Everyone remembers Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” It was published in 1843 and it captured the imagination of generations since. It made the name “Scrooge” synonymous with stinginess and self-centered bitterness.
But what made Scrooge have a change of heart? Do you remember? Exactly, it was the visit by the three spirits – The Past, The Present, and the Future. Scrooge got to see his life from beginning to end and he didn’t like what he saw. His old partner, Marley, shows up in his room chained with the cares of his life tormenting him and warns old Scrooge that the chain of misery Scrooge was forging by his selfish behavior was twice as long as Marley’s and twice as heavy! Terrifying!
Scrooge finally comes to his senses and becomes twice as good a man as he was miserly. And he even made sure Tiny Tim got better! God bless us, everyone.
In today’s Epistle Lesson St. Paul encourages a group of immature Christians in Corinth to come to grips with the spiritual causes of stinginess and self-centered living. He makes the case for understanding that a lack of resources is more of a spiritual symptom than a real lack of means. He teaches the Corinthian Christians that if they really do belong to God and if they really are part of God’s family then any stinginess on their part is really a lack of true faith that God will always provide for them. Their misplaced self-sufficiency is really a symptom of their spiritual poverty.
Listen to what St. Paul says: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-11
As a pastor, I confess to struggling with really getting this message across to people in a congregation. When it comes to serious Christian Stewardship of the amazing resources we really do possess in this country, too many seem to believe God’s work only deserves a mere “tip” or some portion of what I have “left over” after taking care of me and mine. The average donor to any of the Christian churches in America give around 3% of their income to the Church. The average donor in an Orthodox Church gives less than 1% of their income. What these precious people don’t seem to realize is that they are clearly declaring how much they value their parish, their faith, and their spiritual life by their stewardship commitments. And when you value something so little, is it really any wonder it is so easily lost or easily dismissed as not very important after all?
Our children see how we make the choices of our lives and our priorities and they get the message loud and clear about what is truly valuable to us. A man came up to me one day after a homily on this very subject and objected strongly to what I had preached concerning placing my stewardship to the Faith as my top priority in life and then all the other aspects of my life would find their proper place. He insisted that “yia yia” (Greek for “grandmother”) only gave $2 per week to the church. And he is right! I told him I’d be thrilled if he gave like his yia yia, and that really confused him until I explained. You see, yia yia did give $2 per week, but she gave that $2 out of the $4 she had. So, I made a deal with the fellow. If he gave 50% of his income each week to the church then I’d agree he gave as good as his “yia yia”! Needless to say, he was a bit speechless after that.
We don’t have a lack of money in the Church. We have a deficit of faith. The lack of resources to preserve, share, and grow our churches is a symptom of a spiritual problem, not an economic weakness. Leaving the Church to mere subsistence living is a revelation of the hearts of the people and how they value their faith. It’s why it is so confusing to some of us when we hear how worried this or that group of people are about the future of our Church and then see their giving habits that we simply are confused by the mixed messages they give. If they really are that concerned, why such a small investment of their resources?
As a final thought, notice the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that their faithfulness in being generous will “pay off” with God multiplying “your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” The spiritual benefits of generosity are the real treasures that flow from a generous life. After all, since we are going to live forever because of Christ, the only really valuable resources are the spiritual treasures we send ahead of us for our eternal life. Everything else is destined to be lost but those spiritual treasures.
So, Today, learn the freedom of cheerful giving, and liberate your life of the short-sighted Scrooge that only seems concerned for temporary comfort and self-centered ease. Become a person who dares to believe that God really does love you more than you, yourself, knows how to love and He will provide for you and your family. Don’t only depend on your own shrewdness and strength to supply your life. Dare to be a person that really believes what we say every Sunday in the Creed and watch as God is really trustworthy and loving to provide all your needs from His riches. Make the example of His Generosity your goal for your own life of generosity.
Today, be as generous with God and others as He has been generous with you. Anything less is a symptom of a spiritual problem that really must be addressed. Let us become cheerful givers!