A Homily on II Cor. 9:6-11
By Bishop David of Sitka and Alaska
Today you heard St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, telling them the one who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully shall reap bountifully. What is it about the Corinthians that caused St. Paul to talk to them this way? What point is he trying to make to them? Were they farmers that needed to grow more crops? Were they rich financiers from which he wanted money? We know that St. Paul had so many problems with the Corinthian Church that his two of his longest Epistles are written to them. Corinth was a city free from persecution, it had pagan temples, its Christians were weak spiritually; they were surrounded by people of greed, lust, drunkenness, polytheism, freethought and divisiveness. In short, it wasn’t that different from the land we live in today.
St. Paul had asked them at different times to help raise money for the suffering church in Jerusalem. Because of its status and freedom, it was also wealthy and capable of helping others, if taught to do so. So it is that we have this revealing passage on his thoughts on the relationship between giving and God’s response.
It is simply stated, but true. It is stated in a way that shows the relationship between the giving and receiving in Faith, and it tells us how it is to be done by all of us.
When we give to God, we are not just giving something away. We are not exchanging one type of bounty for another. We are not doing something because we are looking for a reward, although we could, in reality be doing all of these things. St. Paul makes it clear we should be doing so with real joy, cheerfully, because we want to, and for no other reason. Orthodoxy does not believe in the so-called “Prosperity Gospel”, the belief held by many of the televangelists that if you give them what they ask you will be highly rewarded in a financial way. If fact, St. Paul is careful to present his idea about giving in a way that demonstrates the way our Creator has always operated in relation to his creation.
He uses the term “sowing”, a farming term related to how a farmer plants his seeds to collect a crop in the fullness of time. As anyone knows who has ever been around farming, your yield from the seeds you plant is directly related to the quantity of seeds you put into the ground. In a given area of ground, a farmer knows how many pounds of seeds he needs to have a good crop yield. He also knows that if he skimps on the seeds, he’ll be looking at a poor harvest, but if he plants liberally, his chances of a bumper crop are much greater.
But the farmer also knows that it is not just the amount of seeds he puts into the ground, it is type of soil, the amount of rainfall, the warmth or coolness of the climate all are factors in the outcome. We may ask what has this to do with giving money to God? We find the answer in the further explanation that St. Paul when he states everyone has to give as he “purposes in his heart”, meaning as he intends to give because he has looked at all the needs around him and made a good choice. Its not just in giving the money away, its giving it away for the right reasons at the right time. And even more than that, it must be done cheerfully. In other words, we should receive joy in the act of giving.
When the farmer plants his seeds in the spring, he has no idea how wet or dry the summer will be, nor how warm or cool the weather will be, all he knows is that each time he did this in the past, he received his crops in their time. He realizes that if he lets the seeds remain in the sacks he will have no crop, he has to put his faith in the way God works, the way the seeds, the soil, the water and the wind work together to receive his reward in its time.
All of this brings us to our current situation we find ourselves in. God has given all of us a great amount of “seeds” for our benefit. We can use them however we want, we received it freely for one reason, we are citizens of Alaska. Nowhere else in the United States is there such an act of honor placed on its citizens. We didn't put the oil in the ground, nor did we create the oil companies that harvested the oil, we didn’t even formulate the system from which we receive this bounty. Only our act of being born, or moving to, Alaska made this possible for us. We can be thankful for a good governor, like Jay Hammond, and a legislature that had the foresight to make this possible, but in the end, it is almost entirely an act of God that has given us this gift.
So, seeing how little we have actually done to receive it, should we not be willing, with joy in our heart, return back to God a portion of what we have received? Is it not in our interest and for our own benefit that we should be willing to over back to God from this seed that is ours to plant for our own future, the same way that our state planted those first oil revenues as seeds for growth, so that they would multiply and make this blessing possible?
Beloved, with joy in our heart, let us plant the seed of faith, and do so not grudgingly, but cheerfully, so that we will be able to see the fruit of our efforts in due time. Let St. Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians be his prayer for us, and “May He who supplies the seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the sedd you have sown and increase the fruits of your won righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.