Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth this morning about his ministry and God’s grace in its unfolding. In some ways he sounds like a fundraiser preparing the people for the beginning of an upcoming campaign. Urging the community to generosity upon his arrival was necessary since it was only in that way that he was able to continue his work and the work of the other missionaries of the gospel. I rarely think of this aspect of their ministry since the zeal of the message is clearly what fueled them and sometimes it is understood that they traveled around living off the kindness of strangers. But, differently from the first apostles, Paul and his companions traveled far and wide on land and sea, not just on foot, so their needs for shelter and travel were probably significant.
In this morning’s snippet from 2 COR 9:6-11, Paul is focusing on the motivation for generosity as well as the reward. This reminds me of the year I was an “outside consultant” for a parish stewardship program, a strange task for a woman whose relationship to money was grounded in the vow of poverty. Since all it meant was that I attended meetings of the committee and helped to frame the process, I thought I could do the job. The carrot held out to me was the promise that I would be able to preach on All Saints Sunday, the day when parishioners offered their pledges as a “generous promise.” The entire process was an education in the benefits of generosity, which seemed to me at the outset an exercise in semantics to get people to give, but later became a reality that truly motivated “cheerful giving.” Paul saw this early on when he said, “Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly and whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully…You are being enriched in every way for all generosity.”
Jesus adds a caveat to this discussion – a sort of postscript to generous giving – when he says in the gospel, “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others.” (MT 6:1-6) So part of generosity is humility and sincerity because if all we are looking for is praise for our giving, the enrichment that Paul and Jesus are speaking of will be lacking.
None of this is “new news” for people who have been listening to stewardship sermons for years, but it is a great reminder for a way to live our lives – not just in donating money but for generous giving of ourselves in the everyday. As we grow in our ability to let go and offer ourselves humbly and sincerely to whatever possibility is set before us, we will surely come to know the joy and peace that God provides.