(2 Corinthians 9: 6-15)
Back when I was a practicing attorney the one thing I really enjoyed was trial work. I loved jury trials and it didn’t matter if I was the defense attorney or the prosecutor. I relished the opportunity to lock horns with opposing counsel anticipating their next move and being ready to spring to my feet exclaiming Objection! Relevance? To be an effective trial attorney you not only had to know how to get evidence in but also how to keep it out. If opposing counsel attempted to introduce something I thought would hurt my case I would look for a rule of evidence that I could use to either keep it out or limit its admissibility. Conversely, if there was something I wanted in that I knew the other side would object to I had to be ready to cite the evidentiary rule that allowed its admission. Weak trial attorneys try to sneak testimony or evidence in that they know helps their case or hurts my case that may not have anything at all to do with the case. I would see it coming and before the cat could get out of the bag I’d be on my feet yelling Objection! The judge would inquire as to the basis of the objection and I would respond that I didn’t see how the proffered evidence was relevant to the case or the issue at hand. The judge would then turn to opposing counsel and ask how the testimony was relevant and under what rule should it be admitted. If I really wanted to keep it out, if it was that damning, or if I really needed it in, I would also have some case law to back me up showing the court that another judge let similar evidence in and the admission was upheld on appeal or found inadmissible by the appellate court. Relevance can make or break your case.
Relevance can also make or break a church. One of the biggest complaints we hear about organized religion is that we just aren’t relevant anymore. They ask, why should I get up early on Sunday morning, shower and put on clean clothes, and waste my time going to a church that isn’t relevant? It’s tough. I know, I ask people to church and a common response I get is, I had a bad experience with organized religion, or, I worship God in my own way. So how do we get them to check us out? How do we generate interest? How do we get them out of their pajamas on Sunday morning? I believe the approach is multifaceted. Some that may be looking may check out our webpage. We have a new webpage that is informative and easy to navigate. If they like what they see they might do a drive-by. During the week I do see cars come in, drive slowly through the parking lot and then exit. We have to make a good first impression. We need to have curb appeal. The trustees have done a good job sprucing up the outside but there is more that can be done. If they do decide to give us a try some Sunday morning they need to be greeted in the parking lot, at the door and then be handed off to someone else who will offer them a cup of coffee, direct them to a seat and answer any questions they might have. Most importantly, get their name and contact information. Track me down and introduce me as the pastor. They’re looking to develop new relationships and to feed their spiritual needs. I’m real big on asking follow-up questions of somebody who has visited and returned for a second and third look. I know they’re church shopping so I want to know what it is about our church that brought them back. Based upon the responses I get, I think we’re on the right track. However, in order to get them to plant roots and get involved, we have to show them that what we do is relevant. Not only do we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, we practice it in how we relate to our community. To prove my point, I was talking with a person earlier this week who told me that they were not particularly religious, but seeing what we are doing in the community “makes me want to go to church”. We may be a group of people that they might want to get to know better someday.
When I read the scripture for today that’s the impression I got from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. He was talking about a group of people who were celebrating their relationship with God and would give anything and everything they had to enhance that relationship and make it available to everyone and anyone. Paul is writing to them about the rewards of giving. His point, he says, if that if you sow sparingly you will reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Were the Corinthians hesitating to give because they were worried about whether or not they’d have enough left over to meet their own needs? I think Paul senses this concern when he tells them that everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart and that they shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God, he tells them, loves a cheerful giver. Paul is telling them that a positive giving attitude is more important than the amount given. The person who can give only a small gift shouldn’t be embarrassed. That, I believe, is the beauty of our mini-missions. They provide you with the opportunity to give what you can when you can. If all you have in your pocket is seventeen cents you can still drop it in the cup and it, along with all the other spare change adds up. God is more concerned about how a person gives from his or her resources. I am reminded of the story in Mark that recounts the time when Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury observing how the crowd gave their money. He observed that many of the rich people were throwing in lots of money and making a show of it for all to see. He was struck by the poor widow who came forward and put in two small copper coins worth about a penny. He pointed out to his disciples that that poor widow put in more than everyone else who’s been putting money in. He told them that these people were giving of their spare change but the widow, from her hopeless poverty, gave all she had, even what she needed to live on.
Paul assures us that God has the power to provide us with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, he says, we will have everything we need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. Paul tells us that we will be made rich in every way so that we can be generous in every way. Such generosity, he points out, produces thanksgiving to God through us. Paul underscores this point by saying that your ministry of this service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs, but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God. They will give honor to God for your obedience to your confession of Christ’s gospel. Because of this, Paul says, they will also pray for you, and they will care deeply for you because of the outstanding grace that God has given to you.
God is pleased that we, who were created in his image, give generously and joyfully. God gives us resources to use and invest for him. When we invest what God has given us in his work, he will provide us with even more to give in his service. This point is borne out by all we have done just this year. In January, the Administrative Council approved my request that we support three non-profits financially. We decided on ECHHO, Food Bank and OlyCAP and they voted to send, once a month, a minimum $100.00 to one of the three on a rotating basis and allow the members of the congregation to supplement that amount. For the first ten months of this year we should have given $1,000.00. Through your generosity, we’ve given $2,502.07 and there are still two months to go. This doesn’t even include the money we collected for Rebuild: Up From the Ashes ($2,474.66) or Hurricane Harvey ($2,355.77) or Center Valley Animal Rescue ($359.50) and the items like tarps, blankets, toiletries and warm clothes collected for Bayside Housing and Services and the Tri-Area Food Bank. As we gave, we gained more. The more we gave it seemed like the more we were able to give.
Believers are called to be generous because of the example of Jesus’ life. This Christian generosity proves that a person’s heart has been cleansed of self-interest and filled with the servant spirit of Jesus Christ himself, which is why our acts of generosity result in God being praised.
Do our neighbors see Christian generosity in our actions? Do they give thanks to God for our efforts to be relevant and help the least, the last and the lost whenever and wherever we can? Does what we do make you want to get out of bed every Sunday morning and give thanks to God for the opportunity and privilege to be relevant in his service? I believe it does.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and wonderful God, how grateful we are for the privilege of doing your work here on earth and in our community. We know you love a cheerful giver and we thank you for showing us the many ways in which we can give of our tithes, time, and talents in your service. We pray that the many things we do in your name will cause people to praise you for your love, mercy and grace and, that by our actions, we will be able to lead people to you who are in desperate need of your love, compassion and forgiveness. Guide us with the Holy Spirit as we search for more ways in which we can make a positive impact upon the lives of others and sow the seeds of peace and love. In the name of your son, our savior, we pray, Amen.