The Christmas ads have been running for some time now. You’ve seen them. You’ve heard them. You’re already tired of them. How does that happen? How does something as exciting as Christmas - and take that on whatever level you want to take it: cultural, religious, theological, family, ritual and tradition, deep meaning and wondrous beauty, lump in the throat producing, tear in the eye provoking, whatever - but how does something as exciting as Christmas become boring? Become tedious? Become “not again!”?
I’ll tell you. Because all that stuff, all those ads aren’t really about Christmas. They’re about gifts and about giving. Which is good stuff! Don’t get me wrong. I love gifts. Getting them, certainly (anyone who wants my list, I’ll give it to you!). But mostly giving them. I love finding, buying, procuring, making gifts to give to people I love. I just do. And who could get tired of that? The giving and receiving of gifts, signs of love and acceptance and being claimed and welcomed. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to give gifts. But for them to really do the task intended you have to spend a lot of love.
But, the question for this bible study is this: Have I ever given an indescribable gift? Or received one? Now, let’s define terms here. There have been those occasions when the gift I have given my wife, for example, elicit a raised eyebrow or a puzzled demeanor; a sound of uncertainty or expression of incredulity. As in “what in the world were you thinking?” Let’s be clear, it wasn’t indescribable in the strictest sense. Because this expression was quickly followed by a string of description. Which, come to think about it, might have been more about the giver than the gift. But still, hardly indescribable.
What is an indescribable gift? Why bring it up? Why set the bar so high that we can’t ever achieve it? Because that is what it sounds like is going on. Who in the world trades in indescribable gifts? Well, Paul says God does.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9 As it is written, "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13 Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
The point is this. Trust Paul to get to the point. And then trust him to circle around and around it, turn it into a series of metaphors and images, make allusions and then find likes and opposites, and finally throw up his hands and sing a song about it, a song that turns out to be a song of praise to God. Cause, you know, that how he deals with stuff. Important stuff. Faith centering stuff. Like God and Faith and Law and Grace and Eternity and Obedience and Money. Wait, what? Money? A Faith centering item? Well, yes, Paul thought so. And was quite serious about it. He talks about giving in these verses. (In case you aren’t from the Aldersgate Camp, we are concluding our brief stewardship drive with a pledge Sunday here on Thanksgiving week.) He talks about giving abundantly, sacrificially, giving in a way that we notice it. And he talks about our attitude while giving. Give with willingness, give with joy, give - he even seems to imply - with laughter. I know, a bit odd that Paul. But still, it sounds exciting, it sounds powerful. It sounds like something we just might want to be a part of.
Especially when he points out the receipts. Yeah, this is not giving for nothing. This is about investment and expecting a return. “You will be enriched in every way.” Well, we think, really? In every way? Surely he meant in good ways. Surely he meant you will be enriched in every way that matters. Some sort of proviso, some sort of escape clause. Otherwise we fall into the hands of those guys who turn God into a divine slot machine, put a little in and bells and lights go off and we get a lot out. And if the payoff didn’t come this time, put in a little bit more and then do an attitude check. Payoff is coming. Surely he didn’t mean that, we think.
And we’d be right. He didn’t mean that. But we don’t need to change the words to fit us better. Instead we change ourselves to fit the words. Which is always the case, by the way. We want to shape God’s words to fit us where we are, but our real goal is to shape our lives to fit the Word. We become givers, we become generous, we learn about sacrifice when God takes over our lives and we walk by the Word, we live by the Spirit, and then we know we are rich. Because we have received all that our hearts desire. All. All that our hearts desire. We are enriched. What could be more that all? All that our hearts desire? What could that be? That all, that gift? That indescribable all?
I’m off to another funeral today. There seems to have been a run on weekend funerals, and all of them have taken a little bit of me with them. First was Gaynell Shady, we had her funeral on Friday the 7th. I remember saying in the service that Gaynell was one of those we never thought would die. She was just always here, a fixture to the structure of Aldersgate. Even when she wasn’t able to attend much, she was a presence for so many people. We were shocked by her death, even given her age and general health.
Then last week was Claude. Claude Sparks and we were shocked and surprised by a relatively young and vital man of faith, who managed to turn his life around and be an example of what is meant to walk with Jesus in every aspect - every aspect - of his life. He was a stalwart supporter of the Genesis service and change and growth at his church, even when it wasn’t something he longed for. He was behind us and then stepped up to help lead us, by serving, by giving, by loving and supporting. He was one of my best friends and supporters of my ministry here and I miss him desperately.
This weekend is Linda Terrel, who most of you reading this won’t know. Linda was a long time participant of the Choir School community that I have been a part of for almost twenty years. But she was there long before me. Linda was the one for whom the word irascible was invented. She could fly off the handle at what seemed to many a slight provocation. She was sometimes hard to be around, a bit bristly, some might even say grumpy. But if you stuck it out, what you’d find was an immense talent and a passion for her art that is unrivaled these days. A passion that drove her to rub people the wrong way, but it was always because she cared so doggone much. She was diagnosed with cancer of various kinds only a couple of months ago. She was a member of the Choir School Board and made it to the retreat I helped lead last month. She was frail and shaky and weary, but was still irrepressibly Linda. And what she was was a gift, an indescribable gift to the communities in which she was a part.
We are all so blessed by people in our lives who are gifts beyond description. When Paul concludes his message on giving, he says that no matter what is in our hearts to give, we’ve already been given more. We can’t out give God. Because God has given us so much, so many, resources, yes, but more than that love. People who love us whether we are worthy of it or not. People who challenge us, who stretch us, and who shape us sometimes against our will, into what are yet becoming.
This week at Aldersgate we will bring our pledges to the table, being proud to be able to give, I hope, but also humble enough to know whatever we intend to give in 2015, it does not repay what has been given to us. And to even describe what we’ve been given escapes us. Our lives are full of indescribable gifts. Thanks be to God.