Sermon from June 6: The Lavish Planter
The Lavish Planter
Pentecost II; June 6, 2021
II Corinthians 9:6-15
Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop.
(II Corinthians 9:6, The Message)
Jesus told a couple of stories that are relevant to what I have to say about II Corinthians 9. I’ll also fill you in on what specifically Paul is writing about. Between them, we should see pretty clearly God’s message for us today.
Jesus told about a planter who went out to sow his seed. You remember the image of the sower on the Nebraska capital building and the state license plate (See below): he’s carrying his seed in a satchel and scattering it as he walks. Modern agriculture tends to be more precise: putting exactly one seed right into the ground where you want it, then the machine moves on and plants the next seed. More ancient agricultural practices were less efficient and those sowing seed walked along, scattering it as they went.
So in Jesus’ story (Matthew 13:1-9 and parallels), the sower scatters his seed. Now, some of the seed fell on the footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Even in our community garden, we lose some of our seed to birds. Some other seed fell on ground where the rocks had not been cleared, and the plants sprang up quickly, but since they had insufficient roots, the sun withered the plants. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorn-bushes choked the plants. But much of the seed fell on the good soil, and the plants produced abundantly.
The explanation that Jesus gives the disciples for what the parable means isn’t relevant to today’s message, but this is. Someone I was reading recently commented that Jesus was warning to be careful where you scatter seed. Make sure all of your seed falls on good soil. No, that isn’t right. The sower in Jesus’ story is generous, scattering seed everywhere, and Jesus doesn’t scold him for that. He uses it as an object lesson on why we sometimes respond to the Word of God and sometimes we don’t. What is most relevant to today’s message is the liberality of the sower: he has seed to scatter and he scatters it broadly.
Here’s another story (Matthew 20:1-16). The owner of a vineyard heads to the market in the morning to hire day-laborers to work for the day. You will still find, even in the United States, places where people hang out in order to be hired for a day. Not everybody gets a contract. Anyway, he goes first thing in the morning and hires workers for the day, promising to pay them the usual wage: a coin called a denarius. Well, a few hours later he realizes he hasn’t hired enough workers, so he goes back to the market, hires some more, and promises only to pay them “whatever is right.” Well, right away we see an important theme to the story: they don’t know how much they’re going to be paid; they have faith that whatever it is will be “right.” Anyway, this happens a few more times: he goes out again at noon, then mid-afternoon, and then finally about an hour before sundown he hires some more. When the foreman gives the workers their pay, he starts with the last group, and gives each of them a denarius. A whole day’s pay for an hour’s work! That makes the first guys, who worked all day, think, “Well; if they get a denarius for an hour’s work, just imagine how much we’ll be paid for a whole day’s work!” But when it comes their turn to be paid, they are each given… a denarius. Of course, they complain about the injustice. But the boss reminds them that he paid them exactly what they had been promised; is it any of their business if he chooses to be generous with those who were promised only “what is right”?
Over the years I’ve had a lot of fun going after that story from several angles, but here’s the issue for today: the vineyard owner is generous. Even though some of the workers see it as injustice, Jesus portrays it rather as generosity. Those who get a contract, as it were, are paid what was in the contract; everyone who relies on faith receives the bounty of the Master.
One theme that runs through the teaching of Jesus is generosity. His stories and his example encourage his people to be generous: generous with our money, generous with our time, generous with the Gospel, generous with our love. With that firmly lodged in your heads, I’ll fill you in on what Paul is working on with the people of Corinth.
Among the Christians of Jerusalem there were many who were poor and even destitute. There may have been a number of reasons for this, including a recent famine. So Paul took up a collection among the Christians in Achaia (where Corinth was), Macedonia and Galatia. In the beginning of this chapter, he tells how he had been bragging on the Christians in Corinth in other places, such as Macedonia, telling them how eager the people of Corinth were to help. So in this letter he tells those Christians in Corinth that they had better not embarrass him by failing to follow through!
Why should the people of Corinth send money to Jerusalem? Charity begins at home, right? Well, it begins there, but it doesn’t end there. Actually, Paul gives several reasons. One of them isn’t right here, but elsewhere: it’s because of the Christians in Jerusalem that you even know Jesus at all. Their faith and witness has benefited you spiritually; you can repay your debt to them by giving them something material. If someone does you spiritual good, then you owe it to them to do them material good (Romans 15:27).
Paul is not beyond laying it on thick, however. So he adds a couple more reasons right here in what we read to you. God is generous. God has poured out blessings of all sorts on you. Indeed, you have plenty. If you aim to be obedient to God, to be more God-like in your daily living, you too should grab at the opportunity to be generous. A couple of my own thoughts in this light. One is that God never demands more than we can actually do, but most of us can probably do more than we think we can. Our practice has been to tithe – give ten percent of our income to the church – and in order to make it painless it is automatically withdrawn every month. The money goes from our checking account to the Church’s checking account and so we’re not tempted to spend it. And there is always enough. Even years that my salary wasn’t increased, we increased our pledge, and God has always provided enough.
My other thought is the generosity that is God-like is not only about money. It is certainly about money, but not only money. God is generous with blessing. God is generous with grace. God is generous with forgiveness. God is generous with love. God is generous with life. Disciplining ourselves to be generous with money is a good training practice to help develop generous hearts, hearts that are willing to be generous with our blessing and grace and forgiveness and love and life as well. As Paul puts it, in The Message translation, “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.” You’ve probably heard it before as, “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7). Either way: when you are happy that you get to leave your server a big tip; when you enjoy giving presents just because you enjoy giving; when you give a large donation to that mission enterprise you care about; when you feel happy after giving your time at a shelter or school or museum; when at the end of the day you can recall all the ways you have been generous that day and it makes you glad, then you are mirroring the generosity of God, who scatters the seed lavishly.
One more reason Paul adds right here for us to be generous: it’s a good way to say, “Thank you” to God. I suppose you could write God a thank-you note; you can certainly say, “Thank you” in your prayers. But Paul urges us to be more concrete in our thanksgiving: show we are thankful to God by being generous with others. It’s sort of like the concept of paying it forward; remember that idea? If someone stops and helps you fix your flat tire, you pay it forward by doing that sort of favor for someone else. Likewise, if you feel grateful to God for all God has done for you, then do something good for someone else.
I find this interesting: this book of the Bible, II Corinthians, has thirteen chapters. Two of those chapters (eight and nine), more than fifteen percent of the whole book, are about the collection for the church in Jerusalem. As I’ve said to you before, if you want to know what’s really important to you, look at your checkbook or your credit card statement. But really, here’s the point: God is the lavish planter, having planted the word of grace in our hearts. If we are generous in every way that we can be, then it is clear that the word of grace has taken root in good soil, and has grown into a lavish crop.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master