2 Corinthians 8:1-9
Amazing things happen when we give ourselves to the Lord. It is not that all our troubles or challenges will magically disappear but rather we begin to see ourselves and the world in a different light -- a new perspective -- we begin to see how rich we are.
2 Corinthians 8:1-9
Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
The headline in Friday's Star Tribune was -- Fear Grips Wall Street
As I drove to the office Friday morning and was listening to the good neighbor WCCO - Dave Lee was talking to the woman who does the market report each morning and she was reporting the market had already fallen steeply right at the beginning of the day's trading.
She didn't sound very good over the radio and I thought to myself; she could use a little pastoral care today.
Then I arrived at the office and was greeted with this statement; I hope you're planning on preaching an inspirational stewardship sermon on Sunday. I thought to myself -- perhaps I should just go home and start the day over, not read the paper, keep the radio off and not talk to anyone when I get to the office and hope it will all just go away.
It feels a little like the sky is falling not only in our country but across the globe. I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that the global financial picture is scary.
The voices of the pundits, politicians and the experts has gotten so loud it seems like it is all we hear -- a roaring voice over the airwaves and we have all had a crash course in credit, sub-prime mortgages, bailouts, rescues and we all know Freddie and Fannie aren't the cute couple that live next door.
We hear numbers that are staggering in their size -- so big we can't even wrap our brains around them.
And very close to home -- right here in our midst -- we have sisters and brothers whose lives and livelihoods are affected in real ways.
There is also another voice - if we dare to listen -- it is heard most clearly in this room which is appropriately called a sanctuary -- a place of refuge.
Where the world says the sky is falling -- this voice says -- I'm the Lord of the sea and sky.
Where the world says -- be afraid -- this voice says -- fear not I am with you.
Where the world says -- hold on tight to what is yours -- this voice says -- open your hands and let me fill them.
Where the world says riches are measured by a bank account -- this voice says - You are rich in everything--in faith, in speaking, in knowledge, in truly wanting to help, and in the love you learned from us.
You are rich in everything -- what a radical message to hear in a time like this -- it is in fact a timeless message that can only be heard by faith -- it can only be heard by someone whose life has been changed by the love and the grace of God.
Paul's letter to the Christians in Corinth speaks to us today. Corinth was a big city, a port city rich in commerce, different religions and a diversity of people. The church in Corinth was lively as well -- in the portion of the letter we read today Paul is lifting up to the Corinthian Christians the example of the churches in Macedonia -- it is a model for how we understand giving.
Look at the text:
1And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace God gave the churches in Macedonia.
We want you to know about this grace.
All giving is grounded in grace and it is God who gives it -- when God's grace is given it reveals itself in giving. Something extraordinary happens when God's grace appears. Something extraordinary transpires when God's grace appears.
2They have been tested by great troubles, and they are very poor.
Let me ask you -- does this reflect the context of our time? It feels like we are in a period of time where trouble is the watchword -- many in our midst can relate. And many are poor. I can't tell you how many times my phone has rung the past few months with people asking for help:
- pastor, can you pay this bill
- pastor, can you help with the rent
- pastor, can you pay this month's mortgage.
There is material poverty and there is great spiritual poverty.
In spite of all this Paul tells us that they gave much because of their great joy. 3I can tell you that they gave as much as they were able and even more than they could afford. No one told them to do it. 4But they begged and pleaded with us to let them share in this service for God's people.
They gave because of great joy -- makes me think of Luke chapter 2 -- the angel speaking to the shepherds -- I bring you news of great joy -- to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Christ the Lord.
5And they gave in a way we did not expect: They first gave themselves to the Lord and to us. This is what God wants.
Here it is my sisters and brothers. Here it is -- the key that unlocks
- all giving
- all generosity
- all faith
- all hope
- all love
The first gift -- themselves.
The first gift -- you and me.
This is what God wants. God wants you.
The first vision statement that undergirds all we do here is that people would have a vibrant and growing personal relationship with Jesus Christ -- this is simply another way of saying God wants you.
And amazing things happen when we give ourselves to the Lord. It is not that all our troubles or challenges will magically disappear but rather we begin to see ourselves and the world in a different light -- a new perspective -- we begin to see how rich we are;
- in faith
- in speaking
- in knowledge
- in truly wanting to help
- in the love you learned from us
And finally -- as a result of all these things -- because of these things the imperative is given -- the need of the giver to give.
Be strong also in the grace of giving.
- not the guilt of giving.
- not the force of giving.
- not the coercion of giving.
- not the anger of giving
It is the grace -- the grace of giving -- always -- foremost and without exception -- the grace of giving as a direct result of the first gift -- ourselves being given to the Lord.
And as we give the first gift -- as we follow where our Lord leads us -- the love -- the mercy -- the grace of God will flow abundantly through our hands and our hearts so that the world -- the troubled and hurting world will in ways both great and small experience the riches of God.
This my friends is Christian stewardship for troubled times.
Thanks be to God.
Pastor Mark Aune, Augustana Lutheran Church, West St. Paul, MN.