Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever! 

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

“But this I say: He who soweth sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and he who soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.”  

For those of us who look for pithy Biblical sayings or principles, St. Paul gives us a classic this morning, one that has been repeated ad infinitum over the years, to the delight of many and to the chagrin of others, depending upon how tightfisted we happen to be, and it might even rank up there with, “You have to spend money to make money.”  Of course, what the Apostle offers us is nothing less than down-to-earth common sense any farmer or gardener could probably vouch for: If you plant few seeds don’t expect a big harvest.  

St. Paul alludes to a couple of proverbs in his classic verses (Pr. 11:24; 22:9).  He stands squarely in the Biblical tradition which means he is well within the Holy Tradition regarding God’s view on possessions and material wealth.  He understands rightly so that all we call our own is an extension of who we are, and it expresses our faith in God or our unbelief.  He also rightly understands – as should we – that all we call our own is really an illusion.  We own nothing.  We are really caretakers of all that belongs to God, summed up neatly for us in the Anaphora as the Priest elevates the holy chalice and diskos, praying unto God Most High, “Offering unto Thee Thine own of Thine own, on behalf of all, and for all” (Divine Liturgy).  The Church rightly believes as she prays that God uses material means to bring salvation and blessing – the Incarnation of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ being the quintessential crown jewel.  What we offer up in the Bloodless Sacrifice is only but God’s to begin with Who has blessed us with the bread and the wine in the first place.  It is God Who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, even as the Apostle says.  “Thine own of Thine own,” not “our own from our own” if we can spare it, afford it, or feel like it. But “Thine own of Thine own.”  And, we do so, for the sake of all the earth and of all who dwell therein because of divine love.  This, beloved, is basic Christian stewardship 101 and a non-negotiable fundamental of our Orthodox Faith.

What St. Paul has to say to us this morning he says within the context of giving alms; love offerings, if you will, mercy offerings above and beyond the Christian’s regular giving to those in need.  The Corinthians, like others, have committed themselves to raising offerings on behalf of their brethren in Jerusalem suffering an especially hard time.  And the Apostle aims to remind them of their commitment, once proffered, but not yet fulfilled.  He lifts up for them their Macedonian brethren who could little afford to give alms, being in dire straits themselves, but who for the sake of utter love, mercy, and compassion, nevertheless insisted that they not be excluded from this time of grace.  (Giving is a time of grace, beloved!)  “[T]hat in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality,” says the Apostle.  “For I bear witness,” he says, “that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.  And not only as we had hoped,” Paul goes on, “but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God” (1 Cr. 8:1-9:5).  Again, for those looking for Biblical principles by which to live your baptism out, we must give ourselves to the Lord first, above all others, so then we may give ourselves to each other as divine love and mercy demands.  Or, in the words of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, we must love God first and foremost so that we can be free to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mt. 22:37-40; Mk. 12:30-31).

Sometimes we balk at giving because the devil is good at getting us to see and focus on the negative, that is, we see what we won’t have if we give instead of seeing the blessing of grace given and received.  Yes, what we sow, we reap.  Remember?  There’s another Biblical principle, if you’re collecting them (Ga. 6:7-10).  Our God is a God of overly abundant grace and blessing and promises grace and blessing to those who give of themselves through their giving of alms and offerings.  The Sacred Scriptures are not nearly as finicky about this matter as we might be if we were raised in the Protestant tradition that counseled against the appearance of “buying Heaven”.  This furthered the great disconnect between the divine use of material things to convey salvation, as found in the Gnostic heresy that disdains all-things material.  The angel, Raphael, in the Book of Tobit is quite bold in his assertion that the giving of alms benefits the giver and delivers from death (Tb. 12:8-10; Sr. 29:11-13).  The divinely inspired writer of Ecclesiasticus or the Wisdom of Sirach, as we might know it, concurs (Sr. 3:30).  The old and ailing father, Tobit, counsels his son:

My son, . . . Give alms of thy substance; and when thou givest alms, let not thine eye be envious, neither turn thy face from the poor, and the face of God shall not be turned away from thee.  If thou hast abundance, give alms accordingly; if thou have but a little, be not afraid to give according to the little.  For thou layest up a good treasure for thyself against the day of necessity, . . . For alms is a good gift unto all who give it in the sight of the Most High (Tb. 4:5, 7-11).

It seems to me Jesus says something nearly identical about laying up treasure in Heaven unto the day of necessity (Mt. 6:19-21; Lk. 12:13-34; 16:1-13).  

The Scriptures, beloved, teach us that God looks upon such gifts and calls them to mind.  He remembers the grace shown in the giving of two centurions who were dearly loved by the people and blessed accordingly with salvation because of their love poured out and the grace demonstrated in their giving of God’s own on behalf of others.  The memorial of a just man, says Sirach, is not only acceptable unto the Lord, but it “shall never be forgotten” (Sr. 17:22-23; 35:1-11).  Interestingly, it is St. Luke who records both of these instances of the centurions (Lk. 7:1-10; Ac. 9:36, 39; 10:1-8).  What we do with our possessions – be they few or many – is as much a godly thing as what God does with the stuff of creation when He handcrafted man, the bearer of the divine image (Gn. 1:26-27; 2:7; WS 2:23).  Man and woman are not only beneficiaries of God’s extravagant grace and mercies, but they are likewise benefactors with God of His goodness to all mankind when they imitate Him in their sacrificial giving. 

But, it is not simply or merely the gift God memorializes.  It is how the soul offers unto God the gift of goodness that God looks upon and the disposition of the soul makes the giving either a sweet-smelling fragrance and an act of worship or it negates it.  A hallmark of the Christian is a glad and joyful heart because that heart is so full of thanksgiving, no matter what (Ac. 2:46-47).  Such gladness and joy – such thankfulness – makes us favorable to others and attracts others to Jesus Christ, just as in the early Church.  “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart,” says the Apostle, “not grudgingly or of necessity [compulsion, obligation, coercion]; for God loves [blesses] a cheerful giver.”  It is not only how we receive God’s bounties, but how we give that matters.  The ancient and early writing of the Didache warns us not to stand with open hands waiting on God to fill them, and then turn right around with tight fists when it’s time to give.  “You shall not hesitate to give,” it says, “nor shall you grumble when giving” (Didache 4:5-8).  And, let us not forget those workers in the vineyard who begrudged the vineyard owner his generosity at the end of the day, distributing his own of his own, on behalf of all and for all (Mt. 20:1-16).  And, dare we imagine the widow with her two lowly mites, offering them up to God for His Temple, with a sad and begrudging heart?  Jesus doesn’t indicate anything of the sort!  Rather, she is the icon of true giving, of the spirit of giving we all strive to attain.  No one would have faulted her for keeping one and tossing the other one into the Temple treasury.  But, she doesn’t.  She offers up both and we can well imagine she does it out of love for God and the Temple she is blessed to pray in and find salvation (Mk. 12:41-44; Lk. 21:1-4).  Perhaps she was reading the Wisdom of Sirach just before her pilgrimage to the Temple which counsels us: 

Give the Lord His honor with a good eye, and diminish not the firstfruits of thine hands.  In all thy gifts show a cheerful countenance, and dedicate thy tithes with gladness.  Give unto the Most High according as He hath enriched thee; and as thou hast gotten, give with a cheerful eye (Sr. 35:1-11).

    No one can coerce joy and thankfulness.  Such can only flow from a well springing up unto Eternal Life.  Joy and thanksgiving arise from a “good eye” which means a soul full of God’s goodness.  “’The lamp of the body is the eye,’” says our Lord.  “’If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light’” (Mt. 6:22-23).  Perhaps this is why Jesus says this in the context of His Sermon on the Mount when He encourages us to lay up treasures in Heaven (Mt. 6:19-24).  We are reminded here by the Apostle that God supplies us with all sufficiency in all things precisely so we may have “an abundance for every good work.”  God blesses us so that we, in turn, can be a blessing to others and so cause much thanksgiving to God through our enriched generosity.  In short, God “increase[s] the fruits of [our] righteousness” thereby.

“But this I say: He who soweth sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and he who soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.”  

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.  Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever! 


2 Cr. 9:6-11

Lk. 16:19-31