Sermon for Pentecost 3, Year B
Based on 2 Cor. 8:7-15
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Generosity….In our second lesson today ~ as well as in the preceding verses of chapter eight ~ the apostle Paul gives us a report on the generosity of the Macedonian churches. Even though the Macedonian Christians had suffered "during a severe ordeal of affliction" and "extreme poverty," they nevertheless "overflowed in a wealth of generosity." Moreover, Paul points out very clearly that they were not generous because he asked them to be. Quite the contrary, he tells us that the Macedonians "voluntarily gave," he goes on to say they were: "begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints."
The Macedonians, Paul makes it quite clear, gave generously out of their own willingness; because of their devotion and commitment to God's will. They knew what it was like to be in want; they knew what suffering was; they were poor people. And yet, they had been given God's generous grace. God's generous grace had caused them to be generous by way of response.
Their generosity was overflowing, Paul tells us, even though they were poor. Their poverty didn't cause them to be concerned only with their own lot. They were outward-looking at other people and generous towards them. Their poverty and suffering awakened them to the needs of others that were poor and suffering. It was their experience of poverty and suffering that molded and shaped their attitude to be generous, kind, and loving to others in similar situations.
Down through the ages, there have been several stories of generosity, which were born out of God's generous grace. Many of you may have heard stories about the suffering and poverty of our people in this country, who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s. My parents told me many stories of their experiences living through the "dirty thirties," as they called them.
My parents told me stories of going year after year with no crops and no rains. Some of the larger families struggled from day to day, wondering if there would be enough to eat for everyone. But what the people didn't have in the way of material wealth, they did have in the way of spiritual wealth. There was community spirit. Neighbours cared for one another by sharing generously with those who had nothing. People knew who their neighbours were and what kind of poverty and suffering they were going through. There was a generosity, a kindness, and a hospitality, which caused them to look beyond their own self-interests to the needs of other people.
Albert Stauderman speaks of a similar outward-looking generosity in the following story: "In 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed the library of the Institute for Arts and Sciences in San Francisco. In far off Leipzig, Germany, a young scientist knew that books would be needed, so he packed two cartons of precious scientific books and sent them to San Francisco to replace those that had been destroyed. Forty years later he was an old man, bombed out and left destitute. Timidly he wrote to the Institute in San Francisco. Did anyone remember him? Could anyone send help? The librarian at the Institute was a woman of 86 years. She remembered well the books that came in 1906 and how valuable they were. So four cases of food and clothing were quickly gathered and sent overseas to the aged scientist who had become a victim of war's depredations. Kindness and love know no boundaries of time and space."
Another time and place, another story of generosity, as related by A. Dudley Dennison: "The whole town buzzed with sympathy when a local social studies teacher was killed in an auto accident, leaving a widow with five children to support. The mother had been a teacher herself but had not taught in many years. A small collection was taken up by sympathetic friends and neighbours, but everyone knew that it was not enough to support the family for very long."
"Then, quietly Marie Ebbingham appeared on the scene. She phoned the principal for an appointment. To him Marie explained her simple solution to the family's problems. She was a certified teacher of social studies and proposed that she be allowed to finish out the dead father's contract year. She explained that she was now retired and living on her pension, and would not need the salary she would be earning. Therefore, she suggested that the school pay her salary to the bereaved family, until the mother could find employment for the following fall. Her solution was quickly and happily accepted."
Our God is a generous, kind and loving God. A God who supplies us abundantly with so many different gifts. Our God has created us and all that we have is not ours because we deserve it ~ rather, it comes to us as a generous gift of God's grace. God's generous grace abundantly supplies us with the very gift of life itself. God has given us our lives, our time, our talents, our money, and everything else. God doesn't want us to hoard these gifts for ourselves or for a chosen few. God wants us to share all of our gifts generously.
Just think for a moment of how miserable God would be and we would be if God did not share his generous gift of grace with us. Now, just think how miserable we are and how miserable we make others if we don't share our gifts generously with them. The apostle Paul underscores this theme in our text when he speaks of "a fair balance." As Christians governed by love, Paul points out that generosity shall endeavour to distribute wealth so that there will be "a fair balance" among everyone. It would appear that Paul couldn't conceive of some devout Christians living as multimillionaires and hoarding their wealth while other brothers and sisters in Christ languish in poverty. For Paul, love and justice go hand-in-hand and complement each other, rather than contradict one another.
God has given us many wonderful gifts. What are we doing with those gifts? It is abundantly clear in our second lesson today that we are called to share generously our gifts with others. But we are not called to give our gifts grudgingly, miserably, or reluctantly. We are not to give our gifts boastfully. We are not to give our gifts with bargaining in mind, because God will not be bargained with or bought off. We are not to give our gifts with a bad conscience. We are not to give our gifts because we feel guilty or coerced or manipulated or beaten over the head with the letter of the law.
Our giving will, if it's truly Christian, reflect the way in which God gives to us. Over and over again, the Bible clearly points out that we are called to give generously. How do we give generously? Most importantly, by claiming/taking ownership of God's grace. Grace makes us realize how much our Lord has done for us and how much he has given us. Grace inspires us to say: "Everything that I am and everything that I have comes from you God. Without you, God, I am nothing; I have nothing; and I can do nothing."
Then, we are able to see the important connection between God's attitude toward us and our attitude toward others. If we are truly generous to others, then we will be sensitive to the needs of others. We will abundantly share with others.
May our gracious God, our all-loving Christ, our free-flowing Spirit move each one of us to share generously with others: our lives, time, talents, money, and everything.
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