(2 Corinthians 9: 6-15)
One of my favorite movies was the 1993 hit Schindler’s List starring Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley based upon the life story of Oskar Schindler. Schindler was a German industrialist and a member of the Nazi Party who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories during World War Two. When the war started his intentions and motives were not altruistic or humanitarian. He was an opportunist bent on making as much money off the Nazi war machine as possible. He employed Jews because they were cheaper to use than Polish laborers as the wages were set by the occupying Nazi regime. As the Nazis stepped up their efforts to eliminate the Jewish population, Schindler had to give Nazi officials ever larger bribes and gifts of luxury items obtainable only on the black market to keep his cheap labor safe. By the end of the war he had spent his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases of supplies for his workers. The turnabout for Schindler came when he witnessed the liquidation of Jews in the Jewish ghetto and was appalled. He now saw them as a people who needed help. From that time forward, Schindler’s mind was changed regarding the Nazis and he made the conscious decision to get out and save as many Jews as he could. A commitment that could get him killed. He could have just as easily said, “not my people, not my problem.” In addition to his own workers, Schindler also arranged for the transfer of as many as 3,000 Jewish women out of Auschwitz to small textile plants in the Sudetenland in an effort to increase their chances of surviving the war. He expanded his reach, his outreach, his mission field. After the war, he was given a gold ring that carried the inscription, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” Writer Herbert Steinhouse, who interviewed Schindler in 1948, wrote that “Schindler’s exceptional deeds stemmed from just that elementary sense of decency and humanity that our sophisticated age seldom sincerely believes in. A repentant opportunist saw the light and rebelled against the sadism and vile criminality all around him.”
I know Hollywood takes artistic license with these true stories, but one of the scenes that stuck with me, was towards the end, when the Nazis were ramping up their liquidations, he started going through his personal items like cufflinks, watches, pins and the like saying they were valuable and could be sold or traded for another life or two. He saw the items as things he didn’t need that could be better used to save a life, just one more life.
That giving from the heart, that giving based on a sense of decency and humanity, that giving based upon the love of God, and for God, is what the Apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning. He starts out by saying that if you sow sparingly, you will reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will reap generously. Paul is encouraging the reader to give generously with the assurance that they will get back much more than they gave. Paul says, everyone should give whatever they have decided in their own heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver. And, in doing so, Paul assures us that God has the power to provide us with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, he says, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. He quotes Psalm 112: 9 which says, He scattered everywhere; he gave to the needy; his righteousness remains forever.
Paul goes on to explain that God has given us resources to use and invest for Him. These gifts are not to be hidden, foolishly devoured, or thrown away. Instead, they should be cultivated in order to produce more crops. The lesson being that, when we invest what God has given us in his work, he will provide us with even more to give in his service.
I just finished reading a book entitled: 8 Virtues of Rapidly Growing Churches and chapter 5, the fifth virtue is: Rapidly Growing Churches Elevate the Practice of Giving. This is what Paul is talking about when he talks about investing what God has given us in his work and that God will, consequently, provide us with even more to give in his service, to take it to the next level. Just look at how much our mission effort has grown in the last two years as an example. The author says that what churches believe about generosity matters greatly, but how they live out that belief perhaps matters more. I can tell you that during our forty plus years of marriage Teresa and I have gone to some much larger churches that don’t come near to doing the level of mission work that is being done by Community United Methodist Church. I think we recognize the core principle that people want to give to something that is exciting, something that is making an impact, something that is visibly connected to changing lives. The author says that God has hard-wired us to give, and when we operate in a manner that is consistent with our creation, good things happen in our life. I know I feel good about what we are doing, and I can say good things are happening in the life of our church. The point the author is trying to make in this virtue is that rapidly growing churches connect giving to concrete change in the lives of people, the why. I firmly believe we are on the right track.
We’re currently studying The Wesley Challenge in our Sunday morning Learning Circle and last week we examined the question: “Do I pray about what I spend? This was one of the 21 questions John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist denomination, would ask his congregation. Even then, Wesley saw the great disparity between the wealthy and the poor. The poverty and suffering were beyond comprehension and he realized that, with just a little bit of giving, a huge difference could be made in the daily lives of the suffering. We asked ourselves what we thought “give us this day our daily bread meant? We decided it meant that God would provide for our daily needs, which then begged the question; what should we do with the excess? Wesley, in his lifetime, gave away 30,000 pounds. I figured that out once and I don’t remember if that was the equivalent of a million dollars or three million dollars in today’s world, but either way, it was a lot. He instructed his people to gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. He was telling his people to work hard, be industrious and, in doing so, save all they could so they could provide for themselves and, once that was done, to give all they could to help others. He believed in sowing generously.
As individuals, we give so the church can conduct business and carry on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As a church, we encourage our congregations to tithe and give generously. What if we applied Wesley’s philosophy to the church; gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can? As a church, I think we’ve done pretty good in gaining all we can. We’ve been industrious. Our pledges are strong and sustainable. We’re renting out our parsonage and frontage property, and we’ve made our facilities available to outside groups for a reasonable fee. We’ve invested and saved wisely to where we can support and improve our infrastructure all-the-while supporting the larger United Methodist Church. We have a cash reserve that should help us cope with unexpected emergencies and contingencies. But what about giving as a church? Overall, as a congregation, I think we’ve done an amazing job of contributing when called upon. We have risen to the occasion time and time again when a call goes out for disaster relief raising thousands of much needed dollars. There is no hesitation whatsoever when a need arises locally whether it is one of the food banks, Center Valley Animal Rescue, ECHHO (Ecumenical Christian Helping Hands Organization) or OlyCAP (Olympic Community Action Program). Our in-kind contributions are immeasurable. You can’t put a price on the food we’ve collected, the Socktober clothing month, the scarves we’ve made, the hygiene kits we hand out, the Rebuild Up From the Ashes mission trip we made to Okanogan County, and the fire starters, just to name a few. But I do think this coming year we need to examine other areas in which we can turn our attention. UMCOR, United Methodist Committee On Relief, is in constant need of funds and not just when a natural disaster hits. Maybe we should look at a regular monthly contribution out of what we receive each month through our pledges and Sunday offerings on top of our mission of the month. What else is out there?
We should model ourselves after the little church in Macedonia that gave as much as they were able, even beyond their ability, and plead for the privilege of serving. The Apostle Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 7: 12 when he said: For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. We are willing, and our gifts are acceptable in the Lord’s sight.
Please pray with me.
Most loving and compassionate God, elevate us, lift us up as your people to see the needs of your people who are suffering and searching. We are willing, the willingness is there, move us to use the gifts we have to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate, a difference that will say to them that they are loved by not only you God, but by brothers and sisters who care for them deeply. Gracious God, we are so thankful for all you have bestowed upon us, your children, and we are eternally thankful for the opportunity to give what we have to others in the name of your loving son, Jesus Christ, Amen.