Joel 2:21-27, II Corinthians 2:6-15
November 6, 2011
In 1931, Irma Rombauer, a homemaker from St. Louis, Missouri, first published “The Joy of Cooking.” (Anybody have a copy) Since then the book has sold over 18 million copies, and is one of the most successful cookbooks ever published. And since that time, that theme has been used by a number of other authors about other subjects. There has been “The Joy of Baking,” (Different author.) “The Joy of Painting,” and even “The Joy of Sex!” I hesitate to say that one because I’m afraid that’s the only thing some of you will remember from this sermon. (“Hey the minister was talking about sex!”)
Actually, what I’m really hoping is that it will help you remember this theme I’ve chosen for today, “The Joy of Stewardship.” That’s what I’d like us to think about on this Stewardship Sunday – and all the time, for that matter! For we are always Stewards! As we think about that, I’d like us to consider again about this passage from II Corinthians. It says some important things about being Stewards, which I touched on last week. But the first snowfall of the season kept a number of us from hearing those things. So I’d like to review. And then I want to go on, because Paul goes further than that, and he says a number of other great things!
So, I’d like to start by reminding you what I said last week about verse 7. That’s the verse that says, “…God loves a cheerful giver.” You know that verse! And if you remember, I told you that the word “cheerful” is actually the Greek word “Hilaron,” from which we derive our word, “Hilarious.” So this is more than just a mater of “pasting a smile on our faces” when we give. It’s a whole attitude. Actually, I prefer the translation that says, “God loves a joyous giver.” Because that speaks of a whole attitude of joy – joy in being God’s people. And as I said, if we give “reluctantly, or under compulsion,” as Paul warns against here, we will have a tendency to give less. But, if we’re joyful, we will be more likely to give our very best. And if we will all concentrate on that joyful attitude we will have no deficit here!! And that will be a matter for greater joy! I hope you’ll consider that.
Paul goes on. He says, “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance…” That’s one of Paul’s favorite words, abundance. And I think that’s a very important New Testament word! And of course, abundance doesn’t always mean having “lots of things.” But strangely enough, in the Bible, there are times that it does mean that! Because, again, I don’t think wealth – having it or not having it – is all that important to God. It’s more important to him what we do with it. Listen again to why he provides us every blessing in abundance. “God is able to provide abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and [so that you] may provide in abundance for every good work.” That’s why God gives abundance! So that we, his people, can pass on that abundance in the kingdom! I hope you see it that way today!
In a letter expressing the joy of pledging, one couple writes this. “We have been blessed with good fortune beyond our wildest expectations, and we are profoundly grateful. But just as these gifts are great, so we feel a great responsibility to use them well. That is why we are so pleased to join in making an explicit commitment to giving… We feel lucky to have the chance to work together in giving back the resources of which we are stewards.” And it’s signed Bill and Melinda Gates. Think of that the next time you log onto Internet Explorer. Or better yet, think about it as you make your pledges today.
Now, I know we’re thinking, “Sure! But we’re not all Bill Gates.” We’re thinking, “It’s hard to feel very joyful about things in this economy.” “We’re not seeing very much abundance!”
Let me remind you here that these words Paul is using here are not so much “feeling” kinds of words. And I want you to remember that feelings are very often reactions to something, rather than choices about something. In fact, listen carefully to that phrase I just used. “We’re not feeling joyful about… this economy.” Then listen to how Paul starts his “cheerful giver” sentence. He says, “Each one must do what he has made up in his mind.” That’s a “decision,” not a “reaction,” isn’t it? That’s “mind” over “emotions.” That’s “choosing” over “feeling.”
And please understand here, I’m not talking about choosing our pledges in a way that might make us regret it later. And of course, regret is a feeling, too, isn’t it? This is about choosing joy, and then having that even as we give – throughout the year! Because joy is an attitude. And we can choose our attitudes!
Actually, it’s not as simple as that. Joy is an attitude, but we can let it be tied to our feelings of happiness, can’t we? We can feel joy over something that happens to us, can’t we? But we’re hurting our outlook if we rely only on external things for our joy. Paul would tell us, and I would agree, that we can choose joy, too. And that’s even more important.
Paul’s letters, and I think the whole Bible, are filled with references about being joyful in all things! That means choosing it. The psalmist said, “Sing to the Lord a new song… Let Israel be glad in his maker…” (Psalm 149) That’s one of many examples in that book. But, does that mean the people are glad. No! It means be glad! Choose gladness! How about our passage from Joel 2. “Be glad, O sons of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God.” It’s not a question, “Are you Glad?” No, it’s “Be glad.” It’s the imperative. It’s a directive. It’s an instruction.
We can choose joy. And we can choose to do things that make us joyful. And those who don’t think that’s possible, those who don’t think it’s possible to choose joy, those who just flow with feelings only, are only going to be joyful when things are going well. Isn’t that true? And there’s that “emotion in reaction to,” thing again. I for one don’t want my joy on that basis! I hope you don’t either.
So then, the Joy of Stewardship. That’s what we’re about today. So I challenge you. Do an “attitude check.” What’s your attitude in Stewardship? What’s your motivation? Make joy your aim. Make joy your choice! And know that it will make a difference. In fact, I believe it will make a huge difference! Paul talks here about “multiplying your resources,” and “increasing your harvest of righteousness.” He says “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God.”
That’s true Stewardship! Sometimes we reduce it to cards and numbers. But it is so much more!! It’s about participating in God’s abundance. It’s about multiplying the gifts God gives to us. It’s about increasing our joy. It’s about participating in “the surpassing grace of God in us.”
So, when you make your pledges in a few minutes, choose the Joy of Stewardship. And may God bless us, and multiply us, and fill us with his joy!!!
Eternal God, you have indeed given us all things. We are stewards of all we have, and we are stewards of your grace that has been entrusted to us to give to others. Help us not simply to react to difficulties. Help us instead to choose joy and generosity. In so doing, may we know the joy of our Master. For we pray in his name, Amen.