We Believe: Generosity

2Cor. 8:1    We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia;  2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means,  4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—  5 and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us,  6 so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you.  7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

2Cor. 8:8    I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.  9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.  10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—  11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.  12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.  13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.  15 As it is written,

            “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8: 1-15

We want you to know about the grace of God that has been granted.  It’s about grace—freely received.  God is the giver.  It is because God gives that we believe.  And it is because we believe that we respond.  How  are we to respond?  We began two weeks ago on our stewardship series, ‘We Believe’, with a wee little man—a curious chap that ran and climbed—because he was trying to see who Jesus was.  Seeing—receiving grace—how does he respond?  For we are all short in stature—even in sycamore trees—when Jesus comes by. 

Paul is appealing to the church in Corinth.  I like that he sends someone else—he is going to talk to them about money.  I get it…yeah, I am busy that day, so Rebecca—could you talk to the church about pledging?  I only say this half joking.  It is hard to talk about money.  I have sat around many a table where the conversation went something like, “I quit going to church because every time I do go—the pastor is always talking about money.”  To be fair—some of this criticism is well warranted.  One of these stories is from one of my best friends who challenged his elders when they were talking again about a capital campaign.  It was well understood that this was a formula—a way to keep membership engaged with something tangible.  This particular capital improvement was to increase the size of the steeple.  My friend challenged asking if there were better ways to be living out the mission of Christ—feeding the hungry—plus what was wrong with the steeple we have?”  The response that he received was because the church across town built one that was taller.” 

But much of the criticism speaks more about us as we must reflect, why is it that I don’t want to talk about money?  Why do we do what we do what we do?  The great commission—to share the good news from Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth is more than steeple envy.  As we strengthen our discipleship, we are called to be disciples building disciples building disciples.  And there is plenty of good news to share right here, in our own Judea. 

When Paul talks about excelling, he did not say excel in everything—building projects, million dollar organs, and the tallest steeples.  He says,  Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.”

Paul is like the great conductor helping the orchestra to excel.  Like a moving piece, he builds on his strengths.  He gives thanks for all that is going well.  And he artistically draws out the strengths as the cello’s crescendo to blend with the violins.  It is through the moving middle section that the whole orchestra plays as one as they song climaxes towards the finale.  As a great philharmonic, may we excel in the generous undertaking  of faith, speech, knowledge, our eagerness, and our love of Jesus Christ.             

God is the giver.  Our generosity is in response to the generosity in how we best know God—in Jesus Christ. 

I like how Paul moves from being implicit to being explicit beginning with “I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.” 

Paul calls it ‘testing the genuiness’ which is a way of asking, why do we give?  Why do we give gifts?  Do we give expecting something in return-for a response—for reciprocity?  Is it a means to an end—or an end in itself?  And we come back to grace—freely given—but not without great cost.  “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

It is the generous act of Jesus Christ that we are generous.  It is in Jesus Christ that we are here today.  It is in Jesus Christ that our Wednesday club gathers around table.  It is in Jesus Christ that we give of ourselves to walk together in the Crop Walk.  It is in Jesus Christ that Spirit of Life was founded in 1996.  It is in Jesus Christ that we Meet in the Middle every Wednesday.  We meet in the middle, young and old, sharing our story, reaching out.  We meet in the middle with an amazing confirmation class.  We meet in the middle as a youth group—digging deeper.  God is at work and doing something special.

And we are asked to share, to give—reciprocity in what God has already done.  We must pass this on. 

I close sharing one of my favorite stories.  After Christianity had become legal under Constantine and membership came with benefits—under Emperor Julian it became illegal again.  The synagogues were returned back into pagan temples, and it was under the threat of violent persecution—even death—that the people were ordered from denouncing their faith in Christ.  Yet exponentially, the number of people converting to following Christ was astounding.  Baffled, Emperor Julian sent out his most trusted guard to find out how this could be?  The soldiers after observing reported back to emperor Julian that their strength lie in their generosity towards strangers.  Julian tried imitation, but to no avail.  While imitation is the greatest form a flattery, The Roman Empire lacked the source of generosity.  Julian was baffled writing that these impious Christians support not only their own poor, but ours as well.” 

Generosity—our response to what God has already done and continues to do transforming lives.  Transforming lives right here.  Becoming poor so that we may be rich.  And rich indeed—together as one community.  Blessed and rich as we celebrate today our new member class.  Rich as we meet in the middle—founding members and our newest members—sharing together in our generosity by reaching outside of ourselves.  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen!

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