The Uprising of Stewardship

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Resurrection changes everything. As we follow the Risen Christ, we anticipate the power of life rising up within us, between us, and around us. During Eastertide, we are in a series called The Uprising. Followers of the Risen Christ have been part of revolutions for two thousand years. So far in this series, we have explored the uprising of fellowship, discipleship, worship, and partnership. This week we are exploring the uprising of stewardship. In Christ and with Christ, we live in the power of life, facing the suffering of the world head on, and proclaiming new life for all. Resurrection happens. 

I’m really glad we are talking about stewardship this morning, although I hope that in some ways we are always talking about stewardship. This week we are talking specifically about financial stewardship, monetary generosity. This is an important topic for us to talk about, because it’s such a massively significant aspect of our lives. Our attitudes about finances are constantly being influenced by the world around us, and our culture’s attitude about finances is very different from the way money is supposed to work in the Kingdom of God. Jesus talked about money a lot, and the early church had particular ways of handling wealth and possessions. We would be doing ourselves a huge disservice if we ignored all of that rich teaching. So I’m glad we are talking about it and it doesn’t bother me.

We live in culture where money is required. There’s maybe some bartering that happens on the side, but for the most part, you need cash, or credit. We are drowning in the pressure to buy, to spend, to consume, to get more and more and more. But in a society where everyone is conditioned to get as much as they can for themselves, but not everyone has the same opportunities, any equality is a miracle. Equality is evidence of God’s grace.

Let me illustrate this with a story from the Old Testament. You remember after the ancient Hebrews were liberated from Egypt, they were wandering in the desert and they were hungry. They had a legitimate need, and God provided manna: bread from heaven, food that appeared on the ground each morning. God provided, but human tendencies and differences were still present. Some feared scarcity and gathered a lot. Some had bodies that couldn’t easily bend or carry heavy loads and they gathered a little. But in the even, everyone had exactly as much as they needed. Equality is a miracle.

But what about when God doesn’t rain bread from the sky? What about when God uses people to meet the legitimate needs of other people? Equality is still a miracle, maybe even more so. That’s what our text is about this morning. We are reading from the book of Second Corinthians, which was a letter from the apostle Paul to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth. In this section, he is following up with them about an offering that they had promised to receive to help the Christians in Jerusalem, who were very much in need at that time. Let us listen for the word and wisdom of God in the book of Second Corinthians, chapter 8, verses 1 through 15. 

“And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their abundant 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 (grace) of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this generous undertaking (grace) on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this generous undertaking (grace).

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act (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.

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

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. The goal is equality, as it is written: quote “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” “

This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.

As we prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate communion, I want to draw your attention to a few things in these verses. When we interpret the Bible, it’s always a balance to determine whether what is being said is particular to that community at that time, or whether it’s a principle for all Christians everywhere for all time. So I suggest that we read this wisdom as something that was relevant to our ancestors and may be relevant to us.

First, when it comes to financial generosity, no one is too poor to give. In this case, the community of people in Macedonia were experiencing a severe ordeal of affliction extreme poverty. But in that situation they had abundant joy (there’s a whole lesson right there) and the combination of extreme poverty and abundant joy overflowed in rich generosity. No one is too poor to give.

Along with that, we must never assume we know what someone else can give. The Macedonians asked for the privilege of participating in the offering for their suffering siblings in the faith in Jerusalem. I have been guilty in the past of not asking someone to give because I thought they were too poor. What arrogance on my part. The most demeaning thing we can do to someone is treat them like they have nothing offer, financially or otherwise. We must always offer people the opportunity to participate, even when they might be the intended recipients. We must never assume we know what someone else can give. 

Next, sometimes the Spirit compels us to give beyond our means. Paul reminds the Corinthians that the Macedonians voluntarily gave according to their means and even beyond their means. There are times when we feel prompted by God to step out in faith and do something outside of our comfort zone. We know this is true in many other areas of life; this story demonstrates that it can also be true when it comes to financial generosity. If we feel compelled by the Spirit to make a gift beyond our means, we then have the opportunity to exercise our trust, our faith, that God who is the Source of All Goodness, will provide for us in return, or that we will be OK even if we lack something for a while. Sometimes the Spirit compels us to give beyond our means.

The next one is actually two, but I want to put them together: Giving is always voluntary, and it can be strongly encouraged. Paul says that the Macedonians gave voluntarily, that he is not commanding the Corinthians to give, and that he wants things to be fair. And he is lovingly direct in encouraging them to finish what they started and fulfill their commitments. Regularly contributing to the financial support of Zion and our mission is one of our commitments of membership. But membership isn’t forced on anyone. You are welcome here regardless of your giving. And I will wholeheartedly and enthusiastically encourage you to give: to the ongoing support of the church, to our Pride sponsorship, to the Strengthen the Church offering, and later this year, to the capital campaign that will make it possible for us to do ministry in this building for another generation. Nobody is going to force you to give to any of those things, but we sure will encourage you to participate, not just because it will help the project, but because it’s good for us to be part of something larger than our own situation. Giving is always, voluntary and it can be strongly encouraged.

Next, the purpose of my abundance is to meet someone else’s needs. Paul says there shouldn’t be relief for one group and pressure on another group, but a fair balance. And then, you know what he quotes? It’s the story of the manna. He reminds the Corinthians that the one who had much did not have too much and the one who had little did not have too little. When giving is voluntary and everyone contributes as they feel led to, there will miraculously be enough for all. The purpose of my abundance is to meet some else’s needs.

And finally, when we feel scared or hesitant to give, we remember the self-giving love of Christ. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ was demonstrated in the way he gave up the richness of the divine realm to experience the poverty of life on earth. In this amazing gift of grace, he became human to show us how much God really loves us and that we don’t have to fear any kind of scarcity, not even death. When we feel a fear of scarcity and are tempted to hoard what we can for ourselves, the self-giving grace of Jesus shifts our perspective and spurs our courage and generosity. 

And that is what we celebrate at this table this morning: the amazing gift of the incarnation: God became flesh and dwelt among us. In his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, he offered us a new way to live: a way of trusting God instead of relying only ourselves, a way of living in community instead of living in isolation. Demonstrated by a shared meal at a table where all are welcome. Which is why our ancestors in the faith have insisted for hundreds of years, this is the joyful feast of the people of God. People of all genders, all ages, and all races—people with every type of body—come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and gather about Christ’s table.

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