Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we join to celebrate with You for making us rich!—Rich in mercy, rich in peace, rich in love, rich in patience, and rich in faithfulness. Empower us to put all those riches to work for You thereby showing our gratefulness. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR GOD WHO BECAME POOR TO MAKE US RICH!
TEXT: 2 Corinthians 8: 1-9, 13,14
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
I’ve known some very rich people in my lifetime. Oh, they didn’t have a lot of stocks, bonds, real estate, or a large bank account. In fact, viewed through their neighbors’ eyes most of them appeared rather poor. Nonetheless, all of them were rich. They were generous in nature and giving in spirit. And that made me feel like a king whenever I visited them.
The one common denominator with all those folks was the fact that they were Christians. They took their faith seriously. They knew the truth, they lived the truth that St. Paul lays out in our lesson: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Yes, each of them had gotten beyond this greed-centered world and had learned to define true wealth in terms of the gifts of the Spirit. And thus, they all possessed riches that money simply cannot buy, namely peace, joy, and happiness in their lives.
Our lesson is usually used to inspire parishioners to open their wallets and put larger offerings in the collection plate. But, I think that is a small way of looking at it. For there is a much larger truth that it teaches. Namely,
TRUE GENEROSITY COMES FROM A RICH HEART
Most of you probably know the background of this little lesson. It seems that the saints in Jerusalem were under severe persecution. They needed food, clothing, and help to survive. St. Paul, Titus, and others undertook the task of helping out. When they visited churches throughout the Roman empire they told them of this situation and gathered an offering to assist. Now many of those churches were wealthy in monetary terms. They were situated in large cities and had wealthy patrons within the congregations. But none of them even came close to assisting on the level of the Macedonian churches. And in human terms the Macedonian churches were small, poverty-ridden, and rather insignificant. They were wilderness churches where money came hard. And yet, yet, Paul commends them for their generosity because it came from a rich heart. Listen to his words:
“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord, and then to us in keeping with God’s will.”
There are a couple key words in this section. First, we see “their overflowing joy.” What were they joyful about? God’s grace in Christ! Forgiveness for all their sins! Knowing that on the cross God’s Son had sacrificed Himself to save their souls. If you want to talk about “self esteem” and “self worth,” well, knowing those facts breeds it in spades, doesn’t it? Are you valuable? Are you important? Yes! Yes! For God’s Son died for you! The second key phrase is: “they urgently pleaded with us.” When someone saves your life, what’s your first response? Isn’t it “thank-you,” and then isn’t it “I want to show my thanks?” Well, we show our thanks to God by giving Him our time, talents, and treasure. By putting ourselves out for Him because He has gone way beyond putting Himself out for us! We do for Him because He has done immeasurably more for us! And the 3rd key phrase is: “they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us.” Yes, we all know that we can never repay God for His goodness. We know that our service to others in need doesn’t earn us brownie points in heaven. But doing for Him and His people, giving Him our hearts, is but the natural outgrowth of genuine love, isn’t it?
I’m always reminded, when I read this lesson, of the widow’s mite. You recall that story. Christ observed a poor widow at the temple who put but 2 pennies in the collection box. He commends her more than those who gave thousands of dollars. And He does so because: “she gave all she had.” In short, she gave totally from the heart, trusting in God’s goodness. Such true generosity always stems from a rich heart.
Now, I’m not here today to lay a guilt trip on you to extort money from your wallet. I’ve visited churches that did that, that misused the gospel simply to increase the offering. St. Paul doesn’t use this little section to do so either. Note well his words: “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.”
So, each of us stands before God Almighty. And each of us has to answer the question: “Are we doing our best for God in all aspects of our lives?” Outwardly God blesses us in three distinct areas—time, talent, and treasure. Amidst our hectic New England lifestyle, many find it far easier to write out a check to church and conclude: “There, I’ve done my part.” But, what about time and talents? It is harder and harder to get volunteers in the church today—not just at Pinewood, but everywhere. Teachers, choir members, people to help with upkeep and the facilities, folks to actively serve on committees—those are in short supply. The fact is: we usually help out when it’s enjoyable and convenient. But in so doing, we limit the scope of our rich hearts and never learn other venues to grow in generosity. The old adage: “Let somebody else do it” really limits our potential as active believers.
Paul addresses that, too, when he writes: “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality.”
In any congregation there are the active believers who will always volunteer, always be there to help, and seldom say no. God be praised for them! But, sometimes these active believers find they suffer burn-out because equality is lacking. Don’t let that be a picture of our church, of your church! Be generous toward your fellow believers! Always look for avenues to help and assist in God’s Work! Don’t be afraid to use your Godly gifts to help others. Try extending yourself just a bit. And when you do, you’ll discover that true generosity comes from a rich heart! For a rich heart is a grace-filled heart. And a grace-filled heart never forgets that “in Him we live, move, and have our very being.” Amen