Christ the King
2 Corinthians 8:1-7
The question is not "How much of what is mine should I give to God?" The question is "How much of what is God's can I in good conscience keep for myself?"
The question is not "Am I able to give?" The question is "Am I willing to give?"
The question is not "How much money does the church need?" The question is "How much do I need to give to feel right about what I am doing?"
The question is not "Can I?" The question is "Will I?"
Poverty and Generosity
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. Stir our hearts to generosity, O Lord, that we might willingly share what you have given us to do your great work. Amen.
Times were hard for the Christians in Jerusalem. Many of the leaders of the Christian community had gone elsewhere. The Jeruۂsalem Christians knew persecution and prejudice sooner than other Christians did. The Christians in Jerusalem were poor and they were weak. So out in the provinces, where Christianity was starting to take hold, Paul took up an offering among the new Christians, to send back to the church in Jerusalem.
The Macedonian church responded eagerly. The Macedonians themselves were poor people. They did not have great riches to share. Still, when they heard about the Christians in Jerusalem they dug a little deeper. They gave a little more. They made a pledge to Paul's Jerusalem Fund campaign, a pledge that some considered too generous - more than they could afford. And then they gave it. Quickly. Efficiently. No questions asked. They gave it. As a matter of fact, when the offering was all collected, it turned out that the Macedonians had given more than they had pledged in the first place.
Meanwhile, down the coast at Corinth, things weren't looking so good. The Corinthians were the wealthiest of the early Christians. They were much better off than the Macedonians. But when Paul's Jerusalem Fund Campaign came to Corinth the response wasn't so enthusiastic. The Corinthians pledged all right, but they pledged cautiously. "You never know," they said to themselves, said to each other. "You never know. You have to save up for that rainy day. Besides, I might lose my job this year ... I might get sick ... I might have to go into a nursing home. I wouldn't want to make a promise and then not be able to keep it. Besides, there's a vacaۂtion we've wanted to take ... it sure would be nice to put a new porch on the cabin ... we've got our eye on this new Sport Utility Vehicle. I mean it would be nice to help those folks in Jerusalem but charity begins at home, right?"
So the Corinthians made a pledge. But it was a half-hearted pledge. And once it was made ... well ... this came up and that came up and it slipped their mind and they didn't really keep their pledge. And that was when Paul wrote to them, wrote to these people he loved, wrote to these people who were so worried - so worried - about having enough and told them about the Macedonians and their generosity, and asked them to think again about their pledge and the keeping of that pledge.
Our lesson for this morning is part of Paul's message to them.
It is our lesson this morning because next Sunday we will be asking you to make a pledge to God's work as it takes place here at House of Prayer Lutheran Church and beyond for 1999. In recent weeks you've been hearing about our visions and dreams for mission. We are driven by those visions and dreams. Now the time has come for you to make your response, to decide whether we are going to be a congregation of Macedonians or a congregation of Corinthians.
It grieves me to say this, but the truth is that Lutherans are usually more Corinthian (emphasis added). (Note: refrain 6 times)
We are cautious when it comes to making financial commitments. Every year I see statistics for total church giving per capita and total church giving per capita as it relates to per capita income. Lutherans in general are usually very close to the bottom of both lists. While our per capita income is solidly in the middle of the list, our per capita giving is usually far below the middle. The highest per capita giving ... well ... it's still among the Macedonians. That poor, beat-up church in the inner city - maybe it even meets in a dilapidated storefront - will usually have higher per capita giving, both in terms of percentage of income and in terms of actual dollars than the beautiful architectural palace in the upper-class suburbs.
Macedonians or Corinthians? The Macedonians were poor people who made a generous pledge and then exceeded it. The Corinthians were rich people who made a half-hearted pledge and then tried to avoid paying it off. The Corinthians thought that the Maceۂdonians were fools for making such a big pledge when they had so little themselves. What do you suppose God thought? Which ones would God consider fools? Macedonians or Corinthians?
Macedonians or Corinthians? You might want to live by the principle "charity begins at home" but do not kid yourself. You can read the Bible from cover to cover and never find that advice.
Macedonians or Corinthians? Is the concern we have for our children, for the community, for the elderly, for an ever-more exciting future for House of Prayer Lutheran Church just talk, or are we willing to back it up with our resources? Will we put flesh on our visions and dreams?
Macedonians or Corinthians? One evening a few weeks ago I had a phone call from a pastor in another part of the Twin Cities. While we are not personally acquainted she said that she had read some of the things I have written and thought I could help her with a problem. "I have to give the stewardship sermon at our church this year. Nobody likes stewardship sermons. I've never given one. What do I say?"
I think she touched a problem there. People tend to be resistant to stewardship sermons and pastors are therefore shy about giving them. Every pastor has heard the complaint "all the church is interested in is money." We hold back too often and steer clear of preaching on stewardship even when it is a clear theme of the scripture lessons. The truth is, I don't think I preach on stewardship often enough.
I told her that and then said that though I do not preach on stewardship as often as I should, I reserve the right to speak very directly about our stewardship of money when I do. I gave her my nutshell message on stewardship. It is this: we are richly blessed people. We have homes and cars and families and schools and good communities and roads and parks and friends and a healthy economy. Make no mistake about it. We are among the world's rich people, every one of us.
All of these blessings we enjoy come to us as gifts of God. The mental and physical abilities to earn a living? They are gifts. The community? It is a gift. The family? A gift. A rich and productive land? A gift. Our stewardship, our giving, represents our response of gratitude to the gifts God has given us.
As you prepare to make your pledge of support for 1999, I would put before you a series of questions for your consideration and I would do it with some care, first of all identifying the wrong question to ask, and then the right.
The question is not "how much of what is mine should I give to God?" The question is "how much of what is God's can I in good conscience keep for myself?"
The question is not "am I able to give?" The question is "am I willing to give?"
The question is not "how much money does the church need?" The question is "how much do I need to give to feel right about what I am doing?"
The question is not "can I?" The question is "will I?"
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in an amazing world. The Vikings are winning. Jesse Ventura has been elected governor. Whoever would have expected it?
But there were visions and dreams for Red McCombs and Denny Green and their whole bunch, visions and dreams for Jesse the governor and the Reformed Party, and they came true. Miracles happened. It can happen here. I remain persuaded that the future of House of Prayer Lutheran Church is bright and exciting. The visions and dreams you've been hearing about are real. The potential is terrific. This is a marvelous congregation, a congregation that has always stepped up to whatever challenge it had to face. The challenge now is the last year of the 20th century. Think about those questions this week. I will see you in church next week and we will make our pledges together.
May God's Spirit bless and guide us in the decisions we make. Amen.
Pastor Steven McKinley, House of Prayer Lutheran Church, Richfield, MN.