“What We Give”

November 9, 2014
Jonathan Rumburg
II Corinthians 8:1-15

Today is Celebration Sunday or 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 2015—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 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.

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I recently read a financial article which stated that 64% of Americans, if hit with an unexpected expense of one thousand dollars, would be ill equipped to manage the situation.

Those polled said they would have to: borrow that amount, sell assets, or put off paying bills in order to pull together the money.

Reading that article as a pastor of a church I immediately added to that list of possible ways people would manage such an unexpected debt—lessen or withhold their church offering.

I don’t say that spitefully, it just seems to make sense.

We need to eat, have clothes, and have a place to live. Bills have to be paid.

If we want to have any money, we need to work, and for most that means having a car that requires gas, insurance, and routine maintenance.

I get it—you get it: Money can easily, and quickly, become scarce.

We never know what’s going to happen, or how much we are going to need—and so if we can’t predict what’s going to happen or how much we are going to need—how in the world can we predict how much we can give away?!

The truth is we can’t. Which means, days like today—Consecration Sunday—becomes a day like going to the dentist for a root canal! It’s going to be unpleasant.

My apologies to dentists, but it seemed a little too crass and over the top to use the analogy “a day like going for a colonoscopy.”

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Consecration Sunday is viewed as unpleasant because it is viewed by many of us as if we just came from a college economics class.

The constant din of society is that which is professed by professors in those college econ classes—the primary problem of the world today is scarcity—there just is not enough.

“There just is not enough” is what many come to church thinking and believing—and I’m not faulting anyone for such. It’s all we hear anymore—scarcity—emphasis on the “scare”.

Which is why we need to be careful who we listen to, because who we listen to, who we believe, will influence how we live—and it will certainly influence what we give.

And we who we listen to, who we believe, will make today—Consecration Sunday, Celebration Sunday—the day we make a pledge for the coming year—a day like going to the dentist for a root canal, OR, a day where what we give truly is celebrated and consecrated—made holy.

 

On the surface, this text is about giving. But at a deeper level it’s about perspective—a perspective Paul is wondering whether or not the Corinthian’s have.

Paul is wondering:

Does the Corinthian church get it? Do the Corinthian Christians remember where they came from and where they are now? Is their love of God and Jesus genuine? Do they have a healthy perspective of how much they actually have compared to others? Who are they listening to—God or someone else?

Paul knew that in order to have the proper perspective, that the Corinthian church needed to remember their roots—remember where they came from, where they had been assured they were going when remaining true and faithful to God—and then give from that perspective.

This wondering inquiry first comes in the form of a reminder of what others made possible.

The Macedonian churches, despite their poverty, had generously funded the church in Corinth during their time of need.

And now the apostle Paul is asking for money from them, the Corinthians, during a time of need.

He’s asking the Corinthian church, recent recipients of holy giving, to return the favor on behalf of the church in Jerusalem.

From there, Paul wanted what they were willing to give to be determined with the perspective of who their Savior was, saying to them, “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” (v. 9).

Jesus was “rich” according to Paul, referring to the pre-existent Christ as God and God alone.

Christ Jesus gave up what he had— his indivisible deity— to become what he would forevermore be, both human and divine.

Christ embodied voluntary experiential poverty so that our spiritual poverty could be turned into spiritual richness.

And what this means is that our spiritual roots lie in the impoverishment of Christ—entered into and lived out from on our behalf. That makes freely giving of our resources to the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ deeply theological.

It is incarnational. It is pure gospel. It recreates our spiritual story through acts of consecrated holiness.

Paul wanted what the Corinthians gave to be holy, and the way it would be holy would be to give as those who have listened to and believed in Christ Jesus—the one who made them rich and eliminated scarcity with abundance.

 

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.

To keep with that effort, I want to share a story that comes from Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who tells about a time when she was in Africa, and was worshiping with a small, remote, and not to mention poor church.

During worship she witnessed members bringing forth their offering, not with reluctance as perhaps would be expected for a group of people who were barefoot and wearing thread thin clothing. But instead, they literally danced forward, to the front of the church, and put in their offering with joy, as if they were fully and completely aware that once placed in that basket, their offering was instantly transformed and made holy—because now it was in the hands of God.

The people gave—not out of scarcity even though by definition their lives embodied “scarcity”—but rather that gave out of the abundance they knew they had been blessed with by God. Abundance—not scarcity. And it was made holy.

But Dr. Watkins’ story doesn’t end there.

The most inspiring moment happened when a woman came forward, dancing and clapping like the rest, and stepped to the broad and sizeable offering basket that had been placed at the front of the worship space to collect the gifts of the people.

When this woman had made her way to the basket, she stopped—paused right there in front of the collection basket—and then picked it up from its spot, and then placed that basket on the floor.

And once she had placed the basket on the floor—she stepped into it.

She placed her whole self in that offering basket.

She was literally, giving her whole self to God.

And by doing so, her whole self was consecrated made holy.

 

Today is Celebration Sunday or 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.

We have this day and do a Stewardship Campaign for the same reason Paul talked about giving to the churches he ministered to.

He knew that in a world that hears about and believes there’s just not enough, that it’s hard to visualize holiness in our daily lives unless someone draws us a picture, and gives us a proper perspective.

Paul knew that there would be many voices, shouting and professing scarcity—but there was only once voice proclaiming holy abundance.

Paul wanted to make sure that voice, that message of faithfulness was heard clearly.

That is what Paul did in his letter to the Corinthians and that is what the Stewardship Team did with our church’s narrative budget, along with our special speakers the last few weeks.

All have been drawing and crafting a picture that shows the work of the church with the perspective that all we do as a church is to be, and will be, holy.

The work of the church—everything the church does—is holy.

Sunday worship—holy, of course. Our World Outreach ministry that has food and clothes and more—it too is holy.

But holy is also: Monday’s staff meeting, Wednesday Children’s choir, and bell practice.

Holy is a monthly guild meeting, trustee meeting, membership meeting and the like.

Holy is the Pathways newsletter, our church website, and phone tree.

Holy is even a mowed lawn and a clean restroom.

That is the perspective that we, like the Corinthians, lose sight of.

Maybe it’s because we want to reserve things that are holy to that which is rare so as to not diminish the power and sanctity of “being holy”—but here’s the thing about being holy:

If it is of God… If it is by God… If it is for God then it can’t be anything but holy.

Everything we do here, as a church, is of God, by God, and for God.

Everything we do here is holy.

And if everything we do here is holy, then surely what we give, and how we give, is also consecrated and made holy.

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Our society tells us repeatedly that there just isn’t enough.

But God is telling us, always, that within each of us, because of God, there is abundance—there is more than enough.

So may we consider what we give to God and how we give.

Will we give as those who believe the voices of scarcity?

Or will what we give be our whole selves—a reflection of the abundance that has already been given to us?

Amen.

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