Investing in the Future
(2 Corinthians 8: 1-15)
In the early days of our married life Teresa and I thought about and discussed the ways in which we could make our future secure. We started out with me getting a job with the Houston Police Department that had a decent retirement system if you could last that long. After twelve years with the force I quit upon passing the bar exam and began practicing law. The City of Houston gave me what I had put into the pension system and, rather than buy a new truck and a bass boat, we sought out an investment counselor and put our money into some retirement vehicles. Private practice wasn’t as lucrative as I had anticipated so, when the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to become District Attorney which had a pretty good retirement through the State of Texas. Luckily, I was in the system long enough to qualify for a small pension. I went back into private practice which, again proved to be a tough way to make a living and save for the future. Funny thing, Uncle Sam wants his share up front and he really isn’t sympathetic as to whether or not anyone else gets theirs. We realized it was time to find another job with a pension and along came a job with the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Fortunately, I stayed there long enough to qualify for another small pension before I was retired for health reasons. The voters were sick and tired of me. Luckily for me I was just two months away from collecting Social Security. Also, during our married lives, we did okay on various houses and pieces of property we bought and sold in addition to flipping a house just like on tv. During our marriage we always lived within our means and, in spite of my impulsivity, made wise decisions regarding how to get the best return on our investments.
The point is, a church is like a marriage in many ways. There are good times and bad. Prosperous times and lean times. There are periods of growth and times when it looks like you aren’t getting anywhere or even going backwards. There are times, when so many opportunities present themselves you don’t know which way to go, and at other times it seems like you are out of options and at a standstill just hoping for a break. Sometimes the future is so bright you have to wear shades, and other times all you see are storm clouds on the horizon.
This is what the Apostle Paul was talking about in our scripture reading for today. The church was doing good in some parts of the region but in other areas there were great struggles and financial difficulties confronting some congregations. He was asking the church in Corinth to step up to the plate and give generously for the benefit of the other churches so, in the long run, the greater mission of God’s church on earth could be achieved. The church in Jerusalem was really struggling financially and needed help badly. Paul pointed out to the church in Corinth that the church in Macedonia went above and beyond in answering the call. The Macedonian church was very poor and they were being tested by many problems but when Paul asked them to help they voluntarily gave even more than they could afford. They even begged for the privilege of sharing in this service for the saints. Paul points out that they even exceeded their expectations, because they gave themselves to the Lord first and then to them, consistent with God’s will. As a result, Paul challenged Titus to finish this work of grace with them the way he had started it. The church in Macedonia had raised the bar of Christian giving, love and charity and Paul wanted them to respond accordingly.
Even two thousand years ago it took money to run a church and advance the mission of Jesus Christ. And that was before sanctuaries, fellowship halls, parsonages, and parking lots. Churches then and churches now depend upon sacrificial giving. Some churches even then were poor like many churches today, but they still wanted to help and do their part. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Give until it hurts”. This doesn’t apply to Christian giving. We give because we want to and because we love to when we know it will advance the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Paul laid out four principles of giving for the Corinthian church. He tells them that each person should follow through on their previous promises and that each person should give as much as they are able. That’s the point of sacrificial giving. Your giving must be responsible but, at the same time, you still have to take care of your other obligations and those who depend upon you for support. Each person must make up their own mind how much to give and should be guided, in part, by what God has given them. God gives to us so we can give to others when they are in need.
The point of giving is not so much the amount we give. In fact, John Wesley said in 1785, “When you do what you can, you do enough.” What matters as Christians is why and how we give. God does not want our gifts to be given grudgingly. Rather, he wants us to give as the church in Macedonia did, out of dedication to Christ, love for fellow believers, the joy of helping those in need, as well as the fact that it is simply the good and right thing to do. Most believers would not want their growth in faith, knowledge, or love to stop at a certain level. The same is true about how and why you give. As you mature in your faith you begin to better understand how you can use your time, talents and tithes to advance the mission of the church. True discipleship includes growing in the mature use of all resources, so our giving should expand as well. God gives us the desire and enables us to increase our capacity to give. We must be careful not to miss these opportunities for growth. Our generosity does not depend on the size of our bank accounts. It depends on our readiness to open our hearts for the needs of others and to share what we have with them.
Decades ago, the people who put everything they had into the building of Community United Methodist Church made an investment in the future. We, you and me, are the results of that investment. We are the return on their investment. They did what they had to do with the knowledge that the kingdom of God spreads through the believer’s concern and eagerness to help others. You can just imagine how pleased the saints must be with all you have done since then and with all you are doing now to help the hopeless. They are eagerly watching to see what you do next.
We don’t do what we do expecting that these people we reach out to and help will eventually come to our church. We do it because we want to help and, as an unintended consequence, people will see what we are doing and want to become a part of what we do and who we are. Making a difference in the lives of others, that’s the return on our investment.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, how grateful we are to be faithful members of your church. Create in us a loving and giving heart as we look for ways to serve those who are suffering and wandering in the darkness of a world without hope. Help us to understand that our efforts to give what we can, when we can does bring relief and comfort to those who are suffering needlessly. You have been so good and loving to us when we do not deserve the mercy, joy and grace you have bestowed upon us. How fortunate we are that you do not expect us to pay it back, that you only expect us to pay it forward. We know, that because your son lives, we can face tomorrow. Because Jesus lives, all fear is gone, and because we know he holds the future our life is worth the living just because he lives. Amen.