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Today, St. Paul challenges us with this elemental truth of the Gospel—that “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly.” We’re presented today with an opportunity to consider our attitude toward giving of ourselves, our resources, to consider how much we give back to God from that which He’s so greatly blessed us.
St. Paul challenges us in today’s Epistle to consider what we would call today our spiritual ‘investment’ in our own future. He does so, calling to mind a farmer sowing seeds: A farmer who sows sparingly—only that which he thinks is the bare minimum he can get by with to produce a crop, will suffer loss: bad weather, drought, a heat wave, pests, other unforeseen problems can devastate his harvest since he’s sown only sparingly. The smart farmer, on the other hand, sows abundantly, more seed than just what he thinks he may need, knowing that some of the seeds won’t sprout, will be eaten by the birds, or will be taken by inclement weather.
So it is with us: we ‘sow the seeds’ of our time, talents, and treasure, our spiritual resources, in order to reap a great harvest for our souls. The work of the farmer who sows the seeds doesn’t end with the sowing: he has to tend the crops once they sprout; he has to make sure the plants receive enough water, sun, are protected from pests and weeds. It’s a tireless job.
Those who are satisfied with occasional church, who rarely pray, confess, or give of themselves through service to God, are missing out on the blessings that God has for us as we entrust our gifts, talents, and treasure to Him; their souls become weakened. It’s often the case that those who are sparing toward God and His Church with their gifts, talents, resources, are often those who struggle most with faith and trust in God and His provision in their lives, both physical and spiritual; they are most easily enticed by love of money and gain and struggle with understanding God’s central place in their lives because they don’t realize essentially that their money is not their own, but that it belongs first to God and that our Christian life is sacramental in nature.
Allow me to explain: While warning us that those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly, St. Paul assures us in the same Epistle that the reverse is also true: that he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. This belief has been lived out in our Orthodox Faith since the beginning of the Church: it’s what we call “sacramental living.” A wonderful example of sacramental living is seen in our theology of the Eucharist we celebrate today: God enables us to grow the wheat and the grapes that we harvest in order to make bread and wine. We offer these Gifts to the Lord in the Eucharist, “the thanksgiving.” He blesses and transforms them into the precious and holy Body and Blood of Christ, the “Medicine of Immortality,” which unites us with Himself.
So it is with our giving to the Church: God enables us to labor, to be productive; we earn a wage for doing so and we give a portion, a ‘first fruit’ back to God by enabling and building up His Church. He receives these gifts and transforms them into spiritual blessings to us, provides for the ministries of the Church that feed our souls spiritually, and further grows His Church.
The standard of giving that we are given in the Old Testament and which pervades in the New is the tithe, ten percent. If everyone gave ten percent to the Orthodox churches across North America, imagine the well-spring of missions and ministries that could be established and expanded. We could truly bring Orthodoxy to America in this way.
Though Christ God speaks repeatedly in the Gospel about money, its hold on us, its corrupting of us, so as to warn us and put it back into its proper place, our giving to God in the Church is never just meant to be about our money. Instead, we also are given the opportunity to view our time, our gifts and talents, our service to God in a sacramental way as well.
What we give of ourselves now, impacts our future—just as we hear in today’s Epistle. We build on the foundation that Christ has laid for us in the founding of this local church, which is a part of His Body, so that we can continue to grow and provide for the needs of all who come to be part of this church family.
In our own Mission, the needs are great but so are the opportunities to serve. We are looking to move to our own space in the future. We look to increase opportunities for worship, teaching, and outreach. Just think how this mission can grow if we all give the “first fruits” of our time, our talents, and our treasure to help provide for this church, which provides for the spiritual needs of her parishioners and others, which has served as a ‘spiritual hospital’ and home for many of us these past three years since our founding.
This future is now upon us. We sow now in 2014 that these worthy ambitions can become a reality in the nearer future, assured that God will take whatever we offer him today and bless it and give it back to us to further His ministry, his church, and His work in our lives.
Increasingly, we will need to minister to young families with small children too, while also serving the students and adults whom God brings our way. We need more opportunities for teaching and learning the faith too. We need to be able to provide for our children. We need to have Sunday School move from twice a month to once a week. In a couple of years, we’ll need to start a youth group program to help our pre-teens and teens navigate the difficult waters of teendom, while learning to ‘own’ their faith, which will be invaluable to them keeping their faith let alone growing in it in our present culture.
And, before we realize it, it will be time to build a church of our own—if we are faithful with the gifts and blessings Christ God has entrusted to us. Growing the church demands a full-time priest, but maybe not in the way that you are thinking: The priest leads and shepherds, he pastors and ministers the Sacraments, he equips the faithful and disciples them, but then it’s the faithful—all of you—who are called to go forth to build up this local body of Christ’s holy Church, your gift of yourself, your time, talents, and treasure, your growing witness and living out of the faith is what will grow this church more than anything.
Today, we’re invited to “sow bountifully so that we may also reap bountifully.” Today we offer to the Lord our commitments for 2014. What do you want to receive from the Lord this next year? What is missing from your life in terms of your life in Christ, what can be strengthened? Where does your faith and trust need to grow? How can you serve? Where do you want to see Christ make a difference in your life, through your life and the blessings He’s entrusted to you? If for whatever reason you struggle to open your hand to God or come outside yourself to serve, I encourage you to trust His word, to take another step of faith. Christ offers us an opportunity to take that step of faith today, to come outside of ourselves to love and to serve, to continue to grow individually and corporately in our mutual communion in Christ. As we do so, we’re assured that we will grow as a community in spirit and in numbers, which benefits us all.
Give of yourself and you’ll receive much more in return: No one who sows abundantly will be disappointed by God’s outpouring, as St. Paul reminds us in closing today: “Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God” (II Cor. 9:10-11).
Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
Sunday, 27 October 2013
Epistle: II Cor. 9:6-11
Gospel: Luke 8:26-39