"Giving Out of the Grace of our Gracious Giver God"
Pentecost IV Vespers
2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15
July 5, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
A number of congregations have what is called "Stewardship Sunday." It serves largely as a fund raiser for the congregation, exhorting the members to increase their giving by putting more money in the offering plate. It is good that the Church receive more funding so that she can carry out God's divine love by showing human care, and so that, first and foremost, she can carry out the ministry of the Church, enabling her to nurture her children through Word and Sacraments. Some congregations have "stewardship months," as they have a member of their stewardship board address the congregation each Sunday about the importance of giving to the congregation. Unfortunately, these little chats amount to little more than guilt trips, motivating the members by means of God's Law. Some congregations even have pledge drives, as the members each make a pledge of how much they will give over the following year. However, circumstances can change, rendering the member less able to give than before, and when the quarterly statements come out, the member begins to despair. Pledge drives are also motivation by the Law, leading the member to believe that he or she is required to give a certain amount to the Church. In some congregations the pastor preaches a "Stewardship Sunday sermon," which is generally heavy on the Law and quite lacking in the Gospel. While I am the shepherd whom God has given you, you will not hear a "Stewardship Sunday sermon" from me, in part because today is Wednesday and not Sunday, and mostly because we are not a congregation that is about the Law but the Gospel. For this reason we do not have pledge drives or any type of formal stewardship program, for true giving comes from the heart of the believer.
In our text, the blessed apostle St. Paul reminds them of this act of Christian charity. At the time Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth, the Corinthians' giving had dwindled because of the accusations some had waged against Paul and his apostleship, which he defends in later chapters of his letter. But here he calls to their attention the great giving of the churches of Macedonia, who gave well above and beyond what anyone had anticipated from them on account of the extreme hardship the Macedonian Christians endured. For them, the coffers, or offering plates, runneth over. Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to remain steadfast in their giving, even in the midst of their abundance, in the midst of the grace God had extended to them. Giving was nothing new for them, for in verse 10, not included in our text (nor are verses 11 and 12), Paul mentions that in the previous year they were the first to give and the first to be willing to give. The important point that Paul raises is that, for the gift to truly be a gift, it needs to be given voluntarily. He writes in verse 12, "For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have."
But we are constantly bombarded by solicitations of various kinds. Many different kinds of organizations ask us for our money. We hear from political campaigns, charities, and groups promoting medical research. So many of these causes seem worthwhile that we have difficulty prioritizing where our money goes—that is, the money God has given us to manage. God has called us to faithfully manage what He has given us, and we struggle in determining which groups get the money God has enabled us to give them. In our deliberations, does the Church get shortchanged? Are we faithful in giving back to God a portion of what He has given us, and do we have joyful hearts when we give back to Him? Or do we grumble and give grudgingly? If we are not able to give much money, as was the widow with her mites, are we willing to give of ourselves in other ways for the building up of the Church? Are we willing to give of our time or our talents? Or do we sit as stumps and expect everyone else to do what God has called all of us to do in building up the body of Christ? Paul exhorts us in our text, "But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also" (v. 7). He writes in the chapter following our text, "But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (9:6-7).
In the first-century the Church, in an extension of the apostolic ministry, had a social ministry that entailed a daily distribution of food for the poor, especially for the widows and orphans. Many people sold their land and gave the proceeds directly to the Church. Many came for worship at the house churches and presented food as their offering, and the food was brought forward, a practice which had to be discontinued because there was not enough room for worship as the worship space was overtaken by food! The Corinthian Christians were once extremely generous, and Paul was calling on their charitable nature again, to give out of love for their fellow Christians, whether they knew them or not. He asked them to give, even as they were being given to, to reflect the love their gracious giver God has given them, the same things He has given us, for "God has made [us] and all creatures; that He has given [us our] body and soul, eyes, ears, and all [our] members, [our] reason and all [our] senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives [us] clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all [we] have. He richly and daily provides [us] with all that [we] need to support this body and life. He defends [us] against all danger and guards and protects [us] from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in [us]. For all this it is [our] duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true" (First Article). God has given us all that we have and all that we are, for He has also given us the gift of faith, sending the Holy Spirit into our hearts to create, sustain, and strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who is our greatest Gift of all. You see, God, our heavenly Father, has looked down upon us and seen our sorry state, that of all of fallen mankind. Out of His great love for us He sent His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to bear our sins and be our Savior, the Gift that old Simeon held in his arms in the temple, uttering the words we shall sing shortly in the Nunc Dimittis: "Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the sight of all people, a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel." We depart in peace this evening, for we have beheld the salvation of the Lord, for He has come to us this evening in His Word, giving us the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life and salvation. These gifts came to us at the steepest price of all, the death and resurrection of our Lord, who gave His body and shed His blood so that we would receive the gifts He gives in His Means of Grace, rising from the dead and living on high, living so that we would never die eternally but live.
So even now the Holy Spirit is working in you, the same Spirit whom the Father and the Son sent to the apostles at Pentecost and to you at your Baptism, working in you with the love the entire Trinity has for you, so that you, moved by the Spirit and as an extension of the love God has showered upon you, would give back to your mother, the Church, of your time, talents, and treasure, even as you pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs. We love because God first loved us, thanks be to God!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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