(2 Corinthians 8: 1-15)
It’s that time of year when we begin to wonder, and even worry, what we’re going to give our loved ones for Christmas. And, to add to that worry, all the good stuff is sitting on cargo ships just out of our reach. We’re hearing all about the supply chain being disrupted and the shelves being bare for the upcoming holiday season. And, to make matters worse, the price of what will make it to the shelves will without a doubt go up. It’s the law of supply and demand. Me personally, there really isn’t anything I truly need other than world peace, which I ask for every birthday and Christmas. Apparently, it too is in high demand but out of stock. However, I do enjoy giving to the ones I love and am filled with joy when the gift is received with genuine gratitude and thanks. It really is better to give than receive as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Acts 20: 35 of what Jesus had previously said about the rewards of generous giving.
And it’s that giving with a thankful heart that the Apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture reading for today. Paul was writing to the Christian church in Corinth that had previously pledged financial assistance for the struggling church in Jerusalem that was facing all sorts of problems, one of which was how to care for all the poor and needy they had in their congregation, like widows and orphans. Apparently, they had made a pledge but had not yet followed through on actually giving it. The Apostle starts out by saying: Brothers and sisters we want to let you know about the grace of God that was given to the churches of Macedonia. While they were being tested by many problems, their extra amount of happiness and their extreme poverty resulted in a surplus of rich generosity. Paul is telling them about the amazing reception he got when he visited the Macedonian churches in the cities of Thessalonica, Berea, and Philippi in his effort to raise money for the Jerusalem churches. As Paul knew that these churches were poor and had many problems of their own, he realistically didn’t expect much. But he was pleasantly surprised when they gave generously and sacrificially with an attitude of joy and eagerness. He says: I assure you that they gave what they could afford and even more than they could afford, and they did it voluntarily. Not only that he tells them: They urgently begged us for the privilege of sharing in this service for the saints. They even exceeded our expectations, because they gave themselves to the Lord first and to us, consistent with God’s will. Paul is urging them to be the best in this work of grace in the same way that they are the best in their faith, speech, knowledge, total commitment, and love. The Corinthian church was flourishing, and Paul wanted them to pay it forward. He’s telling them that their collection is marked by grace as it is prompted and sanctioned by God, who stirs believers to contribute generously and with a thankful heart. He assures them that by no means is he giving them any sort of order. He just wants to prove the authenticity of the love for others in Christ who became poor, became human just like us, so that one day we would be rich in his love and grace. He emphasizes that: A gift is appreciated because of what a person can afford, not because of what that person can’t afford, if it’s apparent that it’s done willingly. That appreciation was shown to me as I was writing this sermon earlier this week when a young woman we’ve been helping out came by the church to pick up some of the toddler clothing a few people in our congregation purchased willingly out of the goodness of their hearts, and not because they had to. The young woman was overwhelmed by the loving generosity of some Christian women she hasn’t, nor may ever, meet. Just like the poor in Jerusalem were helped by the generosity of the Macedonian and Corinthian churches. Paul goes on to explain that it’s a matter of equality where those who are blessed financially can help out those who are struggling. He tells them that their present surplus can fill the deficit of another church in need so that in the future that church’s surplus can fill their deficit should they ever need help. It’s a matter of churches helping each other out so the common mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world can be more easily accomplished. He says that in this way there is equality and references Exodus 16: 18 when he says: The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little.
Paul is stressing equality among believers so that no one church has too much or too little. And the point of giving is not so much the amount we give, but why and how we give. God does not want us to give grudgingly. Instead, he wants us to give as these churches 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. I honestly believe that Community United Methodist Church exemplifies this gracious giving in all that we do. We really are dedicated to Jesus Christ and have a deep love for our fellow believers, the members of our congregation and beyond. And, if you’ve even casually been paying attention, we do find pure Christian joy in helping the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and we know deep within our souls that it is the right thing to do. It’s what Jesus would do. The kingdom of God spreads through believers’ concern and eagerness to help others. We all share in that concern and our eagerness to help wherever we can is truly amazing as we draw our strength and motivation from the Holy Spirit.
So here is where we need your help. This is the time of the year in the Methodist Church when we ask our congregations to pray on what they believe they can graciously give to the church for the upcoming year so we can budget and plan accordingly. Keep in mind that it is just a pledge, and we understand that during the course of the year things may change and we realize that. That’s what Paul meant when he was talking about those times when you can give out of your plenty while others give what they can during their times when things are tight. If the past two years of COVID restrictions have taught us nothing else, it’s those personal obligations and priorities that need to be met first. But during it all you have been faithful in your support whether in prayers, time, or tithes. Speaking on behalf of your church leadership, I can truly say how much we appreciate your support of what we do here in this community and as far as we can reach in Jesus’ name.
When people in the community hear about what we are doing in the mission field they often ask me how big my congregation is, and when I tell them, they are truly amazed. I firmly believe we are able to do what we do as we are growing in our discipleship through the mature and wise use of all our resources. We understand that this generosity is the natural result of sincere love, a love sincerely extended to us by Jesus Christ. So as our discipleship expands our giving expands as well. We see the livability issues in our community as opportunities for growth in our church. Growth not so much in numbers, although we have had several join our ranks because of our mission engagement, but growth in our spiritual holiness as we work to live Christ-like lives in all that we do. God has blessed us financially and it is good when we can throw money at a problem when and where it is needed. But God really loves it when he sees us throw ourselves at a problem, when we go hands-on. It’s because Jesus first loved us that we do what we do with a thankful heart.
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving God, take our lives and let them be consecrated to thee in all that we do. And take our moments and our days and let them flow in ceaseless praise for all that you have done for us. Take our hands and let them move at the impulse of your love to do your work and your will here on earth. Take our silver and our gold, not a mite would we withhold as all we have is a gift from you to be generously used in your service for the benefit of others. Take us Lord and we will be ever, only, all for thee. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.