Sunday 16th September 9am Worship
Sermon Series: Extravagant Generosity
Title: Thanksgiving Sunday
Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 9:6-12
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
As I have already mentioned before… I grew up in a church where we would have a yearly Harvest Festival Church Service … a time when everyone would bring in lots of produce and other crafty stuff and give thanks for God’s wonderful provision. Did you have that experience? I remember listening to lots of Harvest Festival sermons which encouraged me to give thanks to God for all God’s blessings … but I can’t remember ever hearing a sermon that explained why? Why is it good to give thanks to God? Has it got to do with just being “polite”? If God has given us all these provisions, then the least we should do is say thanks…
So … Why give Thanks to God?
The easy answer to this is that the Bible tells us so.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus
- Philippians 4:6 – With thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God
- Psalms – Repeatedly say, “Give thanks to the Lord”
- Hebrews 13:15 – Offer sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips that give thanks to his name
But that doesn’t answer the question of why??? Why are we instructed to do this? Does God “need” it? No. I don’t think that God needs anything from us. So, maybe thanksgiving has more to do with us than it does with God? If you have your bible’s here, turn to Romans 1:18-26. Here Paul is suggesting that God is really unhappy with some people. Paul explains that these people know God, they have received insight and revelation from God; and yet in verse 21 we read…
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Paul is saying that these people missed the point. Although they knew God, knew God’s character and knew about the wonderful things God has done … they drifted from that and stopped honouring God in their words and actions AND stopped giving thanks. One of the commentaries I was read suggested that Paul is observing a practice that is very common in our modern world … these people started to take God for granted … that the goodness of God was seen as just the normal things of life … and therefore they could see the need to honour or give thanks to God.
I remember early in my ministry having a conversation with a man which went something like this. “I am frustrated that people like you think that God should get the credit for what I have got. I have this roof over my head and food on my plate because of my own hard work … not because of God’s blessing. I have good health because I look after myself … not because of God. If anyone should be getting the credit for my happy and comfortable life … it should be me, not God.” It is interesting if you hold that comment next to Romans 1:21. Yes, hard work often brings rewards … but that does not remove the need to pause and thank God. I want to suggest this morning that this practice of stopping, by giving God honour and, in particular, giving thanks to God actually does something helpful deep within us. Giving honour to God and being thankful is transformative.
Think about the story of the 10 lepers from Luke 17. Jesus heals all 10 and sends them off the priest to be verified. You know the story … only 1 comes back to say thank you. Jesus then says to the thankful one that his faith, his action of being thankful, has made him well. Sorry? He was already made well by Jesus 3 verses before. What is Jesus talking about? I think that Jesus implies to the one that returned that his act of giving thanks has brought an inner healing – a spiritual healing. That somehow in the act of coming back to give thanks to Jesus, this ex-leper was transformed.
Let’s jump to our bible reading for today – 2 Corinthians 9. The context of this passage is that it is about the “Jerusalem Offering”. Paul understood that his ministry was not separate but part of the wider ministry of the early church and as such he encouraged all the churches he established to financially support the work of the early church – its outreach, its charity work with the poor and its teaching ministry – both on a local level and on the regional level. This regional offering was called the “Jerusalem offering” and Paul not only refers to it here in our bible reading but also in 1 Corinthians 16, Romans 15 and it is mentioned numerous times in Acts.
In my sermon last week I used this passage to talk about the reality that the more people sow into the ministry of the church, the greater the harvest. I also highlighted Paul’s encouragement to be generous – not out of duty or reluctant obligation – but out of a cheerful heart. But that the amount is up to each person. That each person should give what they have decided in their hearts to give. But then in verse 11 it gets interesting. Paul says that in this act of giving, in the act of being generous, we will be made rich. I made it clear last week that am not a believer in a prosperity gospel … that if you give that God will bless you with even more money. Rather I think Paul is efering to the same ‘richness’ as Paul talks about in Chapter 8:9
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Paul is not talking about money here but something much more valuable. I believe Paul is talking about being spiritually rich … or as I mentioned before … inner transformation. So back in chapter 9:11 – through our generosity, we are made rich – or we are inwardly transformed – and this will result in “thanksgiving to God”. Can you see these threads coming together here? We are encouraged to give thanks to God not because God requires it but because it does something to us, it changes us, it is transformative. At the same time, we are encouraged to be generous with our support of the church, not because God requires it but because it does something to us, it changes us, it makes us spiritually rich, it is transformative … and results in giving thanks to God … which is transformative. And then in verse 12 we read that service we perform, when we use our hands and feet to serve God and serve others – that is not only meeting the needs of others but it does something to us, it changes us, it is transformative … and results in giving thanks to God … which is transformative.
We can’t separate these ideas… giving thanks to God, generously supporting the work of God, offering yourself to serve God and serve others. This is a foundation biblical principle, a way of life that we as followers of Jesus are called to follow. Not only because it is beneficial to the furthering of God’s kingdom, and beneficial to the poor and those in need, but it is also beneficial to us, it transforms us. We discover a different way of understanding what it means to “be rich”.
In response to this, I suggested a few months ago to our church council here at Turramurra that I would like to not only have a Thanksgiving Sunday but also a Thanksgiving Offering. Over the past few weeks you have received a brochure that explains the concept behind a Thanksgiving Offering. This is a special, one a year offering, for mission projects or innovations that are not part of our normal church budget. We as a church are extremely blessed for the regularly financial giving of people in the church – through our tithes and offerings, through regular direct giving, through other income such as rental income etc.
We are also blessed with … I am not extracting to say, over 100 people who regularly give of their time and skills and energy in serving on rosters or helping run groups or leading in worship etc. For which I want to say “Thanks be to God”. And this year we have been blessed with a great Vision and such positive energy as we have worked through five key mission priorities. But the reality is that we also have more ideas that what our resources allow us to do. And that is where the Thanksgiving Offering comes in. In consultation with different people and groups we have put together a short list of 5 projects that are not in the church budget and will only go ahead if we find some funding for it.
The criteria for the projects was things that we could implement now (or in the next few months), things that would make a clear difference or outcome to the ministry and mission of our church and I was also looking for a variety of things – not all property projects or not all internal projects. I was really impressed with the 5 projects that Church Council have put forward. Sure some of them are bold … like asking for $75,000 for air-conditioning (that is certainly not in our normal budget) … but imagine the difference that would make. We have some of our senior not coming to church in the heat of summer because it is too hot. We had someone faint last year in worship due to the heat. Christmas Eve is crazy. Imagine how much better we could communicate the gospel and help people grow spiritually and make this space welcoming and hospitable if we sorted out the cooling and heating. So yes, $75,000 is a lot – but it would make a clear missional difference.
The leaders involved in Children, Youth and Family ministry are also wanting to add to our property, but in a specific way that would have a big impact. The youth leaders want to build some cupboards on the stage to store all the youth group resources in one place and update the resources with some great items such as giant Jenga. They can’t afford to do that with the money that comes in each week from the kids – so they have put this idea forward to the Thanksgiving Offering. The kids church have been asking for a TV and DVD set up for the garden room – its never quite got into the budget – but we can make it happen in Thanksgiving Offering! The playgroup is looking to purchase some equipment as well. As you can see, all these projects have clear missional outcomes.
And some are not about property at all. Like the project that I put up about getting some short-term intensive leadership training for 6 leaders in our church (either young or older leaders). I have found an expert in leadership development and mentoring who is happy to help us out with this. Great idea, but it can only go ahead if we find some funding.
Project #4 is for those who are concerned that the church has debts. We are currently paying off a loan for some major work that we had done on this place several years ago. The beauty of debt reduction is that it is the gift that keeps on giving. By donating to this project this year, we save money every year moving forward.
Lastly, Thanksgiving offering is not just about us. So, project 5 “Raising Hope” is a great initiative by our sister church Parramatta Mission who are helping women affected by domestic violence and homelessness.
Let me be clear – in the spirit of last week – I hope that I am not sounding like a salesman and pressuring you to give in Thanksgiving Offering. I don’t want anyone to be guilted into giving. Rather, I know that people give in different ways and for some people, something like Thanksgiving Offering really connects with them. It is giving to a specific project to make a specific different – a real difference that will last. If we go back to our bible reading, I want to affirm verse 12:
This service that you perform [Or this initiative that you are invited to participate in] is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but [I hope and pray will] also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.
I can imagine someone this year’s Christmas Eve saying, “Thank God for this air-conditioning” or in a few years’ time we will be saying, “Thank God for that leadership development in 2018. That has made such a difference in our church”. Our generosity – with our time, our gifts, our energy and our resources – will lead to many expressions of thanks to God.
So in summary… we should personal give our thanks to God because it changes us, it is good for us, it is transformative. But at the same time – and in a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving – we should also be generous with our support and in our service to God and others … and in doing so we find that we are changed, it is good for us, it is transformative.
So … Let us enter into a time of thanksgiving with our offering and by singing…