Scripture 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
8:7 Now as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you--so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 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.
10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something-- now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has--not according to what one does not have.
13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, "The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little."
It was about the year 50. The church in Jerusalem was experiencing extreme persecution. Many had scattered, getting far away from the city, but others remained. We don’t know for sure what it was like, but we can assume that life was pretty difficult for Christians in Jerusalem. If they were known to be Christ-followers they were considered blasphemers, and in Jerusalem, blasphemy could get you stoned to death. The Church was kind of underground at that point, and known Christians needed to keep their heads down, because those who didn’t - well, the martyrdom of Stephen comes to mind. Christians in Jerusalem were living in poverty, and Paul wanted his churches in Asia to help. Even though they were far away from Jerusalem - some 1,250 miles, about a 3 month walk - Paul wanted the Christians in Corinth and in the other cities where he had started churches, to take up collections for the poor of Jerusalem which he would then deliver. He didn’t say, “Let’s go to the Dollar Tree and gather things they will need because they are poor.” He didn’t say, “Gather up your extra stuff and give it to me so I can take it to them.” He didn’t say, “Make a collection of all the non-perishable food items you can find, and I will make sure they get food.” He didn’t even say, “Let us send our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem our thoughts and prayers.” He said, “Give money. There is a great need for money.”
He said, don’t give so much as to impoverish yourself. Because then they would have to take up a collection for you, and that’s pretty much not what we are aiming for. But give what you can afford, over and above what you are already giving to your congregation. If you are eager to give, and I know you are eager to give, let your giving match your eagerness, out of what you have, not out of what you do not have. Let your giving match your eagerness . . . let your eagerness to help and your money be matching gifts.
No one told Paul he had to take up a collection for Jerusalem. He didn’t get a directive from the church leaders back in Jerusalem. He just thought it would be the right thing to do. Maybe because he had been an instrument of their persecution himself at one time. Although that would really only be a compelling reason for him to give personally, and not applicable to all the Asian churches. According to some scholars, the idea of the Gentiles supporting the Jewish Christians, the people who had sent Paul to them in the first place, not as clients, but as equals in God’s eyes, was pretty radical. In those days, gifts tended to be either sort of required tribute from client to patron or rewards from patron to client - both of which would be made very pubic. The idea of sending a gift without expectation of reward or some concrete sign of approval was totally counter cultural. Sort of like Job’s faith in our message last week. He freely gave God the gift of his faith even without reward, even when everything was going wrong - which is not at all what was expected of him - except by God, of course. God expected this, because God knew Job’s heart. He accepted Job’s faith as an act of worship.
In Paul’s mind, the act of giving is an act of worship. When you give, when you help someone who needs your help, then you are worshiping God. The offering we receive on Sundays is not simply one of the many ritual things we do during worship, like lighting candles and singing. According to Paul it is one of the necessary aspects of worshipping God, a heartfelt human response to God’s grace and blessing.
A heartfelt human response to God’s grace and blessing. It is what happens in your heart when you hear of a family losing everything in a fire, or a city being destroyed by a hurricane, and you say, “How can I help?” Even if you don’t have much yourself, you still want to know, “How can I help?”
If you are on Facebook you may have seen a post about financial difficulties in this church. Just so you know, this week the budget team met, and said “We have no savings left. Sunday offerings are lower than we had hoped. Payday is Friday, and we can’t pay our staff. And even if we come up with the money for this paycheck, we won’t make the next one. What shall we do?” We started throwing ideas around of ways to raise money and ways to save money. If we have your email address you’ll get an email soon with the list of fundraising ideas and a request to either help out with one or more of those, or to give us your ideas. A list of recommendations will be given to the Board at the next meeting which include some staff cuts. If the Board agrees, two paid positions will become volunteer positions, and two will have their hours cut in half. If you are on Facebook, you may have already heard some of this. Meanwhile, this payday, one person declined their paycheck, and two others are holding theirs until after today’s offering is deposited in the bank.
So can we talk about churches going through difficult times? Can we talk seriously about money without y’all going all, “They only ever ask us for money” on me? One of the reasons that we are in the current situation is that maybe we don’t ask for money as intentionally as we should. Yes, we have a stewardship moment every Sunday, and I spend all of October preaching about stewardship, and all those messages usually goes something like “It is good to give of your time and talents and money.” And it is good to give of your time and talents. Most of the work of the Church is done by volunteers - people who give of their time and energy and creativity to feed the hungry, rescue dogs, help the homeless, decorate the sanctuary, take care of church business by serving on Boards and committees, praying with those who need prayer, visiting the sick, teaching our children, taking meals to shut ins, singing in the choir, presiding at worship, repairing things that need to be repaired . . . all of the oh so many things that are part of the mission and ministry of the church are done by people who give unstintingly of their time and abilities. We use supplies which can be donated by anyone - copy paper and toilet paper and soaps and candles.
If we were a house church, like the churches in Corinth and Antioch and Rome and Jerusalem, that would be all we needed - time and talents and some donated items. But we’re not a house church. I don’t know anyone in this congregation with a house big enough to fit all of us on a Sunday. So we have a big, beautiful building. And along with that building come PG&E and CalWater and Waste Management and property taxes and insurance and business licenses . . . and salaries. And those things require cash money. PG&E doesn’t barter. CalWater does not accept thoughts and prayers. Donations of food won’t pay my student loans. There is a great need for money.
We, as a congregation, are facing some hard times and hard questions. We want to build a new building - a wonderful new building where everyone will be able to come in and worship, where we can open our doors to all kinds of people and help agencies, where we can truly be Christ’s hands and feet, making the Good News more accessible to everyone. But first, we have to get through our current difficulties, and finding the best way to do that may be harder than we like. There will almost certainly be sacrifices to be made. So we need to pray, all of us, for discernment going forward.
One of the things I have said before - and that Paul said way before me - is that your giving should not make it harder for you to pay your own bills, and buy your own food. Some of you really don’t have any money to give. Again I say, you can only give out of what you have, not out of what you don’t have. Let your eagerness to help go toward helping out at fundraisers, or encouraging others. The time will come when you can, and that is all we can ask.
But if you can increase your giving by even one dollar a week - that one dollar really would make a difference. It’s a roll of stamps or a case of copy paper. If you typically give only when you attend and you aren’t going to be here one week, consider putting aside the money you would give if you were here, and bring it with you next time. Consider making your church offering part of your monthly bills - and when you write the check or money order or whatever for PG&E, write one for First Christian Church at the same time. Whatever you give, let your eagerness to help match your giving, so that your gift is an act of worship, a heartfelt response to God’s grace. Let your eagerness to help and your money be matching gifts.
My brothers and sisters, never forget that everything we have belongs to God. The gifts and talents that we use when we volunteer to do God’s work in the world come from God. The education and abilities that we use to earn the money to live on come from God. Even the faith that we have, that all will be well, that with God all things are possible - even our faith comes as a gift from God. So when we give, no matter what we give, we are simply giving back what already belongs to God. Let us stand and sing together, We Give Thee But Thine Own.