Partners in the Gospel

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Pentecost 20/Proper 25
SCRIPTURE: 2 Timothy 4: 1-5 and Acts 11: 27-30
The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea.
Acts 21: 29 (NIV)

SHARING

Back in 1990, Robert Fulghum wrote a book that would go on to be a best seller. It was entitled “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. The book was so popular because it broke down life into little bit sized pieces that made it easier to handle. Here is a partial list of the things he learned:

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Wash your hands before you eat.

Flush.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

I think that we can all agree that these are all great words of wisdom and we learned them all at a very young age. I think we’d also agree that what was true in kindergarten is also true now.

What I didn’t tell you was the very first think on the list because that is what we are going to talk about today. The very first thing that Robert Fulghum had on the list what this:

Share everything.

Sharing. It’s a good thing. It’s how we get along. It’s how we help each other. When we share, it’s better for everyone because when we share, everyone has enough. Sharing might have been something that we learned in kindergarten but it’s something that we also need to practice as we walk through life as adults.

Sharing is even mentioned in the Bible. In Acts 11:27-30 (NIV) we read these words:

During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

What we have here, if we are to put it into 21st century language, is a group of Christians from Jerusalem travelling to Antioch. Antioch is about 750 km north of Jerusalem. They arrive with a request. It seems that the crops are failing and the prophet Abagus predicts that there is not going to be enough food. And would the Christians in Antioch be able to help them out?

History tells us that this is quite reasonable. There was indeed a famine that swept through the much of the Roman Empire from 44 CE to 48 CE which was during the reign of Emperor Claudius. The Jewish historian Josephus, who lived during this time, confirms this famine which impacted Jerusalem and Judea in a particularly harsh way. Due to weather conditions, crops failed and food was scarce. When food gets scarce, food gets expensive. The Christians from Jerusalem predicted this would happen and so made the pre-emptive move to go to other Christians in other cities seeking aid so that they would be able to purchase the food that they would need. That all made perfect sense.

Now, I want to note the response of the Christians in Antioch. They took up an offering which they sent with Barnabas and Paul to Jerusalem where it was distributed appropriately. What each person sent was totally up to them. No one said, “Everyone here has to give three silver coins to help our brothers and sisters.” No, it says that each one gave as they were able. What they gave was between them and God as the Spirit directed them.

You can guess what this is, can’t you? This is a biblical example of sharing. It’s one group of Christians sharing with another group of Christians so that all of them will have enough.

They, in fact, became partners for the gospel. We know what partnering is all about because we’ve experience it quite a bit lately. This year, we began partnering in a shared ministry with Wheatley United Church. That has been beneficial for both church. We gained some partners to help us to build the Prayer Garden. Some people and businesses offered financial assistance. Others provided services free of charge. The town of Kingsville became partners by providing grants to help us with the cost. The Scouts and Guides and other members of the community partnered to plant the garden a few weeks ago. Even with the Family Minister who we are hoping to hire, two foundations gave us grants to help make it possible. These are all examples of partnering; one group sharing with another to make things possible that otherwise would not be.

This kind of sharing has been part of the life of the church from the very beginning. We have this example in Acts 11. We also see it in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. Paul was one of the men who travelled around Europe and Asia Minor planting churches. That, like everything else, required resources which meant that all of the churches needed to share in spreading the gospel. Listen to what he writes in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 (NIV): “Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” His advice is to encourage the Christians to set aside a reasonable sum every week based on their income and save it up so that when Paul comes to them, seeking their help, they will already have something to share with him.

GIVING BACK TO GOD

Have you ever wondered how much people give on average? According to a Statistics Canada report, in 2010, the average Canadian gave $446 annually to charity. Note that is the average Canadian, the average of all of us. Do you know what the average donation was for those who attend worship regularly? It was $1,004. That’s more than double. What that means is that people who worship regularly, on the average, give more than twice as much as those who don’t. The same holds true for people who give time and talents and energies to their communities. People of faith, on the average, give way more of themselves then those who aren’t. I’m not saying this to in any way be judgmental against those who do not practice faith and I’m certainly not try to inflate our egos. I’m just putting it out there as a fact.

There are likely many ways to interpret this statistic, but generally, I think that, as Christians, we’ve been sharing for so long that generosity is bred into us. We expect to give. we expect to share. It’s part of our lifestyles that we were taught when we were in kindergarten. We understand that generosity and compassion and care for the “least and lost” is a huge part of what it means to live a Christian life. It is the spirit in which we travel on the road of life, the road that runs through our homes, our workplaces, our hangouts, and the road that runs through the heart of our relationships.

We give because we are called to share. That’s what we read in Acts 11. That’s what we read in 1 Corinthians and other places in the Bible. But I also think that there is more to it than that. Christians also give out of a sense of compassion and wanting to do good in the community. That’s why we see a disproportionate number of community volunteers coming out of a faith background. It part of that commitment to share.

But Christian giving goes even deeper than that. The framework of giving for us is deeply theological; it is more enduring than feelings that lead to giving, like guilt or even compassion. Right back at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 1, we learn that God is the Creator. At the end of Genesis 1 we discover that we have a role in creation. It is to be caretakers and stewards of God’s creation. We’re called to look after it for God. And so we make the theological claim that God is the owner of all, the giver of all, and that our role is to hold those gifts for God and to use them for his glory and service. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what God calls us to do.

We even confirm that in the language that we use. Earlier today, we passed around the plates. We don’t call them collection plates. We call them offering plates. We don’t say that we are taking up a collection. We say that we taking an offering. Like the people of Antioch and Corinth, no one tells us what we put into the offering plate. That’s between you and God. You need to figure that out. My goal today is not to tell you how much to give. It’s rather to ask you to think about it.

Do you remember the story that Jesus told about the poor widow who gave only one penny to the temple. She did this while all of the rich people were giving lots of money and feeling pretty good about themselves. And then Jesus made the most interesting comparison. He said that she gave the most, not because she gave so much but because she gave all that she had. That’s a powerful story because it recognizes that the amount that we give is less important than how we give. The rich people may have given a lot more actual funds but they could afford it and it didn’t hurt them at all. They had lots left over. The poor widow, on the other hand, gave all she had which means that recognized that it wasn’t hers in the first place. Everything we have, everything we own, everything we share comes from God. It all belongs to him. He has given it to us in trust so that we can use it for his glory.

We also recognize this in the songs that we sing as the offering is being brought forward. I remember what we used to call the doxology. It went like this:

We give the but thine own

whate’er the gift may be.

All that we have is thine alone,

a trust, O God, from thee.

The key line, of course, is, “Whate’er we have thine alone, a trust, O God, from thee.” That is a huge theological statement that speaks not only of the sovereignty of God but also the generosity of God who not only gives us what we have but has given us so very much of it.

GIVING AS A PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE

Unlike some charities, we don’t give you a place any emphasis on those who give more that others. There are those organizations where the highest level “gold” donors are invited to banquets and top givers have power to influence the direction of the organization. We don’t do that. The church is strongly committed to the ideal that each one of us gives according to our ability. Some of us can give a lot and some can’t, but everyone who gathers here has equal say on how our resources are allocated for the mission of the church. That’s partly why we hold our donation information in private. The only one who knows how much to give is the treasurer. That’s it because that information is very private and personal.

You might be interested to know that that’s not always been the case. If you went back 100 years ago, you’d see that annual financial report of most churches listed not only the total offering and expenses for the year but also what each person gave, usually in declining order from largest donors to smallest. We don’t do that anymore and that’s a good thing because we don’t believe that what people are able to give has any bearing whatsoever on how they are treated or how much influence they have on the ministry of the church. All of us, whether we give large amounts or smaller amounts are equal partners in the gospel when it comes to the ministry of this church as we live that out in our community.

Our financial giving, then, isn’t just about economics – although it is about economics. The reality is that right now we’re in a financial hole that we need to get out of. But at its heart, generous giving is about a Christian philosophy of life. For us as Christians, giving is theological, a spiritual discipline grounded in a radical sense of oneness and equality within a community of faith.

We’ve been talking about financial giving so far, but the same principles and history apply to our giving of talent and time. When we look back to Jesus’ earliest followers and the earliest church members, we see a dazzling array of skills and talents. There were fishermen, tax collectors, bookkeepers, business owners, tent makers… In the book of Corinthians, Paul affirms that all of the gifts people have been given are required in order for the body of Christ to function. Whether you are most comfortable behind the scenes in the kitchen, working outside, quietly taking minutes or whether you are most at ease front and center on Sunday mornings or at the Church Board table or leading small groups, the gift of yourself is crucial. That means that only do you make an offering. You are an offering. You are the greatest gift that you can give to the work of Christ. By your very presence here, you are demonstrating your commitment to Christ in an important and meaningful way. Thank you for making of yourself an offering to God.

Over the past two weeks – not including last week when Teen Challenge was here – we’ve talked about stewardship and giving because it’s an important aspect of the Christian witness that we really haven’t stressed enough in the past. Three weeks ago, we used the story of the Good Samaritan to talk about how we’re called to be thankful and to let that sense of thanksgiving not just flow but overflow from us to those around us in service to others. Two weeks ago we used the story of the sheep and the goats to talk about how we called to make a choice. Do we want to be sheep or do we want to be goats? Do we follow Jesus or don’t we? The choice is ours and ours alone so choose wisely.

Today, I want to emphasize we are all here, each of us, as part of the church. We don’t give to the work of the church as though it were a separate entity like the Heart and Stroke Foundation or the Canadian Cancer Society. Don’t get me wrong, Those are great organization to are worthy of support. But do you know why the church is different? It’s because when you give to the church you really are not only giving to God, we are also giving to each other. That’s because this is our family. We are a family. This is where the family gathers on a regular basis to worship and converse and work out difference and feast. This is our spiritual home to which we belong together. It’s the centre of where we do Jesus’ work together.

That was shown so clearly yesterday as we celebrated Sharon Chalmer’s life. Sharon and Larry have been such big parts of this church and the work that we do. And I have to admit that I was so happy that we celebrated her life here and not at a funeral home. And I wish more people would consider that option because this is where our family gathers.

When we give to the Church we are giving to each other so that we can live out our collective mission as Jesus’ disciples. We stand in a 2000 year old tradition as we do this because we are partners in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May wise and generous hearts continue to guide us as we partner in God’s mission on the road of life.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Gracious God, hear our prayers and in your love answer. Your glory fills the skies and thunders from within the mountains. Your Word breaks forth, cleansing the earth with healing and delight. How mighty are your works. How generous are the gifts of Creation. How great is your capacity to forgive and make new.

We thank you for what you have made. From the gentle touch of a kittens fur to the gracious might of Niagara Falls, your hand has made it all. We thank you that as our Heavenly Father you show us love beyond measure.

We thank you for Jesus, your son, who gave his life on the Cross to save us from our sin and to open the gates of Heaven. By faith in him and his resurrection, we are able to enter eternal life. We honour you for his sacrifice and his holy love for all creatures.

We thank you for the Holy Spirit, your ongoing presence in our lives. Strengthen us against the forces of this world which would water down your Good News. Inspire us to stand by the Gospel of Christ as it has been passed down to us from our ancestors of long ago.

Open our ears, O God, so that we may listen with humility to what our sisters and brothers around the world would say. Remind us that we do not have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit. Keep us open to your Word in Christ as it breaks in around us every moment.

We lift in prayer the family and friends of Sharon Chalmers. Thank you for the gift of her life and all that she did for the work of Christ both here and other places. Bless Larry, Mark and Paul and their families as they walk this road of healing together.

We pray for those who are sick. We remember especially Jacqui, Mary and Cruz. Work your loving ointment into their wounds and bring them – and all of us – your peace.

Like the balm of Gilead, soothe our aching lives and bring us healing. Whatever our infirmities, whatever our fears, whatever our hurts or pain, make us whole. Heal our minds, our bodies, our spirit, our broken relationships. Keep us mindful of your call to us to love all people unselfishly and completely as Jesus loves us. Gracious God, hear our prayers and in your love answer. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

October 27, 2019 / Pentecost 20 / Proper 25

SCRIPTURE

Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; Luke 18:9-14; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

CALL TO WORSHIP

We give you praise and honour, O God;

because you have been faithful to your vows.

The burden of our sin was too great for us;

but you took away our brokenness and guilt.

Blessed are those who come into your presence.

Blessed are those who worship and call upon your holy name.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

God of Creation, you visit the earth and nourish it. By your hand the trees bear fruit. The waters of Heaven brim over to provide grain from the fields. The pastures are clothed with herds and flocks. The hillsides and the valleys shout your joy. How great is your compassion! You are faithful to your promises to save and redeem us. We praise you and give you thanks for your presence and your love. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

The Tax Collector came to you in humility for he realized his own sinfulness. We come, also, with a knowledge of our sin. We have turned away. We have not done what you have called us to do. And we have done those things which you have asked us not to do. By our own actions and choices we have separated ourselves from you and from one another. Hear our confessions, O God of Mercy, and once again forgive us. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

If we say that we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and there is not truth in us. Be assured that God hears our confessions and forgives all those who humbly repent. May God be praised forever.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

We give our gifts to you who gave your life for us. We offer them at your Table and ask that you make us worthy to receive the gifts that you so generously give to us. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

In brokenness we came to find healing from our sin. Let us depart in joy and with the assurance that Christ walks beside us and blesses us beyond our understanding.

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