2 Corinthians 8:1-15
I don’t need to remind you that we’re in tough times. You hear about it every day:
10% of mortgages in danger of foreclosure, 10% unemployment, 10 million+ jobs behind…
You see it every day:
The friend who emails you about any openings at your company; the neighbor who worries about his mortgage being underwater; your niece who can’t find a job after graduating…
As one blessed with a job and a shrinking mortgage, my heart goes out to many.
So our church has responded as we believe God would want: we’ve given and we’ve cut back. We’ve given: before the financial crisis hit we gave about $800 in confidential Deacons’ Fund requests to people in the church and community in special need. In 2009 that jumped to about $2700, and in 2010, at the current pace, it should hit about $3500. We’ve also cut back by a combined total of $100K over the last 2 years on an annual budget of $500K+.
But what is our natural tendency in tough times? The same as banks and consumers: pay down debt. Or, take the monkey–remember how you trap a monkey? You make a cage with a hole big enough for the monkey’s hand, but not big enough for the banana inside. The monkey will stand there holding the banana as his trapper lowers the net. Grab and hold on is our DNA! Consequently, in tough times what does the grace of God do to the grasp of humanity?
Back in the first century the Jerusalem church was undergoing tough times, too. Of the five trips that Paul made to Jerusalem in the book of Acts, he saw the mother church’s poverty first hand. Beginning just a few years after Pentecost’s 3000 converts continued to explode, Paul saw how they had to share bananas and barter a saw for a hammer because Jesus’ followers were ostracized. Jewish mothers said, You’re dead to me because Jesus is a false Messiah. Bosses said, I fire heretics! So the first Jewish Christians had to beg off temple pilgrims and wear hand-me-downs. Indeed, deacons were invented to care for the many poor!
Now this was more than a temporary recession. On Paul’s second trip he brought Gentile money from Antioch to the Mother Church, and then on his fourth trip and yet again on his fifth trip. But, on his third trip to the World Christian’s meeting to decide how Jewish to make us goyim, Peter begged one thing: Paul, just remember the poor because we’re really hurting.
Paul never forgot that, so on this fifth trip to Jerusalem Paul is fundraising among the rich Corinthians. The Spirit tells us in verse 6 that the collection had started and then stopped. Why stop? Was Corinth in a recession like us? Or, were they too busy arguing, as in ch. 10/11?
Regardless, Paul writes about χαριs—Carissa and charity, grace and charity. Grace in Jesus doesn’t begin at the cross. It doesn’t begin at the manger. You know where it begins? It’s when he waved good-bye to his Father in heaven, giving up that perfect, intimate union Jesus had with the trinity to enter a backwater, war-torn world to save us. That wave good-bye was grace, sacrificial love. The closest human good-bye might be a tear-stained one to a child going off to serve in Afghanistan. Sacrificial love like Jesus: For your sakes he became poor!
The poor, persecuted Macedonian Christians were so moved by Jesus’ χαριs that they did
χαριs. Grace to charity. Grasping to giving. They begged to be able to give back.
And this was a fulfillment of prophecy! The Hebrew testament had long foreseen that God would move the Gentiles to bring their riches into Jerusalem. And here God was doing just that, before their very eyes, thereby breaking down the wall of Jew and Gentile through Jesus!
Did χαριs loosen the Corinthian grip on their riches for the Jerusalem poor? We can only assume yes, but the greater question is will God’s grace in Jesus loosen our grip on our banana for charitable giving? Some are already answering that question with a resounding YES!
One of those is the now deceased, but 30 years ago first woman vice-president of this congregation, Mary Florence Cadden. MFC, as I always abbreviated her name in my datebook, was a southern belle who always gave generously of her time and tithe to Jesus. She died at 94 just a few years ago. Having lived through the Great Depression and having worked hard as a lead nurse in her career, and having served Jesus passionately here, we miss her. But she didn’t forget us. After she died we got a letter in 2008 from her estate for $18K. Then last year we got another letter from her estate for…$18K. And then just a little over a week ago we got a third letter from her estate for $9K. MFC, imitating Jesus, keeps on giving. And her gifts got us through the last two years so that we could keep giving like Jesus. But Macedonian Mary Florence’s estate is done. Now, if we’re going to help the person who lost their job in the pew in front of you, or your neighbor across the street, it’s up to us. Now, if unbelievers here and in Croatia are going to be embraced by the grace of Jesus, it’s up to us. Though Macedonian Mary Florence is spent, I am confident that those of you blessed with jobs will express χαριs, and Jesus will welcome more folks into heaven and walk alongside more suffering folks on earth.
You know why I’m confident? Because I just read this thank you from our 10/10 mission speaker, Dan Puntillo, Executive Director of Middle Earth, which we helped start 36 years ago:
thank you for the opportunity to share Middle Earth with the congregation at North Branch this past Sunday. One of the messages I wanted to share I did not–just too much to say I suppose… is that when I’m asked for a recommendation for a church to attend, North Branch is always first, ___ second and ___ third. In my opinion,[you] are the most vibrant house of worship.
NOTE: The audio recording of this Sunday service is not available.
A DVD recording may be available.