Monday, June 29, 2009

Sermon for 28 June 2009, Proper 8B

The Rev. Paul J Cain
2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15
No Lack
Proper [8] B, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 28 June 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It was one of those things a person would never forget. I was serving a vacancy, leading Sunday Morning Divine Service, and it was time for the offering. The congregation had a tradition of filling out attendance pads in the pews before the offering. While they were being collected (with the offering) by the ushers, I stood on the step of the chancel with the offering plates. A little girl—no older than 3—leaned out into the aisle. While the ushers (and her parents) weren’t looking, she darted toward the front of the church. She had a quarter she wanted to give to the Lord, and she didn’t want to wait. I crouched down, bringing the offering plate to her level. Smiling, she put in her quarter. Nobody was embarrassed that morning. And of course, she didn’t get into any trouble. There were smiles as she slowly walked back to mom & dad. It was the best stewardship lesson the congregation had ever seen. That little girl understood what St. Paul shares this morning, as we overhear a portion of his second letter to the Corinthian congregation.

1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.
The wealth we have is not only financial. Think of the possessions you already have that could be of better use to someone else. What talents or skills could you share for the Lord’s work? These days, our most precious possession is time. Visiting a shut-in or teaching a child costs you nothing, but means everything to them.
Generosity. Remember Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? This is not Ebenezer Scrooge at the beginning, but Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of the story.
Christians in Macedonia gave according to their means, as the Lord prospered them. If they earned less, they gave less. If they earned more, they gave more. This is first-fruits giving.
They even gave beyond their means. This is known as sacrificial giving. Eating out one fewer time, giving up one expensive cup of coffee, buying one less CD or DVD—it may be small to us, but those things can make a big difference.
They were begging Paul for the opportunity to help. Such a wonderful example and encouragement to us! They got it. They understood why the Lord had made them stewards of His gifts. They were blessed in order to be a blessing. They knew the Church had expenses every month, every week, every day. They made sure those things and people in need were provided for.
They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to Christians in need. We give our offerings to the Lord, yet always remember that everything is already His. We give our offerings to the Lord, yet technically, He has no need of them—but His work does.
In the next chapter, Paul speaks to those who are reluctant. Listen to 2 Cor. 9:6-15 (ESV) The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."
10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
Not reluctantly, Paul says. Faith is not reluctant, but generous with talents and time, as well.
Not under compulsion. This is an important corrective for the church today. Guilt can be very effective. Compulsion is a terrorist act. People will do just about anything with a gun to their head. Instead, Paul urges people to give…
Cheerfully. Here is faith at work. Giving as we have been given to. Faith, living and active, living in and responding to the Gospel.

We should take note that in the New Testament, tithing—giving 10%—is not commanded, but we also know that it is never forbidden! We have such incredible examples of this practice, even in our day, going all the way back to Abraham. In addition, we should consider the promises of God: “whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

We sing this Biblical theology regularly!
We give Thee but Thine own,
What e’er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from Thee.
May we Thy bounties thus
As stewards true receive
And gladly, as Thou blessest us,
To Thee our first fruits give!

A stewardship definition commonly used throughout the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is this: “Christian Stewardship is the free and joyous activity of the child of God and God’s family, the church, in managing all of life and life’s resources for God’s purposes.”

Scripture teaches that:
1) God’s stewards are God’s stewards.
2) God’s stewards are managers, not owners.
3) God’s stewards are saints and sinners.
4) God’s stewards are uniquely singular, yet profoundly plural.
5) God’s stewards are in the world, but not of the world.
6) God’s stewards are loved and loving.
7) God’s stewards are served and serving.
8) God’s stewards live with an awareness of the present and the future, of time and eternity.

This is nothing new to you, the members of Immanuel Lutheran Church. The hymn (TLH 441, LSB 781) has taught our hearts, minds, and lips what Holy Scripture says about time, treasure, and talent. All too often a conversation about stewardship focuses only on money. We should practice what we sing, “first fruits” giving.
A congregational garage sale to benefit our school is also a reminder of that, as well as an opportunity to give “over and above” our “first fruits” giving. We are to give not only of our income, but also from what we already have. Everyone has useful, but not worn-out “stuff” taking up space at home. Giving those things to the Lord (or to a neighbor in need) helps in two ways. First, we remember that we are stewards, not owners, of all that we have. What we have is to be used in the Lord’s service, and we serve our Lord by serving even the least among us. Second, we are reminded that “stuff” is just “stuff.” Possessions have a way of distracting us from God. Accumulating “stuff” can become an unhealthy (and idolatrous) end in itself. When we remember our Lord, our neighbor, and our treasure in heaven, we can let go of the “stuff.” Only the Word of the Lord endures forever.
We can’t take the “stuff” with us when the Lord calls us home, but we will always have His Word. Therefore, we should tell the Good News about Jesus as we have opportunity, so that our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and classmates will be there with us in heaven.
This is our stewardship of the Gospel. Sometimes we treat the Gospel as only a possession. Yes, it is ours to hold onto, and we should. We should hold on to Jesus for dear life and eternal life. And, we should remember that there is always enough of Him to go around. He wants us to share Him. He wants us to invite others to Church. God wants us to tell the Good News about Jesus and His love.

St. Paul always keeps Jesus in focus—at the center. This is important because believers need what Jesus gives—the grace, love, and riches of God.
We need what Jesus gives because of our poverty as poor, miserable sinners. According to our human nature, we are unloving. And even as Christians, we are at the same time sinful and justified in the eyes of God. When we hear St. Paul’s good advice about God-pleasing generosity, we are again convicted of our sin. We need to hear the Gospel—the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
8I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich…
Two weeks ago, the Gospel, the “great exchange,” was described in terms of green trees becoming dry and dry trees becoming green. Today you hear that Jesus left the riches of heaven to be made flesh for you, so that you, by His poverty might become rich. By His wounds, you are healed, Isaiah would say.
Think about your sins as a permanent police record. Your rap sheet is a mile long, yet here comes Jesus who crosses out your name and puts His own there. He then takes His blank police record and puts your name there. . 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich…

The mother of a nine-year-old boy named Mark received a phone call in the middle of the afternoon. It was the teacher from her son's school.
"Mrs. Smith, something unusual happened today in your son's third-grade class. Your son did something that surprised me so much that I thought you should know about it immediately." The mother began to grow worried.
The teacher continued, "Nothing like this has happened in all my years of teaching. This morning I was teaching a lesson on creative writing. And as I always do, I tell the story of the ant and the grasshopper:
"The ant works hard all summer and stores up plenty of food. But the grasshopper plays all summer and does no work. Then winter comes. The grasshopper begins to starve because he has no food. So he begs, 'Please Mr. Ant, you have much food. Please let me eat, too.' “Then I said, "Boys and girls, your job is to write the ending to the story."
"Your son, Mark, raised his hand.’Teacher, may I draw a picture?'
“‘Well, yes, Mark, if you like, you may draw a picture. But first you must write the ending to the story.'
"As in all the years past, most of the students said the ant shared his food through the winter, and both the ant and the grasshopper lived. A few children wrote, 'No, Mr. Grasshopper. You should have worked in the summer. Now I have just enough food for myself.' So the ant lived and the grasshopper died.
"But your son ended the story in a way different from any other child, ever. He wrote, 'So the ant gave all of his food to the grasshopper; the grasshopper lived through the winter. But the ant died.'
"And the picture? At the bottom of the page, Mark had drawn three crosses." (Pause)
8I say this not as a command, [Paul writes,] but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich…

Jesus love for you is genuine. He gives you His gifts regularly. For example, in the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer we pray: Give us this day our daily bread.
What does this mean? God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

St. Paul concludes: 13I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
As the Lord provided Manna to His people in the wilderness, know that with the Lord as your shepherd, you shall not want—you shall lack nothing you truly need . And neither shall your neighbor in need or the Lord’s work. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.