2 Corinthians 8:1-4, 7-15
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. I assure you that they gave what they could afford and even more than they could afford, and they did it voluntarily. They urgently begged us for the privilege of sharing in this service for the saints.
Be the best in this work of grace in the same way that you are the best in everything, such as faith, speech, knowledge, total commitment, and the love we inspired in you. I’m not giving an order, but by mentioning the commitment of others, I’m trying to prove the authenticity of your love also. You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although he was rich, he became poor for our sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty.
I’m giving you my opinion about this. It’s to your advantage to do this, since you not only started to do it last year but you wanted to do it too. Now finish the job as well so that you finish it with as much enthusiasm as you started, given what you can afford. 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. It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties, but it’s a matter of equality.
At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way there is equality. As it is written, The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little.
Not long ago I heard a story about a circus ringmaster who claimed to be the strongest man in every town he visited. He had a standing offer of $1,000 to anyone who could squeeze the last drop out of a lemon.
The ringmaster would squeeze and squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass and then hand the lemon rind to a contender. Anyone who could squeeze just one drop of juice would get the $1,000.
Many would try it–there were body builders, ironworkers, farmers, and athletes; but no one could get another drop out of the lemon.
Then one day a small, soft-spoken, rather non-assuming woman came in to try to squeeze the lemon. “I can squeeze a drop out of that lemon,” she said. Well, everyone started laughing and then the ringmaster said, “O.k.,” So, he grabbed a fresh lemon and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed until every drop of lemon juice ran into a glass.
He handed the lemon remains over to the woman and she grabbed a hold of the lemon and gave it her best squeeze.
The laughter faded as one, two, three big drops of lemon juice plunged into the glass. The silence turned to cheers. The ringmaster handed over the $1,000, then asked, “How in the world did you do that? A hundred people have tried and failed. What in the world do you do for a living?”
“Nothing to it,” the woman said. “I do it every day. I’m a church treasurer!”
What we have from our Scripture today is some advice from the Apostle Paul about the eagerness, the faithfulness and the generosity of our giving.
The background of today’s letter to the Corinthian church is that there is a famine going on in Jerusalem and the Jewish Christians there are suffering. The Apostle Paul had begun a relief fund a year before writing this letter and the Corinthians had been generously giving offerings to that fund.
Unfortunately, their initial enthusiasm was waning and so Paul includes in this letter a plea to complete what they have started, saying, “Now finish the job as well so that you finish it with as much enthusiasm as you started, given what you can afford.”
The Corinthian church was giving their resources for Christians in Jerusalem whom they have likely never met. And that is probably the hardest kind of giving…giving to people we may never meet and ministries and projects we may never see.
So, in many ways our passage today is the Apostle Paul’s stewardship sermon! It seems that the issue of stewardship is as old as the church.
Paul does not threaten or coerce or command or manipulate in this sermon.
He also does not use common fundraising techniques—there is no six-foot thermometer indicating that they have achieved a certain level of giving. There are no selling bricks of the building with the giver’s name engraved on them. What Paul does is advice and stress that the people of the church should give out of what they have and not try to give what they do not have.
He then talks about the “eagerness” to give and having an “equality” between those who have much and those who have little.
He does not ask the Corinthians to give so sacrificially that the roles are reversed and they are left with not enough.
In many ways, Paul is saying that it is not so much about what we have, but it is about what we do with what we have that makes a difference in our faith and a difference in the lives of others.
Paul is trying to teach that our giving is a response to God’s grace, not an obligation. And he makes it clear that grace-giving does not produce equal gifts, but does produce equal seeking of how we will give from what we have. Grace-giving is not a matter of equal capacity to give, but it is a matter of equal opportunity to give.
Paul says, “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.”
The tricky part of that is figuring out what we can afford and give willingly. And I believe that gets more difficult when we are putting our resources into things we can’t necessarily physically see.
As we enter into our Hope Is Our Future capital building and annual stewardship campaign, we are not going to see a new building or major remodeling happen like was seen three and four years ago. But we will see debt reduced on our church building and we won’t be running around to find buckets and barrels to catch the water coming through older areas of the roof every time it rains.
And if you are not in the church building on a regular basis or involved in ministries that reach outside the walls of our building, you may not see tangible differences from week to week. But you will feel when the energy bills are paid because you will know if there is not heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.
But more than anything else, when we give with a spirit of generosity in our building and annual giving, we will see relationships grow with God and with one another and we will see lives transformed because of the ministries within this church and the ministries our giving supports in our communities and literally around the world.
In business, it is often said that hope is not a strategy. And while that may be true in business, in our life of faith, hope in God through Christ, makes a difference for us. Hope can make a transforming difference when we think and act on H.O.P.E. as our plan of ministry acronym of Hospitality, Offering Christ, Purposeful living, and Engaging the community.
My prayer is that hope is our motivation for giving with a spirit of generosity as the Apostle Paul tells us it was for the Corinthians in their giving and as it has been the motivation of the faithful people of this church over the 171 years of our existence.
Paul is clear that the giving of the people in the early church was the outward expression of their inward relationship with God. Paul says, “They even exceeded our expectations, because they gave themselves to the Lord first and to us, consistent with God’s will.”
Giving to God first with the understanding that everything we have is a gift from God is a mindset and a lifestyle that Jesus preached, that the Apostle Paul stressed, and that people like John Wesley, our founder of Methodism, modeled.
When speaking on matters of generosity, John Wesley was known for saying, “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”
Early in his adult life, John Wesley was a university teacher in England in the 1700’s. When he began his career he was paid 30 pounds per year. His living expenses were 28 pounds, so he gave two pounds away.
The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he gave away 32 pounds. The third year, he earned 90 pounds, lived on 30, and gave away 60. One year his income was a little over 1,400 pounds; he lived on 40 pounds and gave away well over 1,300 pounds.
Wesley felt that with increasing income, what should rise is not his standard of living but his standard of giving.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to learn from the giving of the Macedonian church and how their overflowing joy in giving had welled up in rich generosity.
If we really think about it, I’m sure we can all think of persons in our lives who are known for their spirit of generosity and the ways they give proportionately from what they have been blessed with.
I inherited many life lessons from my grandparents. One of the lessons my father’s parents taught me as a teenager that I have carried on as a spiritual discipline in my life, is having a “Kingdom Account.”
A Kingdom Account is money that I intentionally set aside for the sole purpose of giving away above and beyond my regular giving, to advance the love and generosity of God in some small way. The way it was taught to me was that each time I received my allowance or my paycheck, I would deposit some money in my Kingdom Account. I started out 40-some years ago by taking 50 cents from each week’s allowance. When I started working and still today, I take $20 from each paycheck and put it in my Kingdom Account.
I also add to the account when I purchase an item that costs over $100. I was taught that if I was going to purchase something that cost $100 or more, to wait until I had 10 percent over the cost of the item until I bought it.
Then the additional 10 percent goes into the Kingdom Account. Now, when it came to purchasing my car and my house and I did not have the option to wait until I had an extra 10 percent to make those purchases, I made a donation to my Kingdom Account.
Over the years, I have used the account to help or inspire others. And many times it’s in fun ways. For instance, it’s fun to simply carry some Kingdom money with me and buy the meal for the family standing in line in front of me at MacDonald’s or give the waiter or waitress a $20 tip when I only ordered a piece of pie.
When it comes to my giving to our Hope Is Our Future campaign, I will draw from my Kingdom Account as part of my giving.
So, in the spirit of giving and as the Apostle Paul says, “the privilege of sharing,” I’m going to give away some Kingdom Account money.
Now, this may be the first time you have experienced the pastor inviting the ushers to pass the offering plates and invite you to take money out of the plate, but that’s what I’d like you to do.
As the plates are passed, I invite you to take a dollar out of the plate. Now I realize it is only a dollar, but the challenge is to see what you can do with that dollar over the course of our Hope Is Our Future campaign.
You may choose to do nothing with your dollar or you may choose to have a little fun. You could match your dollar every day of the four weeks of our campaign and add that to your giving. You could invite family and friends to also match that dollar to grow the giving. You may really choose to stretch your spiritual discipline and calculate what matching that dollar every day for the three years of our building campaign will be (which is 1,095) and then pledge that as a match when you fill out your building commitment card.
It seems like this is something even our children and youth could do. The possibilities are endless of how we can let a single dollar inspire our spirit of generosity. Like the church treasurer squeezing that lemon for one more drop…see what you can squeeze out of a dollar!
Giving is a generous and grace-filled ministry to which we are called. When we have a spirit of generosity we can hold all things, including our abundance, lightly, and when it’s time to let go, we do so freely. We are not owners, only stewards.
May we allow God’s love and generosity to be our vision for giving.
May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.