Sunday, August 16, 2020

Who We Are: Generosity

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Well, we made it! We have been in 2nd Corinthians for five weeks as of today. Immersed in this letter that is considered one of Paul’s most theologically dense writings. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of exhausted. Yet, today, we come to the place really where the “rubber meets the road.” For the first seven chapters, Paul has been trying to explain to the church in Corinth the nature of his apostolic ministry - a ministry patterned after the life of Christ. And, in turn, what the nature of their ministry is to be. And my ministry. And your ministry.

So, this morning we see how all that Paul has talked about up to now is manifested in the most practical of ways. We read from 2nd Corinthians, chapter 8.

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,

“The one who had much did not have too much, 

    and the one who had little did not have too little.” --2 Corinthians 8:1-15 (NRSV)

Throughout all of 2nd Corinthians, Paul uses these themes of giving and receiving. Of reciprocity. If we think back to the first week, when our focus was on the word, consolation, we learned that within the body of Christ our suffering is mutual. When Christ suffers, we suffer. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. We are bound together in suffering and in consoling one another. There is reciprocity - a sense of suffering and consolation, of giving and receiving. An interconnectedness.

Then, in week two, we heard Paul talk about forgiveness and reconciliation. How Paul could have, in his anger and hurt, walked away from the Corinthian congregation. But that he didn’t. And instead, he moved in. Closer to them. Forgiving them. And seeking to be reconciled with them. A true and reciprocal witness of Jesus and of Jesus’ own love and reconciliation for us.

In the third week, we listened as Paul compared us to earthen vessels. Cracked and broken clay jars into which God has poured God’s Spirit. This treasure, this life that God has worked and continues to work in us that points to Christ. A life lived reciprocally, in response to the gift - the gracious gift of God’s mercy and love.  And a life that, as we heard last week, through which we walk by faith, trusting in the steadfast love of God, and shaped by the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Today is where all of this comes to fruition. Manifested through the reciprocity of love. If we truly believe that God is love and that the nature of this love is manifested in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus - love poured out for us in grace, then our only response can be love. Love that manifests itself in the most practical of ways. In generosity. By caring for one another, for our world, and for all that God has created.

There had been a desire, a plan generated in all earnestness by the churches in Macedonia and Achaia, including the congregation in Corinth. A plan to gather a collection of money for the church in Jerusalem, whose members had been experiencing economic hardship. Titus, Paul’s associate, had agreed to take the lead in organizing this collection from among the churches - gathered, as Paul had suggested, by each member setting aside a certain amount every week. Then gathered by Titus and delivered by Paul to their Jerusalem sisters and brothers in Christ on his next visit there. 

This is the reciprocity of love. As we have received, so we give. But note that this is not a one-way giving. Because one-way giving, one-sided giving, has the very real tendency to create a power imbalance, where those with wealth to distribute hold power and status over those without. Paul, instead, stresses equality and reciprocity. We have all been given gifts in abundance by God - gifts that may be manifested in different ways. Paul is seeking a fair balance, a fair distribution in wealth and of other gifts given to them by God. So that one with much doesn’t have too much. And one with little doesn’t have too little.

What are the implications of this for us? For us as the body of Christ in this time and place? Perhaps it is to be open in our giving. But, not to only be open and generous in our giving, but also to be open and generous in our receiving. Open to receiving the gifts God has given us and to others without resistance. Without fear. Without shame. Without trying to one-up one another’s gifts. Where all is grace. Grace that is modelled after the upside-down kingdom of God, where God’s grace is poured out generously and abundantly for us in love in Jesus. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

It is through this reciprocity of generosity - a generosity of receiving and giving - that in us and through us, God’s destiny is ultimately fulfilled. Amen.

Preached August 16, 2020, online at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
12th Sunday after Pentecost.
Readings: 2 Cor. 8:1-15; John 13:31-35

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