Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Riches in Poverty - June 28, 2015 - Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 08) - Text: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15
If you could have anything in the world that you wanted what would you desire? Let me take that one step further, if you could have anything in heaven or on earth or for that matter in the whole universe, what would you want? Well, in this morning’s text Paul tells us about someone who had everything He wanted in the universe and what He did. Let us look and see.
Paul actually begins by describing the response of faith of the churches of Macedonia. He describes their response of faith as an eager desire to give back. We begin at verse one, “1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—5and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also” (v. 1-7)
Notice, first and foremost, that the giving of the churches of Macedonia was a response of faith. It was not that they gave first and then expected something in return from God. No, God gave first. They acknowledged that God gave first. God gave to them first and their response of being given the gifts of God is that they “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”
And notice, not only did they give what they could give, but Paul tell us that they gave even more. Perhaps you have heard the encouragement to “give until it hurts.” Well, it always hurts to give. I would encourage you, do not give until it hurts, but give until it feels good.
Paul says of the Macedonians that they begged to give even more. Paul must have known the financial status of the churches of Macedonia. He must have known that they had limited resources. And yet, this did not stop them from wanting to give more. The faith and love of the church of Macedonia overflowed and is seen in their desire to contribute to and to help other saints who were in need.
Reading on in our text, we get to verse nine of our text which is one of those verses that a person could easily read and go on, not giving it a second thought. But upon closer examination we will see that verse nine happens to be a verse, a sentence, packed with a tremendous amount of gospel. Let us unpack verse nine and see what is there. The verse begins by telling us that, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and we do know His grace. His grace is His undeserved love for us. We do not deserve God’s love. We are by nature sinful human beings. David reminds us that “(We were) brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did (our) mother conceive (us)” (Ps. 51:5). In Genesis God reminds us, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). We are selfish, stingy, greedy, lustful people. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission, not doing what we should be doing and sins of commission, doing the things we should not be doing. We deserve death, not love. Remember the verse, “while we were sinners Christ died for us.” This is what grace is all about, God’s undeserved love for us. If we are not such bad people, if we deserved God’s love and if we deserved heaven because of something we did then there would be no grace or need for grace. But we do know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, because His grace comes to us undeserving as we are.
Verse nine continues, “that though he was rich.” Yes, this is talking about Jesus being rich. Jesus was rich, richer than we could ever imagine. While He was in heaven with the Father He was rich in glory. Think about it, Jesus was in heaven before coming to earth. He had everything He wanted or needed. Everything in the whole universe was at His disposal. He shared in His Father’s splendor in heaven. He was rich beyond all human imagination.
“Yet,” verse nine continues, “for your sakes he became poor.” When we put this into the context of what we just said we can begin to understand what this grace really means. Jesus was in heaven, with the Father, in all His glory. But He gave all that up for us. He became poor, not poor as in lack of money, He became poor in that He gave up His glory and He took on our form, He became a human being. “So that you by his poverty might become rich.” In other words, so that we through His perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection might share in His riches, in His glory in heaven. All of this Gospel Paul packs into this one sentence.
With that said, let us take a step back and look at our text as a whole. At first reading, this text sounds like a stewardship text and it would be a good one, however this is not necessarily the emphasis I want to make this morning. But before you breath a sigh of relief I would like to point out the motivation this text gives behind our own giving. It would seem that when we talk about stewardship that our first response is, “Oh, no, another talk on giving.” Which is a very law oriented statement. Of course, by now you realize that for the most part I do not preach stewardship sermons, unless the text is a stewardship text. And for the most part my stewardship sermons, and the stewardship sermons you would hear in other churches, I would hope, are Gospel oriented. I think as humans we tend to hear the law and miss the Gospel motivation. Well, listen real close because I want you to hear the Gospel this morning, because as our text says, the message I want you to hear is that they give themselves first.
Most often our first response to a stewardship drive or a stewardship talk is, “They want my money.” Well, this morning let me say that I do not want your money. And I will say it again, because I do not want anyone to leave here and say that pastor said he wants our money. I do not want your money. Now listen real close, God does not want your money. No, you did not hear me wrong. God does not want your money. He does not need your money. Think about it like this, God made the world, He created the earth and all the planets, He separated the waters and dry land, He created plants and animals and formed man out of the dust of the earth. What does He need with a human invention called money? God does not need your money, God does not want your money, He wants you! Did you hear me? I said, God does not want your money, He wants you! In our text Paul is speaking about the people in the Macedonian churches and he says that “they gave themselves first to the Lord.” God wants you to give yourself to Him. And I would ask the same, that you would give yourself to the Lord. And I must go on to add, so we do not confuse justification and sanctification, that the only way we can give ourselves to Him is that He has first given Himself to us, loved us, and given us faith so that we might respond by giving ourselves to Him. Remember, we love because He first loved us.
As far as the giving part goes, God stirs in us through the Gospel the desire to give. God gives the desire to give of our time, helping out with some church project. God gives gifts, talents, and abilities perhaps for making something for the church. God gives not only the means, but also the desire to give financially. That is what verse seven is all about. This is what Paul means by excelling in the grace of giving. The grace of giving is a gift from God because God gives the desire to give. The desire to give, even to give ourselves to the Lord, does not come from inside of us. The desire to give comes through the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace. The desire to give comes as a response to all that our Lord has first given and done for us.
I am glad that verses 13-14 have been included as a part of this text. These verses help us to understand that God does not and is not trying to burden anyone. To help us to understand this equality talk we need to simply look at what has been happening in our world. At different times and in different places in our world we have concern for the hurricane victims, for tsunami victims, for earthquake victims, tornado victims, fire victims and the like. Today there may be help needed for the victims of a volcano. Tomorrow there may need to be help for victims of any other disaster. What Paul told the Corinthians in their day holds true today. “13I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness” (v. 13-14). In other words, we help others that are in need now, because we are in the position to help. There may come a day when we will be in need. When that day comes then they will be in the position to help us.
Here at St. Matthew we have the ladies of Prism who are working to give to mission projects that are in need. Many of our members give to NAM and other agencies that work to help others in need. Our congregation gives money for the mission work of Pastor Brillinger, as well as the work of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation so they might translate and print good Lutheran material for people in other countries. We also give mission monies to our district and synod. There are many ways St. Matthew gives to help others.
When our needs have passed we look forward to the opportunity that we might be able to share with others who might be in need. As the people you have helped have their needs fulfilled then they will look forward to helping still others in need. In this way there is equality.
Maybe you can understand this equality stuff a little better if I explain it using a sort of humorous story about the difference between heaven and hell. In hell it is said that everyone is seated around a huge table full of all kinds of delicious gourmet food. However, all the people have to eat with are forks that are five feet long. The only way to eat is by using these five foot forks and so everyone in hell is starving, because they cannot get the food to their mouths. In heaven there is the same set up, everyone is seated around a huge table filled with gourmet foods and everyone must eat with forks that are five feet long, but in heaven everyone is feeding someone else with their fork so everyone is filled. And this is what equality is all about.
What does this mean? I cannot say it enough, God gives first. God gives everything. I do not believe that you have ever, nor will you ever see a U-haul trailer behind a hearse. What we bring into this world and what we take with us is what is truly ours. In other words, nothing is really ours. Everything belongs to God and He simply gives it to us or loans it to us to use while we are here on this earth, which means we need to be responsible for how we use what He gives.
God gives the best and greatest. He has given His Son and the life of His Son for us. Without this gift, without God giving first, we would be left with nothing and we would have nothing with which to respond. God gives the greatest and the best. Through Jesus we are given forgiveness, faith, strengthening of faith, life and salvation. And these are the greatest gifts.
Finally, our faith is shown in our desire to respond, which He helps us to do. As always, we know that God is having His way with us when He is running the verbs.
Because the Lord knows all our needs and provides for those needs we respond by living the sanctified life. Remember we are all declared righteous by God’s grace, by faith in Jesus we all have the gift and promise of eternal life in heaven, now we live our lives according to His good and gracious will. We do this by our daily family and private devotions, by our daily prayers and reading of God’s Word, by our every Sunday worship and Bible Class attendance, by our attending the Lord’s Supper as often as we can and so on. We respond to all the Lord has done for us by giving ourselves first to the Lord. As we do this we are strengthened in our faith and the Lord works in us the desire to give of our time, our talents, and our treasures. And in this way there is equality. To Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.