Encouraging Generosity

Pastor Kim Gilliland
June 27, 2021 Pentecost 5
SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15
But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
2 Corinthians 8: 7 (NIV)

SHARING

Today’s reading is from 2 Corinthians 8. In this passage Paul addresses a real issue in the church. I want to take a few minutes to describe the context into which Paul is writing because context is important.

It appears that the church in Corinth is reasonably affluent. There is no indication that they are crazy wealthy but these is every indication that they have enough of what they need.

Another church, on the other hand, is struggling in many ways. The church in question is the church in Jerusalem. Why is it struggling? If you know the history of the Middle East, you will remember that in the year 70 AD which is just before Paul wrote this letter, Jerusalem decided it was time to rebel against Roman domination. That was not a good idea. It was also not the first time it had happened. Rome has shown some mercy and tolerance in the past but not this time. The mighty armies of Rome attacked Jerusalem, laid it to waste, ripped down its walls and gates, destroyed the Jewish temple and generally razed the city to the ground. They also took all the valuable back to Rome to fill its coffers and sold many of the nobles in slavery.

A little point of history here. Does anyone know what Rome did with all the wealth that they gained from looting Jerusalem and selling its citizens? Emperor Vespasian began building the Colosseum. It took ten years to finish it but a lion’s share of the funding came from the destruction of Jerusalem. So if you want to go home and Google the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the construction of the Colosseum, you will find that they both occurred in 70 AD. And that is no coincidence. Those events are closely linked.

The point of this is that while the church in Corinth is reasonably affluent, the church in Jerusalem – at least what is left of it – is destitute. The church was not spared when the armies of the Roman Empire looted the city. Anything the church or its members had was taken along with everything else.

Paul’s plan is to encourage the Christians in Corinth to support and assist their sisters and brothers Jerusalem. In the first part of chapter 8 we learn that Titus had been given the mission of collecting money from the various churches and taking it to Jerusalem. He had began to collect in Corinth but something had happened to knock that effort off the rails. In this letter Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to get back it.

To do that, Paul raises up another church that had done a splendid job of raising funds for Jerusalem. That church was the one in Macedonia which Paul references in 2 Corinthians 8:1. But the churches in Macedonia themselves are not wealthy. In fact, in verse 3, Paul talks about their most severe trial and their extreme poverty. But he also talks about how, even in the midst of their poverty, were filled with joy and “welled up in rich generosity.” Throughout the rest of this passage, Paul encourages the Christians in Corinth to act in the same way and follow the example of the Macedonians.

With that in mind, let’s read 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (NIV):

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

GENEROUSITY

As Christians, God calls us to be generous people. Generosity is part of faithfulness  not only for the churches in Corinth and Macedonia but for us as well. And to be clear, I am not just talking about money. We also are called to be generous with our time and talents. But today, let’s focus on the monetary aspect of our generosity because that is what Paul is talking about with the Christians in Corinth.

The first thing I want to say is that I have always been impressed by the generosity of the good people who call Cottam United Church their spiritual home. While we are certainly not flush with cash, God always seems to provide for the operation of our ministry through your generosity. Sometimes we don’t thank you folks enough for that so let me just now say thank you again for your generosity and faithfulness to this ministry.

A year ago, we no idea how Covid-19 would impact our finances but, looking back now at this past year, I think we can all say that things have worked out pretty well. While it’s true that our offerings were a little below the previous year’s our expenses were also lower. And when we add into that the government programmes for which we were eligible, it all balanced out quite nicely. It will be interesting, however, over the next year, to find out what will happen with our finances as we look to hire another music director and as government subsidies end. But I’m confident that God will continue to be faithful and so will you because what we do from this church for our community is important and appreciated by many.

Over the years Christians have shown themselves to be generous people. In fact, people of faith generally – and Christians in particular – are statistically far more generous than the average person in society. There are all kinds of studies that validate this conclusion. Most of them are from the United States where everything seems to be studied in detail. When you look over the information that is available, some very interesting trends develop.

One of them is that people of faith – and I’m including people of all faiths because that is how things are measured these day – give significantly more to charities than the non-religious. And the more religious a person is, the more generous they become. One recent study showed that religious people give more that twice as much to charities as the non-religious. And that, by the way, is not just in monetary donations. It’s also true of time. People of faith, on average, volunteer twice as many hours as those who are non-religious.

The other interesting thing is that while people of faith donate heavily to faith based charities such as churches, synagogues and mosques, they also are more generous than their non-religious neighbours when it comes to giving to secular charities as well.

That all means that there is something about generosity that is bound up within the DNA of Christians. It is implicit in who we are as people of faith. That’s not really surprising. As Christians we read a book called the Bible which is filled with examples of generosity. We worship our Lord Jesus Christ who was so generous that he was willing to freely give his own life for others. That is about as generous as anyone can be.

Generosity is also taught to us at a very young age. Many of us give offering envelopes to our children who give their offerings to the Sunday School. They get used to putting those envelopes in the offering baskets every week. In our house, when our children were growing up, Ruth and I always gave them their allowance in quarters, loonies and toonies. And every week, each child had to decide which of those coins they were going to save and which of those coins they were going to give away. They rest they could spend but they always had to save something and they always had to give something away.

No wonder we are a generous people and no wonder Cottam United Church has come through a global pandemic on fairly firm financial footings. You are a generous people and you are part of legacy of generosity that extends back to the very formation of the church 2,000 years ago.

GIVING FREELY WITH NO STRINGS ATTACHED

To encourage the Corinthians to be generous, Paul approaches them in some interesting ways. First of all in verse 7, he sort of butters them up. He reminds them of how they excel in so many things and then he segways from that into saying, “By the way, since you excel in so many things, why not just add generosity to the list? You might just as well excel in that as well.” Interesting tactic.

But then in verse 8, he switches gears and is very clear that, when it comes to generosity, he is not commanding the Corinthians to do anything. Paul does not believe in using pressure tactics when it comes to giving. He is not into religious extortionism. For Paul, generosity has to be done freely. He is not going to lay a guilt trip on anyone. And, most important, he is not going to treat anyone any differently based on how much they give or don’t give to the ministry.

That’s an important concept for the church to uphold. We should not – in fact, we cannot – treat others differently based on their financial contributions to our church. The amount of money someone contributes gives them no more say, no more influence and no more power than anyone else in the church.

I remember talking with a minister many years ago who illustrated this point perfectly. It seems that a couple in his church did not like the fact that there were babies in the congregation who would from time to time get fussy and start to cry during the worship. This couple thought it best to address the issue by visiting the minister in his office. They told him that did not like the fact that their worship was being disturbed by crying babies and that something had to be done. The minister tried to explain that the church was for everyone. He knew the babies this couple was talking about and he also knew that if the crying persisted that the parents did take the babies out of the sanctuary until they settled down. That seemed to be the right thing to do.

But the complaining couple was not satisfied. They did not want their worship interrupted by crying babies at all. In fact, they wondered why the babies were in worship anyway. There was a nursery and the parents should make use of it and just not bring babies into the sanctuary at all. The minister said that would not work because worship was for anyone.

At that point the husband of the couple pulled a cheque out his pocket –and handed it to the minister. “Will this help change your mind?” The minister looked at the cheque and couldn’t help notice that it was a substantial amount. “Sir,” he said, “I appreciate your offer but if I have to make a choice between your money and young families in our church, I will choose the families every time.” And he handed the cheque back.

While the cheque offered by the couple was generous from the standpoint that it was substantial, it was not given freely. It was given with strings attached and that is not the way that God wants us to offer our gifts.

THAT ALL MAY HAVE ENOUGH

But here’s an interesting question; What’s the purpose of generosity? Why worry about being generous in the first place? We get a glimpse of that in verses 13-15 (NIV) which say:

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

That’s an interesting passage that we need to unpack just a little because there is more here than meets the eye. It would be easy to read these verses and conclude that what they are saying is that wealth should be redistributed so that everyone shares in it equally. But that is not what is meant by equality in this passage. The Bible simply does not teach that. It acknowledges that there will be those who have more and those who have less. The Bible says that it is okay to pay some people more and some people less. It is okay to appropriately reward people who work harder and contribute more.

What not okay is when some people have too much and some people have too little. But that’s the situation that is referred to in this passage. The Christians in Corinth have a surplus and the Christians in Jerusalem have a deficiency. The church in Corinth has more that it needs and the church in Jerusalem does not have enough. In God’s economy that has to be balanced out. It’s not that they have to all have the same but that they all have to have enough. That is what Paul is getting at in these verses.

The equality that he is talking about is not about equality of resources but the equality of generosity. Right now the church in Corinth has more than it needs which means that it should share with the church in Jerusalem that does not have enough. Paul’s point in verse 14 is that things could easily one day be reversed. We don’t know what the future holds. Today the church in Corinth is called to be generous with the church in Jerusalem. A couple of years from now, it could be the church Corinth that is having problems and needing help from the church in Jerusalem. Basically Paul is asking the church in Corinth to generous so that, when they are in need, the church in Jerusalem will be generous with them.

God’s economy is not one of capitalism but neither is it one of socialism or communism or any other ism. Those are economic systems that we have created. God’s economy is different. It is an economy of sharing. God has blessed us in this world with enough resources to meet everyone’s basic needs for food, water, air, shelter and clothing. So why is it that there are so many who live in luxury while there are others who lack the basic necessities of life? That is not right. That is not the way that it is supposed to be. It is not God’s way. If we want to follow God’s plan, we need to practice generosity. We need to be willing to share what we have with those in need. And we need to trust God that, when we practice generosity, he will ensure that we also will have all that we need.

This is theme that we see meandering through Paul’s writings in the New Testament. In the last chapter of Philippians for example Paul, in prison in Rome, thanks the Christians in Philippi for their generosity. They have sent him gifts through Epaphroditus to help him during his imprisonment. Roman prison were brutal places where prisoners did not survived long without a benefactor on the outside. The Philippians came through and freely gave Paul what he needed. Because of that, Paul gives them a blessing in Philippians 4:19 (NIV) which says: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” What Paul is telling the Christians in Philippi is that because they have been generous in meeting his needs, he is confident that God, in his infinite generosity will supply everything that is needed in Philippi as well. Bottom line: as generous as we can be, we cannot outgive God.

Let us freely share with no strings attached what we have, of our time, of our talents, of our money to support the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ and with others who are in need. It is not important that every have the same things. But it is important in God’s economy that everyone have enough.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Heavenly Father, we walk this earth day by day receiving blessing upon blessing. We offer our thanks for your many gifts given freely to us out of your generosity and grace. We praise you and thank you for the beauty of summer, for bright flowers and rustling leaves, for clean water and refreshing swims, for lemonade and ice cream.

We thank you for our nation, for Canada Day which is coming up this week. Thank you for family activities and fireworks. Thank you, especially, for the freedom and prosperity that we enjoy. Our life style and peaceful existence are the envy of much of the world. Help us never to take these blessings for granted for they can quickly slip away. Enable us, also, to be generous in our gifts to others. We have so much. Help us to resist the temptation to hoard and bless us with the gift of sharing.

We remember, especially, those who give so much of themselves so that we can enjoy the freedoms that come from living in this great nation. Bless the members of the Canadian Forces as they put themselves in harms way for us all. Bless also our monarch Queen Elizabeth, our Acting Governor General Richard Wagner, our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Premier of Ontario Doug Ford. May they all serve and lead well and give the glory to you.

We give thanks for all of the work that has been done in the wake of Covid-19. We give thanks for quality medical care and front line workers, for vaccinations and for the sacrifices of ordinary people for whom this pandemic has made life difficult.

We lift up in prayer, also, those who are sick at home or in hospital, remembering especially Richard, Angela, Gary, Rachel and Carol. Bless them with your Healing Spirit for we believe that you desire to heal all people.

God of Life, regardless of what happened yesterday, your mercy is new today. Regardless of what happened last year, or any time in the past, your love is eternal! Enable us to move forward in the walk of faith with renewed hope for the future which you have prepared for us. We thank you that your mercy and compassion have no limits and that we can look forward with hope and renewed strength. We seek, every day, to trust in your great faithfulness and unfailing love. Our prayers, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

June 27, 2021 / Pentecost 5 / Proper 8

SCRIPTURE

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; Mark 5:21-43; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

CALL TO WORSHIP

Out of the depths, we call to our God

who hears our pleas and answers our cries.

Out of the depths, we wait for our God

whose love is unfailing and mercies endless.

Out of our need, we seek the one who meets all need.

Into our lives, the Saviour comes.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Holy God of Earth and Heaven, we come into your presence seeking words of encouragement and blessing. We are so thankful that you have extended your grace to us though we have neither merited or earned your favour. By your grace, we live life on earth to the very fullest. By your mercy, we accept the renewed hope of eternal life. Rain upon us with your unfailing love as we bow before your throne of glory. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

In the midst of your blessings there is the reality of our sinfulness. We were made good but we fall far short of your perfection. As we grow more mature in you, we will not be deceived, for your truth will become ever stronger within us. Expose everything that we do to the light of your word, correcting any areas of sinfulness, and strengthening the rest. Help our lives to be lights and beacons of your salvation. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

The great deceiver is set to bring us down from the grace of God. But nothing in heaven or on earth has any power to separate us from God’s love given to us in Jesus Christ. Hear the Good News of redemption. Receive the life that only Jesus brings. We are forgiven. We are free. Alleluia!

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. The heavens are filled with the wonders of God. Our lives are gifts given to us by God our Creator. Our offerings to God are in gratitude for the countless blessings that come to us every day. We thank you, O God. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

The great and wonderful love of God moves in our hearts. It shines through our words and actions. May we so live that all that we do and say will give glory to the One whose glory is everlasting. Let us go and live our faith to the fullest.

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