“Rich In Grace”

November 8, 2015
Jonathan Rumburg
II Corinthians 8:1-15

Introduction

“The vast majority of investors with $1 million in assets don’t consider themselves wealthy.”  So says a survey done by UBS-AG, the Swiss Financial firm, who polled more than 4,000 people, all of whom had more than $250,000 in the bank, and half of whom had more than a million dollars in the bank!  And, get this: Forty percent of those who had more than five million dollars in the bank did not think they were rich.

“The vast majority” of those surveyed don’t think they’re rich.

When the UBS-AG survey asked people what would have to happen for them to think they were rich, the number-one answer was “No financial constraints on activities.”  That’s a shift from similar surveys where the most frequent answer was centered around “wealth level.”

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          So, how much do you need these days in order to think of yourself as rich?  Keep in mind though that most Americans have very little, if any, savings.  In fact, about half of us don’t have enough stashed away to cover three months of expenses.  Factor in such truths and it’s likely that if we compared ourselves with those who were surveyed we would either laugh in disgust at their ridiculous notions of “not being wealthy” or want to punch them in the face for their ridiculous notions of “not being wealthy.”

The conclusion then, as to whether we’re rich or not, seems to be tied to whom we’re comparing our bank accounts.  It doesn’t take much effort to decide what the apostle Paul would think of that conclusion.

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          In writing to the Corinthian Christians about an offering he was soliciting for the church in Jerusalem, Paul said, “For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has— not according to what one does not have.”  Meaning Paul wouldn’t have had any trouble with measuring one’s financial status by how much one doesn’t have or with how much others do have.  But it should be noted that Paul’s root topic wasn’t money at all, he was not trying to be the Dave Ramsey of the ancient world.  What he was talking about certainly has a monetary impact, but it was consequential.

Paul was first and foremost talking to the Corinthians then; and us today, about the generous grace of God.  And it’s from that perspective that Paul wanted them, and us, to consider our wealth status—how we view it, and certainly what we do with it.

Move 1

In our passage Paul is collecting donations from the scattered churches to help the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem, and the Macedonian Christians have been especially generous in that regard, giving “even beyond their means.”  So, as part of asking the Corinthians to give generously as well, Paul describes for them how the Macedonians begged “earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints.”

Now it can certainly be speculated and asked, is Paul shaming the Corinthian Christians?  Is he goading them?  Some commentators have read this as though Paul were craftily using the example of the Macedonians to shame the Corinthians into giving generously as well.  And, it is possible to read verse 8— “I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others”— as supporting that, but it’s important to read verse 8 as an addendum to verse 7, where Paul urges the Corinthians to let their generosity blossom as have their other spiritual gifts: “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.”  With such an understanding this text now takes on less of a shaming tone, and more of an encouraging tone.

What’s more, as biblical commentator Steven Paulson points out, “In this whole passage Paul is not goading but encouraging, and his words aim at people’s hope and faith in which Christ has created them anew, even with a new desire.”  Paulson then gives this simile:  “Like a mare who nuzzles her foal into standing on its shaky new legs in order to walk and eventually run, Paul is saying it’s time to stand on your own new legs of faith.  And one outcome of standing in the faith should be generosity.”

This perspective helps us to see that Paul is not goading the Corinthians by comparing them to the Macedonians; rather he is encouraging them, lovingly nuzzling them to deeper stronger faith.  Paul knows that in doing what seems risky or unwise or even impossible, that true wonder and genuine wealth will follow.

Move 2

I really like that image commentator Steven Paulsen used—a mare lovingly nuzzling her foal into standing on its own, and like the mare who does so, Paul is doing the same here for the Corinthians, and us.  I like it because it’s an image and metaphor that can make days like today a little easier by giving us comfort, assurance, and confidence about what we do—the pledge we make.

Today is Celebration Sunday—Consecration Sunday— the day in the life of our church when it is asked that all members of the church submit an estimate of giving statement for the upcoming year.

This is a pledge to the church of what we as individuals, as families, as members of this church will strive to give within the calendar year of 2016—and we use these little slips of paper to do so.

From these little pieces of paper, the Stewardship Team then works to create a budget based upon what all of us say we will give to the church.  It’s an interesting process—one that is delicate and finite because it all deals with real dollars and cents that have yet to be accounted for, yet to even be earned.  Add to that, it cannot even begin to factor in all that “could” happen to a person or a family in the next fourteen months.  Add to that, it factors in the fact that very few of us are rich, very few of us have enough stashed away to cover three months of expenses, very few of us have “no financial constraints on activities.”

Therefore we would be wise to let Paul’s words about generosity nuzzle us as well because the undercurrent of our age is that we never have enough, let alone something extra from which we might share.  We might say to ourselves that when we have a surplus, we will give some of it away, but waiting for a surplus is not a faithful approach, and it’s certainly not what Paul is urging here.

The generosity Paul is calling for does not begin from surplus of material goods, but rather it comes from the generosity of grace that has already been given to us through Jesus.  Paul is calling for generosity as an expression of “the genuineness of our love” in response to the “generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  In other words, we are to nurture generosity of spirit in our whole lives, including, certainly, our bank accounts, but all the other parts of our lives as well—time, energy, minds, hearts, actions, words.

Consideration of the grace we have received is where we must begin when we consider how well off we are or aren’t.  And most assuredly when we do, we will see that when it comes to all we have done, and all we have not done, and all we have left undone, that the grace we have is still more than we deserve.

Move 3

Throughout our Saint’s Alive Stewardship Campaign we have used stories and narratives in an effort to draw a picture that would give us a broader and clearer perspective of what God does and makes possible through our stewardship.

Those stories included our music ministries, in particular our children’s music ministry.  They included a narrative about our ongoing sanctuary renewal—of which I am happy to report that the new sanctuary carpet is set to be installed beginning December 7th.  And they included a narrative about our World Outreach efforts.  These were just a few of the numerous areas in which we have been ministering and aim to continue.  There are certainly more that we have been doing, and aim to continue.

There are, however, other areas in which we are discerning an expansion of ministry— all of which are appearing possible because of the willingness of folks who give of their time, energy, minds, hearts, actions, and words.  For instance… Our Christian Education ministry is being done and excelling in a manner that has opened doors and possibilities that is potentially expanding our church into a broader community presence.

There is a desire to increase our outreach efforts which has led to brainstorming of ways in which we can do so by simply reevaluating and restructuring how we do existing outreach fundraising—particularly in the area of the special offering for Week of Compassion.

Beyond that, however, it is mine and the Elders plan to lead our congregation, starting in the New Year, in an exercise of considering how the Church, and we as a church, will seek to minister to the nominally churched and unchurched of today.

Because of these ministries and possibilities that are being made possible we are poised to have a special, unique, and exciting 2016.  But it will only begin, and come to fruition, when we realize just how rich in grace we already are—and then live out from that richness.

Conclusion

Our society convinces us day in and day out that we just aren’t very wealthy.  But Paul was absolutely right in telling the Corinthians, and, by extension, us, that we need to measure our wealth not against others, but in Christ, who “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

So may we, today when we make our pledge, and every day when we seek to serve God, consider just how rich we really are—rich in grace.  For when we do, then regardless of what’s in or not in our bank accounts, we will always be able to consider ourselves wealthy.  Amen.

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