RICH, POOR, AND GENEROUS
2 Corinthians 8: 1-15
Do you, like me, have a better day when someone is generous with you? We have returned to a local restaurant near Jenny and Brian because of the generosity of the management. When we ordered a pizza a certain way, and a different one came out, they left the first one for us to eat, and brought fresh drinks for everyone as we waited for them to make the correct pizza. As Mary Ann and I went out for our anniversary last week, and we mentioned the occasion to the server, she said: “pick out a dessert.” When we declined she said, “No; it’s a special occasion! Pick a dessert.” We did; we loved it; and the price was never added to our bill! Free! We’ll go back because of that thoughtful generosity. Eleven years ago our church buildings were damaged by three consecutive hurricanes. Many here today came over and gave their time picking up limbs, drying off hymnals, and picking up soggy ceiling tiles. They could have just stayed home, but they had generous hearts. I am grateful for them. Oh, and one more thing. Our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), continues to receive fewer and fewer funds from suspicious or unhappy congregations. They think that if they will withhold their money, they will get a message through that they are unhappy with the votes of the last General Assembly. What they don’t remember is that voters are not paid to vote at General Assembly; they are unpaid people from congregations all across America, who vote their conscience, then go home. The people who are paid to carry out the work the General Assembly asked of them keep trying to do more with less. They are staff people who have no vote. Some of the offices in our Headquarters are now vacant because churches have stopped giving to our denomination. But we give as much as we can! One reason is the generosity of the Presbyterian Church (USA.) When our roofs were badly damaged by the hurricanes, our presbytery executive notified our headquarters in Louisville. Hearing that one of their congregations was damaged, they immediately sent us a $10,000 check toward getting a new roof! And they sent books and hymnals to replace our damaged ones. Free! What generous gifts. We’ve never forgotten to give back to our denomination.
The Apostle Paul was a bit of a fundraiser: and for a good cause! His mother church—the church of Jerusalem—was poor; but she was the first! Paul was in Macedonia and Corinth preaching the good news of Jesus! Lives were being changed! People began to follow Jesus! But Paul noticed something interesting that some of you may have encountered: he found that the poor churches of Macedonia gave generously, but the wealthy parishioners in the Corinthian Church did not. He had to address both those who had means, and those that did not, asking why all people who love Jesus should give generously! He gave theological reasons. William Barclay wrote about Paul with these words: “He cites the example of Jesus Christ. For Paul, the sacrifice of Jesus did not begin on the cross. It did not even begin with his birth. It began in heaven, when he laid his glory by and consented to come to earth. Paul’s challenge to the Christian is: “With that tremendous example of generosity before you, how can you hold back?” [Daily Study Bible, Letter to the Corinthians, Westminster Press, 1975, p. 229] So we at Westminster try to model generosity, because our Lord Jesus is so generous with love, grace, salvation, and living water. This spring I watched the newspapers as church after church posted their Vacation Bible Schools. Many of them charge between $15 and $25 per child, not a bad rate for all a child gets for a week! But what about families who would not bring their children because of such a cost? That’s who we think about at Westminster. So we pay the whole freight for Vacation Bible School; actually you and I pay for it when we give to our church. And I’m proud that our money is used in such a way; that week imprinted some good lessons! This year a father of two of our VBS children agreed to act out being Jesus for a special day. He robed up, with his tan legs and sandaled feet, and took the broken pieces of ice from the group and showed them how he could make them whole! He lifted up a whole block of ice where ice chips had just been placed. A third grade girl whispered to her group leader: “Wow, Jesus came all that way just to be with us!” Your support helps us make those kinds of moments. Paul was so proud that people of little means, and people of great means, came together to give a fine offering for their mother church in Jerusalem. Generosity begats generosity! Paul was trained as a Jewish man, and he knew a practice that happened during the Jewish festival of Purim. No matter how poor a man was, during Purim he was mandated to find a man poorer than he was and give him a gift. Jesus also was taught such a teaching. And so, we seek to give so that those with less may be grateful, and even in giving, one’s joy often increases.
On our behalf, and with your generous gifts, Tobias Caskey, founder of our outreach ministry called “Friends of Francis,” have placed five people into apartments who were homeless before! Tobias monitors and guides them. At least 40 bicycles have been distributed to needy and deserving people, along with bus passes, so poor people can have transportation to look for a job of keep a job. Yes, they get hot pedaling bikes, but they say it is better than walking! It is better than walking in this sweltering heat. The generosity of many is changing their lives. In addition, Friends of Francis have gotten clothes to people who need them and we minister to four halfway houses in the area that house as few as 6 and as many as 100 men. They are having Bible studies and learning about Jesus, moving from incarceration to new life. They are grateful people and they give back! When we were looking for a man to be Jesus for one day of VBS, one of those men called Tobias back and volunteered! He would have been a good choice, but we already had a generous volunteer. Generosity lifts my spirits, both as I give, and as I receive!
Again Paul was a great advocate for collecting funds to help others. In addition to what we read in 2 Corinthians, check out Paul’s words in Romans 15:25: “At present I am going to Jerusalem with aid for the saints!” That’s what Christians do! We give generously as we are able, to help others! Or hear Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 16:1: “Now concerning the contribution for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do.” Like the story of Jesus with the woman at the well, Jesus gives living water to those who share with others. When people have been generous with me, I don’t forget it. When we are generous with others, they too are not only grateful, they give back to us, or, even better, pay it forward in Jesus’ name.
Our health ministries, youth ministries, music ministries, and outreach ministries are enhanced by gifts of time, talent, and treasure. When you give back to Jesus through his church, we are empowered to reach others. Thank you for your gifts and your tithes. Thank you for your prayers. And thank you for having your hat in the ring to help others.
When I was a child I was told the story of stone soup. Do remember the man who had nothing, except a stone that he found? He put it in a pot of water and told people what good soup it would be, but it would be better with an onion! I have an onion!” one woman exclaimed. “Ah, that is great! It would be even better with some carrots. “I have some carrots said a man.” And he dropped them in. Pretty soon, the small gifts of many people made a great batch of soup, not costing any one person enough to make them poor. Let’s make some stone soup for the world!
Let us pray: O Creator God: for the bounty we have, whether it is an onion, a carrot, a stone, or more; with sharing and giving we can have glad and generous hearts! Invite us to do just that, so we can see how our lives change because of it. In the name of Jesus who gave everything away for our sake. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner June 28, 2015