March 2, 2014 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15
The early Christian followers believed that they were not long for this earth. Christ’s return was imminent, and they would be moving on to a better life. The Acts of the Apostles chronicles how those early believers shared their possessions with each other so that “There was not a needy person among them.” This may have worked for a time, but then Christ didn’t return, resources were being depleted, and they were faced with some communities being more well off than others. Sound familiar?
This was the case with the mother church in Jerusalem. They needed help, and Paul was out to deliver. He was on a stewardship campaign. He had written ahead to the church in Corinth asking them to take up a collection, and they had - but it wasn’t a very generous offering, not according to what Paul thought the Corinthians should be able to do. So he writes them again, warning them, “I’m coming! Try again. You can do better - and here’s why you should.”
2 Corinthians 9: 6-15
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.’
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Now, we don’t know if the Corinthians were actually being stingy. They may have just been fiscally conservative. If they gave away all their hard earned resources to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, they might end up just like them - impoverished. Times were uncertain. You never knew what tomorrow would bring. You needed a nest egg to fall back on - right?.
Not according to Paul. He doesn’t go along with that theory. Nowhere does he say you have to “give it all away”, but he does have some choice words about generosity, which have been used as tag lines in many stewardship campaigns over the years: “God loves a cheerful giver,” “You reap what you sow”, and one that spoke to me this week: “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity...” He doesn’t specify in what way we will be enriched. He leaves that up to us to discover.
So this morning I want us to think about how our lives are being enriched by our generosity to the Eliot Church. If you are comfortable doing so, I invite you to close your eyes, and in your minds eye stand up here where I am looking out over this sea of faces. Then walk down that center aisle, out the front door and across the street where you get a nice view of the church with its stately columns and the clock tower.
Now, imagine what your life would be like if this church had never existed - or if it hadn’t been rebuilt after it burnt down those three times. If the money or the will power to begin again hadn’t been there.
What would this patch of land look like? What would be in its place?
Where would you spend Sunday mornings?
What people would you never have met?
What friends would be missing from your life?
How would your faith, your beliefs be altered?
What other church activities would you never have experienced?
How would the community of Newton be impacted if Eliot had never existed? how about our association? our conference? our denomination? the women and children we’ve supported in Zambia?
You may come back into the sanctuary now. Two Sundays ago, due to weather, I sat at home when I was usually here officiating worship, and I felt lost. Something very important in my life was missing. What would you miss if Eliot wasn’t here? How would it impact your life?
(pass two mics)
(after they have shared)
What does this tell you about the value of a church community? of this church community? - the impact it has on the lives of it’s members and the wider community?
Stewardship is about recognizing all that we have - and according to all of you, we have an abundance. It’s about inspiring us to share that abundance with others. In the Biblical world, stewardship was about household management. It designated the task of controlling finances and supervising servants and workers. Joseph and Abraham had stewards, as did the kings of Israel, albeit on a larger scale.
In the New Testament the household becomes the church. Throughout scripture stewardship concerns not only material, but spiritual well-being. I got to thinking about the many ways our church does stewardship. Last week $1,355 was dropped in the collection plate to help defray the cost of running this church. That is an essential part of stewardship. Without it I would not be standing here today and Charles would not be leading the choir. You would be having even more difficulty than usual hearing me, and it would feel mighty cold in here this morning.
But stewardship has to do with more than money. Last month we had our first ever Ministry Fair - 16 tables displaying the many ways volunteers give of their time and talents to do the ministry of this church. In the hallway you will find a Stewardship bulletin board (beautifully created by Nancy Jones and Peggy Clarke) where you can sign up to join one of those teams. Discover your passion. It inspires generosity. There we will also monitor our pledges as they come in.
I learned an interesting statistic at a workshop during Super Saturday: Out of 51 states and territories including Puerto Rico, how do you think MA ranks in terms of household giving - and this is across all charitable giving. (solicit answers) 48th! yes - 48th! We were trying to figure out why. I challenge you here at Eliot to prove them wrong.
Becoming passionate, generous people depends on the way we look at life. We give as we live, out of a sense of who we are and what we believe to be true. There’s an old adage that goes, “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” Stewardship operates out of love and hope and faith, not out of fear or anxiety or a sense of scarcity. It recognizes the abundance that is ours, both spiritual and material, and invites us to share it.
At that same workshop they suggested we rename our Stewardship Team or “Hospitality Committee.” I like that! I’ll be talking to Elizabeth about that. So you will be hearing from the Stewardship Ministry Team this week. And when you do, I ask you to remember the visualization exercise we did this morning. How has this church impacted your life? Where do you see us moving in the coming year and in what ways can you help make that happen?
Paul wisely told the Corinthians, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” There is a certain joy that comes from giving of yourself. Years ago George Bernard Shaw captured it beautifully: “This is the true joy of life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” Well put! Stewardship makes others happy. It makes God happy, and you happy in the process.
Jesus summed up the purpose of his ministry this way: that we “may have life, and have it abundantly.” Please stand if you are willing and able and join me in the Litany of Belonging and Commitment printed in your bulletin:
S: Our Creator God calls us to become the servant body of Christ,
ministering to the world, and grants us the blessings of membership in
the holy, universal church.
P: We thank you for our place in the church.
S: The Spirit of God fills this house. God delights in its beauty, and sings
through the music of the faithful. God speaks by the reading and
proclamation of the word, stirs in the waters of baptism, nourishes
through the gifts of bread and wine. God hears the prayers of the
people and rejoices in our words of praise and thanksgiving.
P: We thank you for your presence and power among us.
S: God gathers us into the fellowship of this congregation. Here we share
our spiritual gifts and employ them to build up the body. Some of us
teach and proclaim, some shepherd and heal, some lead and
administer, some serve, prophesy, and evangelize. All of us dwell in
God’s love, and all pray for one another in the peace of Jesus Christ.
P: We offer our gifts to honor your holy name and to strengthen one
another in faith.
S: God calls us to commit our money and all our resources to the
building of the kin-dom, and to give generously of our wealth in
proportion to the blessings we have received.
P: Search our hearts and try our ways that we might give to your glory, O
S: Let us go to serve God in how we live and how we love, in what we
give and all we share. Let us renew our commitment to Christ’s call for
servant hood, obedience, and sacrifice to establish a world of justice,
prosperity and peace.
P: We go as one to love and serve God.
S: May the words of our lips and the meditations of our hearts--
P: May the deeds of our hands and the action of our lives --
S: Be pleasing in your sight, O God our Creator
P: Through Jesus, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit.