June 28th, 2015
“Advice on the Offering”
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
In my first call there was an older woman who lived in a house that was a remodeled chicken coop. True story. We were involved in a capital campaign to add a much needed addition to that church. For some reason she felt compelled to tell me how much she had committed to give for the project. I spoke too quickly and said, “That’s too much.” See I knew how limited her resources were. Angrily, she replied “that’s not for you to decide, it’s between me and God. I was just giving you a heads up.”
Earlier in chapter eight of Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth he tells the church about their sister church in Macedonia. There, they were full of faith and short on resources. Yet, “they gave beyond their means.” Most of us might spend beyond our means from time to time, but ‘give beyond our means?’
Do you remember Jesus in the temple, watching the collection box? It may have been the widow from the first church I served who put those two copper coins in the till, or someone like her. It was so moving that Jesus pointed this out to his disciples, and the idea of ‘proportional giving’ was born.
Whenever someone is trying to get me to emphasize this moral issue or that moral issue, I am reminded that Jesus offered more advice, spoke about money, stewardship, more than anything except the Kingdom of God. There is no specific commandment on giving from Jesus, as St. Paul notes. So we are left to our own devices. In a new members class years ago I was taken off guard when a couple asked me, “how much should we give?” The Holy Spirit was faithful and in good rabbinical fashion I answered with a question, “how much are you ‘called’ to give.” That couple in the new member group answered my question by asking, ‘doesn’t the bible say 10%. Is that how much we have to give? and I said no, you can give more.
See this request from Paul is not about the normal ‘alms giving.’ It is not about the plate being passed in church on Sunday. The first thing it is about is the Jerusalem church that is suffering extreme poverty; and he is urging all of the people he knows to come, generously, to their aid. See for disciples of Christ, stewardship is not only measured monetarily, but also relationally.
It is as if Paul is suggesting that those Christians over in Corinth pause and think about the situation in other churches. Think about other people. See, the first point Paul makes is that being a follower of Jesus is relational.
Although the Jerusalem church was in dire need of financial assistance, Paul’s appeal for help was directed at gentile churches. And so Justice is both economic and relational—even racial. Being reconciled to God, giving to your neighbors and forgiving your enemies, living at peace because everyone’s needs are met—is there anything that feels closer to heaven? It is easy to be put off; Paul lays it on so thick, using every lever at his disposal: Shame. Flattery. Fear. He did whatever it took to get the Corinthians to eagerly give; not because the money was important, and it was, but because that’s what people reconciled to God do. They are generous.
More than one stewardship campaign has been based that gift that keeps on giving, guilt. But in reality, Paul is not trying to make us feel guilty. Instead, he is basing his appeal on the same thing that every good offering is based upon: gratitude. In his first letter to the Corinthians he exclaims “already you are filled; already you are rich!” (1 Cor. 4:8). The second thing Paul is speaking about is the Son of God, in the flesh. The “BIG” word is “INCARNATION.” Paul is saying that the drama of God’s redeeming love occurred in this life that we know, where we live, the same place where, for example we might share some of our resources with those in need. “He who was rich became poor.”
Even back then, it was easy to compartmentalize life, saying: Today I will exercise in the spiritual realm. Come Monday its back to the ‘real world.’ Paul dispels such binary thinking. Because the One who is eternal became physical, because the spiritual entered into the material, because this ultimate reality chooses to meet us in our reality, there is no separation between the spiritual and material. Money for relief of the poor, or an earthquake in Nepal, or funding education in the inner city has the same ramifications as prayer and worship or any other spiritual practice.
We might jump over this short verse in the midst of the rest of this reading, but it gets at the second part of what Paul is speaking speaking about. It is the reason or motivation for that collection: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
Sometimes we can rationalize keeping our resources to ourselves by saying that “I worked hard for it, it is mine.” What you might here Pauls saying is that none of it is yours, especially your place as a child of God. It was generously and freely, sacrificially, given to you. He never comes right out and says the how much. But the why? The why is right here in black and white, and it is the background to Paul’s advice to the Corinthians, and us, on the offering.