May 8, 2011 II Corinthians 9:6-15 Heartland Presbyterian Church D. Mark Davis Last week, we reviewed the story behind our reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. You may remember that Paul had visited them before and had written to them before. One of the topics at hand was the financial suffering that the church in Jerusalem was going through. By reminding them that they were part of the same body as this group of folks over 800 miles away, Paul encouraged the church in Corinth – a fairly prosperous city – to set aside money each week and to make a generous gift to the church in Jerusalem. In fact, the people of Corinth responded marvelously! Their intention – their ‘pledge,’ to use our modern term – was so overwhelmingly generous that Paul was telling other churches all about it. In fact, their generous pledge seems to be what encouraged other churches to give generously. And now, Paul was on his way to get the Corinthians’ gift and help transport it to Jerusalem. And he’s bringing with him some of the folks from those other churches, to whom he had bragged so proudly about the Corinthians and their generosity. But, while Paul was proud of the Corinthians’ generous intentions, he was also a bit timid about whether the church’s walk would follow its talk. They were, after all, a church. There were some folks there who didn’t get along so well with others; some folks who didn’t agree with how others thought Christians ought to participate in the Roman-dominated social order of Corinth; some folks who were economically different from others; and so forth. There was even one guy who was acting rather immorally, and the folks in Corinth weren’t too sure how to deal with it. None of the problems at Corinth took away from their connection with one another as members of the one body of Christ, but differences of opinion often have a dampening effect on things like … meeting a financial pledge. So, in the letter that we call II Corinthians, Paul is, among other things, trying to encourage the church to come through and fulfill the intentions that they made known and which he has been bragging about to others. So, last week we read where Paul misquoted the 112th Psalm as a way of making God’s provision virtually the same thing as human generosity. That is, the way God provides for folks in need, like the church in Jerusalem, is through the generosity of folks who have been blessed, like the church in Corinth. I imagine that if we said out loud, “If you want to see how God rolls in the world, look at how God’s people act,” Paul would not be the only person who is timid about whether a church’s walk could follow its talk. This week, we will look at what happens on what I want to call ‘the rebound of generosity.’ There is a reason why this text from II Corinthians is a favored text among “Prosperity Preachers.” Paul really does argue that generosity has a tremendous payoff, and he uses some of the most memorable and handy words to describe it. Imagine how handy the phrase “God loves a cheerful giver” is when passing the offering basket. Imagine how motivated people would be to fill that basket to the brim when they hear that “The one who sows bountifully will reap bountifully”! That’s quite an investment strategy, to guarantee bountiful returns, guaranteed by the Word of God! And it must be fail proof, because Paul assures the Corinthians that God will “supply and multiply your seed for sowing”! He even says that the generous giver “will be enriched in every way”! Paul is using what the Paul Ricoeur calls “the language of superabundance” here. It is a language that Paul usually employs only when speaking about God, but here is he is using that language to talk about the benefits of generosity. It is no wonder, then, that “Prosperity Preachers” appeal to this passage of Scripture over and over when promising their listeners that they will reap financial rewards in return for their giving. There is so much promise and biblical quotation in their message that it has to be true that if we give, we will become financially prosperous in return, right? Well, that message is almost right. Almost right. Almost. It’s too bad we’re not pitching horseshoes, where ‘almost’ counts. In this case, however, ‘almost right’ means ‘not right.’ The truth is, we can read this letter from Paul and end up being ‘not right,’ if we fail to read our chapter all the way to its end. It is in verses 12-14 that the Apostle Paul shows that he is not thinking of generosity as an investment strategy – at least not in terms of financial reward. He tells the Corinthians that their generosity rebounds with many effects, none of which are necessarily economic. The rebound of generosity is threefold and it is wonderful. The first rebound is that generosity of the prosperous supplies the needs of the poor. That is, “service.” Of course, service to the poor ought to be enough for motivating those who are more prosperous to give generously. But then, Paul argues, there’s more. The second rebound of generosity is that giving “overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” (Listen to the superabundance of that phrase!) That is, “worship.” God is the second beneficiary of the generosity of the prosperous. That too, ought to be enough of a motivation, because – as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it – the primary purpose of human existence is “to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.” So, the needs of the poor are met, and on top of that, God receives glory through the overflowing of many thanksgivings. Then, to top it off, the third rebound of generosity actually comes back to those who give in the first place. The poor, whose needs are met by the generosity of the prosperous, will “long” for their contributors and will pray for them because their generosity has been a form of God’s surpassing grace in the world. That is, “spiritual growth.” That’s the three-fold return on generosity: The poor are served, God is worshipped and the contributors experience spiritual growth. What’s missing, of course, is the part where Paul says, “And, by the way, you’re going to end up with a lot more money in your bank account!” No, once we read this chapter to the end – once we see that the three-fold payoff is all about service, worship, and spiritual growth – then we can go back and re-claim that boisterous, language of superabundance in its right form. When Paul says, “Those who sow bountifully will reap bountifully,” we know that what we will reap is the goodwill and prayers of the poor. The question is, do we believe that the goodwill and the prayers of the poor are real benefits, or do we only believe that economic return is a real benefit? Once we read this chapter to the end, we hear Paul say, “God will enrich you greatly” and we know that God will enrich us with the goodwill and prayers of the poor. The question is, do we believe that the goodwill and the prayers of the poor are real benefits, or do we only believe that economic return is a real benefit? For the person who reads Paul’s letter in hope for a fail proof economic return on generosity, this letter is ultimately unsatisfying. But, to the ones whose lives have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, generosity is the means by which we attain those lofty benefits of service, worship, and spiritual growth. We are, of course, in the middle of a capital campaign. We are asking every member, every participant in this body of Christ, to contribute generously and even sacrificially in order that we can build a new sanctuary, community center, and additional classrooms. We cannot say that for every dollar that you contribute to this campaign, God will increase your bank account by two dollars. That would be a lie. But, what we can say is that every square inch of this new building will be dedicated to the purpose that is found in our mission statement: “Heartland Church is a Christ-centered community called to provide opportunities for creative and inclusive worship, spiritual growth, and service.” This new sanctuary will be a place where God is glorified in our music and in our praise. It will be the place where we preach the gospel without prostituting it into some kind of ‘get rich now’ scheme. It will be a place where the grieving find a community of love and encounter the one who heals broken hearts. This community center will be a place where children, youth, and adults sit at table together, where meals for the homeless shelter are gathered for sharing, where families go after a funeral to receive the love and support of their community. These classrooms will be the place where we study the Word of God and are transformed into disciples of Jesus Christ, living toward justice in this world. Just as Paul’s letter is about worship, spiritual growth, and service, every square inch of this new building will be dedicated toward the same. Just as the early church in Corinth, so goes the latter church in Clive: Through our generosity, the poor will be served, God will be glorified, and we will grow into the fullness of grace. Thanks be to God. Amen.