual economic times, and many people were in need of assistance. Some things never change. People today are in need of many kinds of assistance. Because we live in a fairly affluent area, we forget that people are in need of basic amenities. Truth is, the need around us is great. And through our church, this year, we were able to give to others in many different forms: money to pay the rent to avoid eviction; food in a backpack so children can eat on weekends; a hot meal to men staying at the Men’s shelter to give them energy to face another day of job search; books and bibles to prisoners to nurture their minds as they wait for release; a basket of food to make Thanksgiving a time to give thanks; a toy for a young child to make Christmas morning joyful. The small contributions you make go a long way in blessing the lives of others.
Giving is good for us. Paul said, “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity.” Studies show that giving is good for the giver—boosting physical and mental health, including: lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, less stress and depression, longer life, and greater happiness. Researches founds that giving stimulates the reward center in the brain, creating what is known as the “helper’s high.” And it is addictive. The more you give, the more you want to give. People who give their time or money to help someone often will tell me, almost guiltily, that they enjoyed it or that it made them feel good. That’s ok. God made us to be in relationship with others. And so, when we help others, it makes us feel good. I have heard and witnessed this time and time again. This past year, I was struck by the testimonies the youth gave when they returned from their mission trip in West Virginia. They shared how good it felt to construct a ramp to allow a woman in a wheelchair to easily get in and out of her house. What St. Francis said centuries ago is still true today: “For it is in giving that we receive.”
Giving is good for God. Paul said, “Such generosity produces many thanksgivings to God.” That is, our giving to others not only makes us feel good, but it touches the heart of God. Every blessing we have, including money, is from God. In response to the abundant blessings we have received from God, we give back in humble thanksgiving. But, God is not pleased by any kind of giving. In fact, Paul says,
“You shouldn’t give reluctantly or because of pressure, for God loves a cheerful giver.” The Greek word “grudgingly” literally means “Out of sadness or grief” A grudging giver gives from a heart made sorrowful at the thought of parting with money—it comes from valuing money, comfort, security, more than the kingdom of God. A forced giver gives only because he feels pressure to do so. God does not want us to give grudgingly or out of compulsion—that spoils the gift. God wants us to give cheerfully, that is willingly, joyfully, purposefully, selflessly, freely.
What does this kind of giving look like?
Osceola McCarty left school as a sixth grader to take care of an ailing aunt for a year. When the year ended, she felt she was too big and too far behind to go back to school. So, she continued to work her entire life. McCarty began washing clothes with her grandmother in her backyard and became known as the town’s washerwoman. Raking the clothes against the washboard with strong soap, and boiling the whites in three large tubs, day in and day out, no doubt was grueling and backbreaking work. One of her patrons recalled when McCarty charged only 50 cents a bundle, which comprised a week’s worth of laundry for a family of four, in the early days of her business. Her rate climbed to $10 for the same bundle, but no higher. Never married and with no children, upon retiring, McCarty gave a stunning amount of nearly all she had saved--$150,000—to the University of Southern Mississippi, for scholarships for needy students. McCarty relayed, “I had to work hard all my life. They can have the chance that I didn’t have.” To everyone’s astonishment, Osceola McCarty rarely spent on herself, had quietly saved and given an amount that no one could have imagined. God loves a cheerful giver.
Barbara remembers her father buying a train set for her and her sister. Each Christmas, he spent hours setting up all the tracks, the train cars, and the houses around it. The girls got such joy watching the train go around the Christmas tree. One Christmas, they heard sad news—the local repair man fell off the roof of a neighbor’s house. The roofer had a 7-year old son who would need some brightening up. Barbara’s father loved the trains himself and the joy it gave him in sharing it with his two daughters, and because of that, he wanted to share that joy with a family who needed some joy at Christmas. And so, he gave it away—the whole train set—to the roofer and his family. God loves a cheerful giver.
Last Sunday, I saw a mother and her 10-year old daughter at the Angel Tree. The daughter had picked a tag for a 10-year old girl. The daughter was so excited to go out shopping for a present for this girl, who she would never meet, but who she knew would bring great joy to her. God loves a cheerful giver.
This is the season to give. November is Stewardship season in the church. Stewardship means the conducting, supervising, or managing of something entrusted to one’s care. It is a good word, but a word that can lend itself to coercive techniques to reach a budget level. And so, this year, the committee decided to change its name to Generosity. Generosity means: marked by abundance, characterized by a kindly spirit, liberal in giving. Sounds a lot more like that cheerful giver Paul was talking about.
So, I am not going to tell you how much we need or how much to give. The Bible talks about tithing 10% or giving all you have. And we would certainly welcome those gifts with great thanksgiving. But, most importantly, the Bible says, “Give as you have made up your mind, nor reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Give because it is good for others, good for you, and good for God.
Last Sunday, Derrick Karimi stood up here and gave witness to why he gives. He simply said, “I give because I was asked and it is the right thing to do.” So, I am asking you. Will you do the right thing and give to the church? Not under compulsion or pressure, but out of thanksgiving and gratitude. For, God loves a cheerful giver.