One time I was visiting an elderly woman. As we talked she was lamenting over the loss of her husband and home. She now lived in a retirement center. After a few moments her sorrow changed to a spirit of gratefulness. She said, “O well, I have so much to be thankful for.” She was thankful for all her experiences, the life with her husband, her home, her family.
It is human nature to lament over the things in life we have lost. It is a natural thing to share our feelings of sorrow about loved ones who have died, things we no longer have or good times that have ended. On the other hand, to acknowledge our blessings or express an attitude of thankfulness takes a bit more effort. It comes from the belief that God deserves our praise for all that has been given. As it says in Psalm 50:14, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving; and pay your vows to the most high.” A thankful spirit comes from faith. For example, Colossians 2:7 reads, “rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
Today we are listening to the words of Paul who is encouraging the faithful to be grateful for all that God has done and is doing. Paul is giving a pep talk, challenging the faithful to be “cheerful givers”. And the reward for generosity is the provision for more generosity. Giving is understood as a way of worship. Also the good news is not just something to be heard; it includes a response of concrete gifts of love. Just as we have been given the gift of grace in Jesus Christ, we are to be givers of grace as well.
And even Paul does not ignore the reality of our need to lament. Earlier in this letter he makes reference to their sufferings and hardships. In chapter 1 (II Corinthians, l:8), he says, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.” Paul recognizes that before the faithful can be challenged to give joyfully, he must first affirm their sufferings and pain.
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Thanksgiving is not just a celebration of our blessings and abundance. It is also a reminder of our loved ones who are no longer with us. Some are sad because they are separated by many miles from relatives or friends. While we are celebrating Thanksgiving we are also remembering those who are no longer with us. I believe that all of us are truly thankful for all we have been given. Paul, however takes it a bit further. What Paul understands is that a true spirit of thankfulness will help us to overcome our sufferings and multiply our blessings even further. Being thankful is the true attribute of the faithful.
One way of being truly thankful is to be generous. Generosity breeds generosity. It is contagious. This week I was visiting with a family who was spending the majority of their time at the hospital, standing by their loved one who is critically ill. They went home for a short period to catch up on a few things only to discover that their leaves had all been raked and their plants trimmed back for the winter. A neighbor had come and attended to their yard while they were at the hospital. Generosity like that is contagious and helped to ease their suffering.
A little known fact about the first thanksgiving that was celebrated by the Pilgrims was the generosity of the Indians. Had it not been for them, there would have been insufficient food for the feast. It was the custom of the Wampanoags to help visitors. When a visitor came to one of their homes, they shared whatever food the family had, even if the supply was low. It was primarily due to their kindness that the Pilgrims survived at all.
The Wampanoags not only respected other people, they respected the everything as equals, especially the forest. Whenever a hunter made a kill, he was careful to leave behind some bones or meat as a spiritual offering, to help other animals survive. Those who have a thankful spirit respect their neighbors and the rest of God’s kingdom as well.
Not only is Paul telling us to be generous he is asking us to be cheerful, to give willingly and joyfully. When we give reluctantly we will not be satisfied. “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
What is a cheerful giver? Many would probably say, someone like Eleanor Boyer, from Somerville, New Jersey. You see, she won 11.8 million dollars in the state lottery. Ms. Boyer decided to give all of her winnings away, keeping nothing for herself. She lives in a house that is paid for, has a small pension and drives a l968 Chevy Malibu. Ms. Boyer gave most of the money to her church and the rest to her town. She is a woman of deep faith who rises every day at 5:30AM to pray then attends a 7:00AM mass. She has taught catechism and counted money for her church over the years. “God takes care of me”, she said as she joyfully gave all of her winnings away.
Giving cheerfully doesn’t just have to do with money. It means giving gifts, time and talents. Most importantly, it means giving yourself. One time an anonymous caller called a radio talk show in Chicago and told the story of six year old Susie. She wondered why her mother was baking a casserole for their neighbor, Mrs. Smith. Her mother explained that the woman was very sad since her daughter died and she had a broken heart. Her mother said, “because we are part of a community and Mrs. Smith is our neighbor, we need to do some things to help her.” She then challenged Susie to do something for her too. Susie went to Mrs. Smith’s house and said, “My mommy says that you lost your daughter and you’re very, very sad with a broken heart. This is for your broken heart.” (She gave Mrs. Smith a BandAid) Mrs. Smith accepted Susie’s act of kindness and took it one step further. She put the BandAid in a key- ring picture frame to remind herself to heal a little every time she sees it.
By expressing our thankfulness like Eleanor and Susie, we are living witnesses to the grace of God. Giving is a way of worship in which thanksgiving and glory to God is expressed. Verse 13 also reminds us that our giving is related to confession of the gospel of Christ. People of faith are grateful and live lives of thankfulness.