Grace and Gratitude
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
November 20, 2011
2 Corinthians 9: 6-15 (NIV)
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9As it is written:
“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
10Now 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. 11You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men 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. 14And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
In mathematics, there is a theory that some of you have probably heard of called “the butterfly effect.” Now, there’s plenty of complicated ways to describe this theory, but what it basically boils down to is the idea that a single, seemingly insignificant change or event can have profound, large-scale effects later on. The most common example used to illustrate this theory is a butterfly, flapping its wings, which produces air waves that intensify over time to such a degree that it becomes a huge storm, perhaps even a hurricane.
It’s really interesting to me how the smallest things can have the biggest impact; how a single decision can send us hurdling down a path to a future that would have been completely different if a different choice had been made. Or how one prayer can reverse a terminal illness, or a simple note of compassion can bring hope into the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation. The things we do and the choices we make can have a significant impact not only in our lives, but in the lives of others as well. And that is the point that Paul is driving home in our scripture lesson for this morning.
Paul is making a specific appeal for the collection for the Jerusalem Church, a collection which is important in the continued work of the early church. But Paul’s words have a much broader application, especially as we think about the continuing work of the church in the world today, and our call from Christ to make disciples of all nations. Basically, what Paul is saying is this: “Your ability to show gratitude to God for the work of grace in your life becomes the way by which many others can experience God’s grace firsthand.” And as we approach Thanksgiving 2011, this is an important lesson for all of us to keep in mind. Our embodied thanksgiving makes it possible for others to offer thanksgiving to God as well. It could even cause a “butterfly effect.” Just one act of generosity, just one show of thanksgiving to God, could be the spark that spreads a wildfire of God’s grace; and before we know it hundreds, even thousands, of people are lifting their voices in praise to God!
As a matter of fact, a life of thanksgiving may be positive in more ways than we realize! A growing body of research has tied an attitude of gratitude with a number of positive emotional and health benefits. An article in The Wall Street Journal summarized the research like this: “Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not…They are also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly, and have greater resistance to viral infections.” The article ends with, “The key [to benefiting from an attitude of gratitude] is not to leave it on the Thanksgiving table.” Continually giving thanks to God brings us joy, and it brings others joy as well! Our gratitude to God should be a whole way of life that infects others with the wonderful blessings of God’s grace!
We have much for which to give thanks to God, do we not? In this passage, Paul lifts up specifically the gift of God’s grace at work in our lives, but think of what all that means! We are here because God has brought us here. We are blessed because through Jesus Christ, God’s unconditional love has poured over us. God’s grace has opened so many doors for us, most of which we’ve walked through without even noticing! It is so easy for us to forget all the blessings in our lives. It is so easy for us to say, “Woe is me!” One of the great mistakes of life is to turn to God only in the overpowering emergencies or the shattering crises. It is so easy for many of us to curse God; to blame God when catastrophe strikes. But we have things upside down! We live in a fallen world! We all sin! And yet, by the grace of God we still have the good times and the good things that we do have! It’s not as if we deserve them! Where would we be without the help of the Lord, without the goodness of God, without the love and faithfulness of our Savior? We can try to live without God’s grace, but it really is an impossible assignment. Thanksgiving is about more than family gatherings and cranberry sauce; it’s about recognizing and proclaiming what our Savior has done for us so that others can do the same!
Have you ever given any thought to the possibility that, perhaps at times, the way we live our lives is a hindrance to others coming into God’s presence in thanksgiving? I believe this probably happens more than we are aware. Maybe because we don’t live the other six days in any way that reflects what we do on Sundays. Or perhaps people see us sinning, but never repenting. This may happen because we are a little like the Pharisees we talked about last week; we say one thing but do another. Or maybe because we are not generous in the way we should be, generous in the way Paul describes in our reading this morning. And the result is our behavior keeps others from being able to experience the generous grace of God.
You see, our generosity is an outpouring of God’s own generosity in our lives. It’s like the ripples that cascade out from a rock thrown in a pond. It’s like the butterfly effect. As Paul says, “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever. 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. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” We do not deserve God’s favor, and yet we receive it. God graces and God sows. And grace received demands a response. The grace that comes from God finds its fruition as it flows through us to others.
As we prepare to gather around banquet tables this week and offer up words of thanksgiving for our family, friends, health, and other abundant blessings, we would do well to think about others who might not be feeling so blessed, who cannot so really lift up words of thanksgiving. And then to consider how we might live our lives more fully, generously sharing God’s grace with others, so that they too are able to lift thanksgiving to God for the blessings that truly matter.
As Christians, we are called to continually strive after the example of Christ and to grow in our image and likeness of him. One of the greatest ways we can grow and show our thanksgiving to God is by proclaiming God’s goodness and seeking to bring others into God’s presence. The writer, James, in the New Testament declares near the end of his letter that there is no greater good than to bring another into God’s presence. A great part of thanking God is sharing the Good News of God’s grace and love with all the people around us. You know how it is; when something great happens in our lives, we want to share the wonderful news with everyone we know, and perhaps even everyone we don’t know! This should be no less true of God’s blessings in our own lives. Actually, it should be even more true!
There was a man who served as a medical missionary for many years in India. He served in an area where there was progressive blindness. People were born with healthy vision, but there was something in that area that caused people to lose their sight as they matured. Well, this medical missionary developed a process that would stop progressive blindness. So people came to him and he performed his operation, and they would leave realizing that they would have become blind, but now they were going to be able to see for the rest of their lives. The people never said: “Thank you,” to this missionary because that phrase was not in their dialect. Instead, they spoke a word that meant: “I will tell your name.” So, wherever they went, they would tell the name of the missionary who had cured their blindness. They had received something so wonderful that they eagerly proclaimed it!
Have we not received something so wonderful that we eagerly proclaim it? God has been so good to us, God has poured his grace upon us, God loves us so much, and if we really want to thank God, we just can’t keep the wonderful news inside us! We have to be generous with others in the same way that God is generous with us, we have to go and tell the name of Christ in the world!
How can we thank God enough? We thank God by living as God would have us to live; by worshiping and praising, by studying God’s Word and communicating with God through prayer. We thank God by preparing our hearts and seeking to draw nearer to God, even as God in Christ Jesus draws nearer to us. We thank God by sharing the message of God’s great love, which has transformed and blessed us. We thank God by serving others in the name of Christ, and by bringing others nearer to God through our witness. We thank God by anticipating with great joy that day when we will celebrate “Emmanuel, God with Us,” as we all gather around the great Thanksgiving Table, with Christ the host in our midst, and young and old alike lifting voices together in praise of God’s Divine Goodness!