Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Friday, December 06, 2013
Mike Turgeon “5 practices of fruitful congregations: Extravagant generosity” 9/5/10
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.‘
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 2 Corinthians 9:6-11
Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Extravagant generosity
With today’s lesson, we will have touched upon all of the 5 practices of fruitful congregations. As we’ve learned, hospitality, worship, faith development, mission and generosity are not some new system. These are the ancient practices of the church. What is new is how each individual church puts them into practice.
How we apply these 5 practices is going to look different than the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Lutherans, etc., it’s why we have 31 flavors, right?
It is a fact of life that we will separate ourselves out according to tastes and preferences; but remember that it is fruitfulness in his name that Jesus seeks. He is the vine, we are the branches,
no matter what stripe or denomination. It is his nourishment of us that allows budding fruit to form through us.
What also is not new are the adjectives we’ve been using all along here: radical, passionate, intentional, risk-taking and today, extravagant.
But when we begin to put radical together with hospitality, passionate with worship, risk-taking with mission, extravagant with generosity, the fruits of the vine then take to over-flowing. It really is that simple. But make no mistake, transformation is necessary. And the first place that transformation must take place is between my ears. As a follower, my vision is no longer useful, my mind, your mind must be converted into Jesus‘ vision. In the best version of Jesus‘ vision, his churches are acting upon all 5 practices all at once and all the time.
Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Extravagant generosity
This is the essence of Paul’s plea for extravagant generosity this morning to the church in Corinth. Corinth, of all the churches Paul established, is considered the most chaotic, with all kinds of competition going on. The city of Corinth was one of the most cosmopolitan Greek cities, a crossroads of people, ideas and commerce.
In today’s passage, Paul makes his appeal to the church’s generosity of spirit as he proceeds to take up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. That is the background behind this passage.
Paul’s second Letter to the Corinthians itself has a troubled history too. With all the scholarship done on this letter, we believe it has likely been stitched together if you will; perhaps being the remnants of two or three of Paul’s letters.
Our best understanding is that Paul made at least a second trip to Corinth after he had founded the church. This was unusual, given Paul’s massive vision. He was intent upon introducing the entire non-Jewish, Gentile world to Christ, a tall order in anyone’s book, don’t you think?
For Paul to come back to a church meant something was up. In the case of Corinth, we know that a rival faction of Jewish followers of Jesus had begun to gain the attention of some in the Corinthian church, and this was quite difficult for Paul to accept. Whatever was being preached in Paul’s absence was not lining up with Paul’s vision, so he came back to set things straight.
In spite of all the tumult and aggravation we read between the lines, Paul does not abandon this church, he calls it to a greater vision. Paul’s direct appeal for money on behalf of the poor is a clear application of Jesus‘ teaching. By this time in Paul’s career, he has learned that some of the churches he’s started are doing better financially than others. However, the poorest of the poor seem to be those in Jerusalem who have decided to follow Jesus.
So Paul’s ‘secondary mission’ here is to help shore up the financial condition of these poor by inviting all the churches to participate in the offering. This grand effort at solidarity between the haves and the have-nots drives Paul’s evangelism all the way to the end of his life. The core of Paul’s pitch is very familiar to us.
“God loves a cheerful giver.” (some happy looking cartoon character to go with this?)
I’ll bet half of us here have used that phrase to bolster our own selves or offered it as a relevant lesson to a child or someone we were trying to help. Because God’s word is alive, you and I benefit as much as any of Paul’s ancient churches ever did.
A cheerful giver. The beauty of scripture is that, ancient though it is, when we read it in our contemporary context, we get a whole different take, don’t we? Listen to how Eugene Peterson puts it in the most contemporary translation we have, The Message.
“Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.
God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you're ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,
He throws caution to the winds,
giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
His right-living, right-giving ways
never run out, never wear out.
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.” The Message by Eugene Peterson
“God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”
Yes, of course Paul is asking for money; but more than that, Paul is asking for generosity of spirit. What he is aiming for is ‘giving in the manner in which you were given to.‘ If the Golden Rule is:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
then Paul’s appeal here might be considered Golden Rule 1a:
Give of your blessings as you have been blessed
It’s a counter-intuitive message, I know, particularly in the midst of a materialistic culture fueled by an economic system based on ‘survival of the fittest.’
It is no accident or co-incidence that our fore-father in faith and Methodism, John Wesley, derived inspiration from the Apostle Paul. Wesley studied the writings of Paul diligently. Wesley never intended to start a church, he was only seeking a spiritual renewal in the Anglican church in England. Eventually, he got thrown out of every pulpit in England for his efforts. Renewing God’s spirit in the church was considered too radical. But Wesley was responding to the call of the Holy Spirit, not to the call of the church as an institution.
The authorities threw him out of the pulpit so he started preaching in the fields and factory yards, wherever people would gather. The core of his ministry took place among the ironworkers of London, workers who were getting shafted by the factory owners. John Wesley lived in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. There was no organized labor to protect worker’s rights back then, to keep people from being chewed up and spit out by the forces of greed.
The real irony was that by getting shunned by the Anglican churches, Wesley and the methodists, as they began to call them, were operating under the radar. It wasn’t an official church, so the political authorities couldn’t control the movement. Lives were saved by the hundreds all because Wesley organized the lowly and the not so lowly to start looking after each other. Wesley took up Paul’s call to exercise your ‘generosity of spirit’ for the benefit of others.
It was Wesley who coined the modern equivalent of ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ when he wrote:
Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.
Another formula for extravagant generosity, not a formula based on a ‘zero sum’ dollar for dollar accounting, but a calculation based on the totality of God’s abundance.
Remember the extravagant generosity of Mary, the sister of Lazarus? In both John’s Gospel and Mark’s Gospel, Mary had somehow gotten hold of a costly ointment used almost exclusively in the solemn burial ritual--an ointment made from the the fruit of the spikenard plant.
The exotic aroma released when she began anointing Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair told everyone in that room that Mary had crossed a line of extravagance. What did Jesus say to them?
“Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me.” Mark 14:6
This is why we cultivate a generosity of spirit. Because Jesus first loved us, and sacrificed all on our behalf, we then give back to him--extravagantly. Yes, Jesus wants your time, your service, your money, your head, your heart; but first and mostly, he wants your spirit. Developing a generous spirit starts in the deepest of places. You must be generous to your self.
Give up the cold, critical judge who wreaks havoc on you and everyone around you. Let Jesus invade your soul, let him set your agenda. Sit with him awhile at his table.