Sunday, December 1, 2013

LSB Harvest Festival Sermon - 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

November 27, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”

Once again, the Lord has brought us an opportunity to reflect on the generosity that He has shown to us in providing for our earthly needs. That is the reason that we gather together for a Day of Thanksgiving. We render our thanks in response to what has been given to us from the Lord. In doing so, we take our place in the long line of the Lord’s people who have done so.

The First Reading that you heard gave instructions for how the Lord’s people were to offer their thanks. Some of the fruit and crops obtained from the ground were to be offered to Him. Each Israelite was to bring a basket of their firstfruits to the Lord’s altar. Then there was a little liturgy that they would follow: the giving of the basket to the priest, followed by the recitation of a thanksgiving address. In that statement, the Israelites remembered their history, how the Lord had taken Abraham out of his homeland, raised up a great population in Egypt despite their being enslaved, and brought them to their land. And the last statement confessed the truth about why they had anything to bring to that altar: “And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.”

That phrase spoken by the Israelites during the harvest time worship acknowledged their dependence upon the Lord. It revealed the Lord’s providential nature. In those words are the seeds of truth about the Lord’s identity, what future believers would also confess. The same sentiment is spoken by the Psalmist: “You visit the earth and water it; You greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; You provide their grain, for so You have prepared it.” That phrase even provides a source for what Luther would write in the Small Catechism: “He also gives me food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.

How different do those prescribed actions in the Old Testament stand in contrast with the man in Jesus’ parable! You heard Him tell the story: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” In that little liturgy, there was nothing attributed to the Lord, no acknowledgement about the actual source of the man’s harvest. But there were plenty of baskets of grain brought and offered up to the rich man. They filled his newly-built barns.

So what does Jesus say about this man? When his life is brought to an end, the rich man’s folly is revealed: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” And the last statement of Jesus’ teaching on this matter confesses the truth about such people: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

The contrast between the faithful worshiper and the rich man is shown. It is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of belief. Does the individual have an understanding of what is taking place in this world, even in the provision of earthly goods? The one who does know how the Lord is behind the whole system will bring the harvest gifts in the basket and offer them in thanksgiving. The offering is an act of faith. It is a form of worship. It is a God-pleasing work.

But this is not an archaic act. Yes, there have been some changes in circumstance. You have not been brought to Canaan, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” But the rest of what the Israelite worshipers said is true. As you have been baptized into Christ and given faith in Him, you have become a spiritual descendant of Abraham. The Exodus story is now part of your heritage. You have been personally delivered by the Lord by His great deeds of death and resurrection for your sake. And the Lord’s provision of earthly goods to you continues to this day. You are a recipient of the Lord’s graciousness and generosity. So like the Israelites of old, you are led to bring forth the baskets of what you have received and offer them at the Lord’s altar, saying: “And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.” This is an act of faith and form of worship and God-pleasing work that you perform.

In the Second Reading, you heard more descriptions about this giving. The famous, often-quoted verse from Paul’s pen was read: “Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” That verse is familiar to you, since it has appeared on offering envelopes and pledge cards for decades, if not centuries. And so you go try to figure out in your mind what can be given and write down the number or fill out the checks and in the baskets they go.

But this is not quite what Paul is getting at with that statement. Instead, he is showing you and all who have heard this text what happens behind the curtains in the matter of giving. He is confessing the same truth about the Lord as that harvest liturgy did in ancient Israel. And that is seen in the statements that follow the matter of “cheerful giving”: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.”

The apostle is confirming the fact that the Lord provides for you. He grants you what you need; your offerings are a confession of faith that this is so. But he also introduces another aspect of what happens when you do so: the Lord grants things to you as you make your offerings to Him.  This is not to say that if you put a $10,000 check in the plate, the Lord will give you $100,000 in the next week or month. Such a statement would be a perversion of what the apostle is saying, and if you heard such things from this pulpit, there should be an immediate call to the District Office, if not to the Attorney General. But there is a truth that is revealed: though you are giving sacrificially, you also are receiving. The Lord’s provision to you actually continues as you are providing for other people through your offerings: your good works increase, the harvest of your righteousness increases, your richness toward God increases.

That truth is a confounding thing to the earthly mind. When hearing about the rich man in Jesus’ parable and the full barns, it would seem that his actions are the way to obtain and maintain riches. But the apostle’s words are just the opposite: “You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity.” You have been given to know what is actually the case. True riches come from the acts of faith that recognize the truth about the Lord’s identity—that He has given you all good things, both temporal and eternal, physical and spiritual. Those acts of faith include the offerings that you present before the Lord’s altar, even the ones that are placed in the brass baskets that will be passed through the pews. Let that be remembered again this year, especially on this day when we recognize the Lord’s provision to us.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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