Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sermon for Feb. 24th 2013 - 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 (by the Rev. Susan Ormsbee)

Encouragement to be Generous
24 February 2013 (Lent 2 Year C)
2 Corinthians 8:1-7

The season of Lent is a period of forty days intended as a time for us to deepen our relationship with God.  On Ash Wednesday the Gospel spoke about three kinds of disciplines – prayer, almsgiving and fasting which may help to deepen our relationship with God.  The Lenten sermon series this year is focusing on giving. 
Last week, Tim talked about the joy of generosity; of a way of life where giving is an act of grace, a way of unconditional love.  This is a way of life that Jesus modeled for us; he emptied himself, giving up his divine rights, so that he could come among us and make us rich.  How can we learn this way of life?  How can we live as Jesus showed us?

I have often watched hummingbirds at a feeder in the summer.  One bird would feed and then “guard” the food; if another bird came to feed, it would swoop down and attack, chasing the other away from “its” food.  This is part of the hummingbird’s nature to survive but it is not to be our nature as followers of Christ.  We are not to have the mindset of “me, me, me” or “mine, mine, mine” but rather we are care for others.  We are to have the JOY principle – Jesus first, Others next, Yourself last.  This is what Jesus modeled; it is expressed in the summary of the commandments – We are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Remember the story of the widow who shared generously?  The Message renders it like this: “Sitting across from the offering box, Jesus was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”  Jesus is saying that we are to share all that we have; no sum is too little to share.

Paul suggests to us that if we commit to following Jesus then giving will become a part of our lifestyle.  In chapter 8 of his second letter to the Corinthians Paul talks about the Macedonians who were followers of Jesus, a part of the church.  Paul says that the Macedonians gave beyond their ability to the relief effort for the Jerusalem church because they had first committed themselves to Jesus.  By believing in Jesus and following the life that he modeled for them, they were able to give generously to others. 

When I think about this I wonder why?  Why does following Jesus allow us to give generously?  

Jesus models unconditional love and kindness for us.  He gave himself as a sacrifice for us; he died upon the cross so that we could be reconciled to God.  He showed grace to us and therefore we are to show this love to others.  This type of love comes from the heart; it is not just a duty as in the Old Testament practice of tithing but something motivated by agape love.  This is grace, love that is freely given.

The Macedonians desire to serve and follow Jesus was so important that they didn’t allow their economic limitations to keep them from being involved in the work of the Kingdom.  By giving sacrificially, they turned their financial efforts into service and devotion towards God.  Their daily work became a prayer as they were constantly working so that they could have the financial ability to give to others in need as Jesus had given to them.

Giving in this way is a response to what God has done in our lives; to his grace given freely to us.  In Matthew 10:8 Jesus said “Freely you received, freely give”.  The Message uses the word generously in this passage: “You have been treated generously, so live generously.”  This is what the Macedonians did; they gave freely and generously.  They committed themselves completely to God, recognizing that everything they had came from him.  When we believe this then giving becomes a natural outcome – material items are not mine.  This knowledge that all you have belongs to God can affect your life in many ways.  When this truth is accepted then you are not as attached to material possessions and thus are able to be more generous with others.

Jesus modeled a simple life style; he had few possessions.  Remember when he sent out the seventy?  He told them to take no purse, no bag, no sandals but to rely on the hospitality of those they met.  This is the lifestyle he modeled for us.  Not one that I am very successful at accomplishing!  But, when we turn away from our continual consumption of material things we are able to be more generous with others.  When we steward our resources we can become free from the toxic disease of affluenza.  I wonder what would happen if we generously shared all we have with our brothers and sisters in the global church? 

In the last part of today’s reading Paul challenges the Corinthians to do as well in their giving as they do in their faith, speech, knowledge and love.  He challenges them to be balanced in their Christian life.  How balanced is your spiritual life? Are you as committed to giving as to worship or Bible study or prayer or fasting?

Are you willing and able to share the blessings God has given you with others?  With what are you generous - money, time, talents, or toys?  With what are you stingy?  It requires great faith and love for God to give as Jesus modeled for us. 

Take a look at the people who are regularly in or out of your life.  Do you feel any sort of responsibility to know their needs?  How does knowing need affect you?  Do you show generous hospitality to those who are in need?  A person can be poor in many ways; perhaps they need money or maybe they need time; some may need a relationship with someone who has similar values or who cares for them; maybe they need help in starting a relationship with God; but most importantly all people need unconditional love.  How could you be the loving hands of God’s provision to someone you know? 

For monetary need you might want to start simply.  Maybe you could set aside a “shepherd’s purse”.  Collect all your quarters and put them in a purse.  Then when you hear of a need, offer what is in your shepherd’s purse.

For time you might want to simplify your life so that you are available.  This might mean spending more time with family members building relationships.  As a chaplain the most pressing need I see is that of being present for another person; of just being with them and providing acceptance – this is generous giving.

I would like to close with the following quote from C.S. Lewis.  “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give.  I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.  In other word, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving too little away.  If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.” 

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