Text: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Did you know that what we have in this letter of the Apostle Paul is a component of one of the first Christian fundraising efforts? You see, in the mid-1st century, times were particularly hard in Judea. A terrible famine in the year 46 was compounded by Roman taxation and instability in the region, particularly in Jerusalem. As an act of solidarity with these fellow believers, Paul, in his travels from place to place through the Gentile world, took up a collection to help these starving people. (Isn’t it interesting to realize that “Christian disaster relief” goes that far back in our DNA?) The passage which Albert read for us comes right after Paul has described the mechanics of how this collection is being planned. Paul names a trusted co-worker, Titus, and others who will be carrying out the task. He also shares the news that another congregation, the church in Macedonia, has already been very generous, and expresses his pleasure about the “pledge” that the Corinithian church had previously made known to him. I think it’s fascinating that what we might consider to be such “mundane church business” is included in our holy scriptures!
It points, as well, to a principle that Paul deeply believed in: that generosity begets generosity. I think this is true for most virtues. Goodness breeds goodness; compassion begets compassion; the practice of grace makes for more grace; peace and justice create the conditions for more of the same. These things are contagious. And it’s not a matter of “peer pressure,” as Paul writes; it is the very nature of the workings of God’s Spirit.
Paul uses an agricultural metaphor as he describes this phenomenon, speaking of planting seeds and reaping a harvest. It’s actually a rather skillful piece of writing, given that Paul has experienced some tension in his relationship with this particular church. He never refers expressly to money, and he never specifies an amount in his “ask.” What he does address is his concern for the spiritual health of his readers.
You have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating: church offerings are not really about the money. It is not the church’s need for money that is at stake. It is, rather, the need for believers to give. We provide many opportunities for our people to bless others, and it’s not just because there are needs, and there are vulnerabilities, and there is injustice that calls for rectification; it is not because giving makes us feel good, although that is often true. It is primarily because giving, letting go of what we have, is an act of faith. It involves, over and over, putting trust for our wellbeing in the hands of God.
Paul speaks to the role of the heart in this matter of giving, and notes that cheerfulness is a key component. When anger, resentment, or fear characterize our financial and our giving decisions, a shadow is cast over our souls. When the means by which we earn, the mechanisms by which we save, the choices we make in spending, and the causes to which we give, line up with our values, we find peace. We find joy. We exude a cheerfulness that is not forced, and it is contagious.
The spirit of generosity, kindness, compassion, justice, cannot be extinguished by fear, hatred, or violence — not in the ultimate scope of things. And when we give, we are pledging allegiance to this tenant of faith.
We have a little motto in our congregation. We often say: “We are in the grace business.” This doesn’t mean that we are dedicated to sloppiness, or that we don’t pursue excellence in what we do. It doesn’t mean that we don’t practice accountability and transparency, because we do. It also doesn’t mean you can “get away” with giving little, or in a miserly fashion, because “no one knows except the financial secretary.” And it doesn’t mean “God provides” magically without anyone giving anything (that would be like praying to win the lottery). What it means, with regard to stewardship, is that God has given us what we need, and God blesses us with the Spirit (of grace) to carry out a distribution plan that allows everyone to be cared for, for everyone to know they are loved, for everyone to count. That is God’s economy.
It is a privilege and a joy to be in that business. And I thank you, again, for your support of the ministries of this congregation — with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness. May grace abound, among us and through us. Amen.