AGAPE LIFE (Part 5) Giving & Living Thankfully, 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15, Pastor Carey, Thanksgiving Eve, November 22, 2017

It was the day after Thanksgiving. A woman caught her husband weighing himself on the scale. He was sucking in his stomach.  “That won’t help you, Fred,” the woman said. “You know that, don’t you?”  “Well, actually it helps a lot,” said Fred. “It’s the only way I can see the numbers!”

Safiyah Fosua wrote, “The words “harvest” and “thanksgiving” are linked together in many cultures. Most who till the soil know that our feeble human efforts do not produce crops; crops require sun and rain and other variables that are beyond our control. The early settlers and the indigenous people they found here also recognized the importance of God’s provision for survival. Hundreds of years later, a commemorative meal serves as a reminder for us to thank God for those things necessary for our survival.”

Agape love transforms life – our life!  Because we have received agape love from Jesus and because we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to live out agape love in every part of our life: what we say and what we do.  Living agape life blesses and transforms whenever share agape love with others.  Agape Life serves, raises the dead, breaks bread compassionately with others and can calm the storms of life.  Agape Life calls us to give generously and live thankfully!

During a harvest festival in India, an old widow arrived at her church with an extraordinarily large offering of rice – far more than the poor woman could be expected to afford. The itinerant pastor of the church did not know the widow well. But he did know that she was very poor and so he asked her if she were making the offering in gratitude for some unusual blessing. “Yes,” replied the woman. “My son was sick and I promised a large gift to God if he got well.” “And your son has recovered?” asked the pastor. The widow paused. “No,” she said. “He died last week. But I know that he is in God’s care; for that I am especially thankful.”

Both of Paul’s Corinthian letters reveal a brand-new Christian community trying to learn what it means to live as Christians in a non-Christian world.  His letter rebukes bad living and encourages holy living.  Tonight’s scripture addresses one of the most important tenants of our faith: giving.  Why do you give whenever or whatever you give?  For some they give out of duty or obligation.  Others give for self-satisfaction or to just feel-good.  Still others give for prestige or honor.  But Paul is very clear that a true Christian gives because of our love for Jesus and in recognition and response to what Jesus gave for us.

Paul begins this portion of his teaching by telling them to not let a lack of faith keep them from giving generously and cheerfully because for God, a giving attitude is more important than the amount given.  God considers HOW and WHY a person gives from their resources: was the gift given out of duty, self-satisfaction, self-honor or from love of Jesus?

God gives us resources to invest FOR God. God is a cheerful giver and God is the ultimate source of everything we have and everything we give.  Paul reminds us that we are called to be the same as God in the WAY we give – cheerfully.

Someone once said that at times, we are so focused on what we want for ourselves that seldom is there anything left over to give to others.  Cheerful giving comes when we are transformed by God’s agape love and change from trying to collect possessions or our “wants” and being satisfied with just having our “needs” met.  And there is a big difference living out of a “wants” lifestyle verses a “needs” lifestyle – especially when we trust that God will provide for and meet our needs every day!

Paul then tells us that the more we invest for God, the more God will provide us to give more and more in and for the glory of God.  Generosity proves that a person’s heart has been transformed and cleansed from self and filled with the likeness of Christ’s servant or giving nature. Thankful giving becomes our first thought and not our last response to God’s agape love for us and the grace upon grace God provides every day!

Patrick J. Willson in his work, Deep Gratitude tells the story of a pastor in his first year at First Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen, Mississippi who was visited one day by three men inquiring about one of his members, a widow who lived by herself. Was she getting out? Were her friends in Aberdeen keeping in touch? Was there anything they needed to know? The three men explained the situation, gave him their cards-one lived in New Jersey, another in Oklahoma, the other in California.  The pastor was told to call them if there was anything they could humanly do to make her life happier or easier.

Every year the same three men arrived bearing presents their wives had picked out in the shops of San Francisco and New York. The men hired someone to mow the woman’s yard, trim the bushes and check on tree branches and gutters. One of the men prepared the woman’s tax returns each year, another paid for repairs on her house or did them himself. Sometimes they helped her shop for a new car. They were meticulous in wanting to check on everything and anticipate every difficulty the woman might face.

Each year they visited the President of the Bank in Aberdeen to ask that he notify them of any worldly need this woman might have, and to explain why.  The situation was this: Sixty years earlier the three men had been three soldiers standing on the ground floor of a house in Normandy just a few days after D-Day when a German potato masher grenade came bouncing down the stairs. A fourth soldier, the woman’s husband, threw himself on the grenade, absorbing most of its impact. The three men lived because of his death.

After the war was over in 1945 the three men began making their way to Aberdeen, Mississippi on a regular basis to make sure that this man’s widow would lack for nothing they had within their power to provide for her.

Here is the most remarkable part of this true story, there were 18 soldiers on the first floor of that house in Normandy. All of them were spared by the action of that one soldier’s leaping on that grenade and after the war was over only the three of them made their regular pilgrimage to Aberdeen, Mississippi.  Three out of eighteen is only a 16 2/3% response of gratitude.

So for those who have had the same sort of gift offered to us through Jesus’ death on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago, how do we show our gratitude to God’s gift of agape love?  What does or what will it take for us to recognize that life is a gift, and the only possible human response is gratitude?

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