We all know that if we want to do better at something we have to work for it. This has been ingrained in us since our youth that when learning or refining a skill, excepting some circumstances, you will see results related to the effort you put into it. But this isn’t just for skills; our managing of money, our investments, relationships, and hobbies will reflect the work that we’ve put into it. If I don’t practice woodworking I’ll never graduate beyond easier boxes and pizza cutters, athletes suffer if they don’t eat a carefully planned diet. The bottom line is if you’re only going to put in a little, if you want to do the absolute minimum you’ll get the absolute minimum result. What if we turned this a little and said the same for our Church? That by providing and doing the bare minimum we’re only going to get a bare minimum back? What if we gave all out to the Church? What would we encounter? This is what St. Paul is addressing in this passage.
If we go back one chapter, to chapter 8, it’s revealed that the Church in Corinth made a large pledge, a donation, whatever you wish to call it, to support the struggling Churches in Macedonia, who themselves have given greatly despite their poverty. St. Paul is sending some people to make sure the money’s all put together, not in distrust but so everything is prepared in case a group of Macedonians were to come along to collect that gift. And that brings us to the passage we read today. St. Paul says that those who sow sparingly reap sparingly and those who sow generously reap as such. Let’s listen to what he says.
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
But he goes on to say:
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.
Listen to that: the service you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God! It certainly sounds to me like the Biblical basis of a parish assessment, but I don’t want to focus on that. Think: what you do is an expression of thanks to God!
For those of us who were raised in a Protestant church you’ll know that we were raised on a tithe standard. That is, 10% of our income, going back to the Church to further its mission. I’m putting it lightly when I say this sounds radical to folks raised in the Orthodox Church, especially when some parishes even today encourage a bare minimum of giving through a dues system. People complain about assessments or they complain about their pastor’s salary, and don’t like to commit to a rough estimate of what they plan to give to the parish so it can create its budget. There are 600 or 700 family parishes that can’t pay their bills without a Greek fest. Putting it a different way, some churches can’t stay open unless they use themselves as restaurant with entertainment. How does that reflect on us and our faith in God if we refuse to set aside money Him? Christ says where your treasure is so will your heart be. This is a call for us to have our priorities straight and give abundantly. We shouldn’t have to rely of festivals, bake sales, property ownership or any other scheme to pay our operating expenses: that should be a goal of every parish. We can’t say it doesn’t happen, either. Countless churches meet their budgets without massive, exhausting fundraising. My friend’s parish meets all operating expenses by stewardship, and uses the profits of their Greek fest to fund mission and outreach! Think how radically our parish would changed if everyone made the decision to give even 3% of their income to the church.
But although money is the thrust of this passage I like to think more sewing and reaping in the context of participating in the life of the Church, in its ministries, its outreach and its service. Because as I’ve said before you can write all the checks you want but it doesn’t even come close to the effect that your presence has. But if we have a lackadaisical attitude towards the Eucharistic community it really reflects that back in a number of ways, from our giving to our maintenance of our facilities, to our attitudes towards starting and progressing ministries in the church. Just like everything else we ascribe good attitude and hard work to, it’s crucial that we put effort into the Eucharistic community. Church isn’t just for Sundays; it’s an entire lifestyle to embrace, with worship, service and fellowship. When we endeavor to engage those three things earnestly God becomes manifest in our lives. Think of what Christ says about being trusted with a little and then being entrusted with more if we’re responsible with it. But it all starts with you and what you’ve generously decided to put in.
This is why those of us who made it to the vision retreat were so excited. After going through a preliminary list of goals to shoot for we found that we’ve already prepared a great seedbed of which to grow our parish richly. Having been transformed by God, through the Eucharist and sacraments, and being built up among one another through fellowship, we’re then able to take the Light of Christ that shines in our hearts, and spread that light among Kanawha Valley. And it’s why we’re going to continue to meet together and with Stacey so we can take this seedbed and make it grow. Zig Ziglar says, “If you plan for nothing you’ll hit it every time” and this is appropriate for us. If we continue to say we want to grow but never plan or prepare how can we expect to grow?
All of this is the definition of stewardship. It’s taking what we hold most precious and offering it to God. And St. Paul reminds us that if we’re generous in what we offer we will see a generous return. Sow generously, and show our love to the city and the world.