Readings: Deuteronomy 15:7-11; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
A little boy wanted $100 so badly that he prayed for it every day for one week but nothing happened. So he decided to write God a letter requesting the $100. When a postal worker received the letter which was simply addressed to GOD, he forwarded it on to his sister who worked in the governors office. She, of course, brought it to the attention of Rick Synder who was so amused that he instructed his secretary to send the boy $10, believing it would be a lot of money for someone his age.
The boy was so excited his prayer was answered that he sat down and wrote a thank you note to God, which read: “Dear God, thank you very much for sending me the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you sent it through Lansing and, as usual, they took most of it.”
This morning I want to talk about the subject of giving. Last fall, during our Stewardship campaign, I talked about how our giving is a testimony to our faith. Today, I would like to expand on that thought and talk about how our giving is also a testimony to God’s grace.
In Deuteronomy, God tells us to give liberally, without complaint, and as we do God promises to bless us, and our work. Such blessings, of course, should inspire us to increases our giving.
We also learn from our reading of 2 Corinthians that giving is not simply about tithing. I doubt Paul stood in front of the church with a giant thermometer to indicate how far they still had to go before reaching their budget goal. Yet when he wrote these words I am sure Paul was aware of the difficulties that churches still face today.
Now Corinth was a wealthy city, and the well to do congregation had made a promise to help the less fortunate churches, including the mother church in Jerusalem. One of the reasons Paul writes this letter is to remind them of their commitment. Paul is also reminding us of something too… how Christian giving is an expression of God’s grace that is freely given to us. In other words, giving generously should be something we just want to do.
I can understand why some Christians still have a problem giving faithfully and generously. It’s hard to let go of what little we have. But God’s grace is priceless…It cannot be bought. As Jesus has pointed out we cannot worship both God and money. However, Jesus also taught us how to be generous, especially with our love and resources. To give generously is to live in Christ likeness. It’s good for our souls.
Scientific research has suggested that giving is also good for our health as well. A study out of UC Berkeley found that older people who volunteer their time and talents live longer than non-volunteers. Other studies reveal giving can also be contagious. It somehow causes a positive ripple effect throughout the community. More often than not, those who receive, are more likely to pay it forward. If that is true, then those who receive God’s grace should be more likely to share it with others.
I can honestly say this church is a wonderful example of paying it forward. The Deacon’s Discretionary Fund has helped at least one person a day with food, gas, utilities, or rent. Our Parish Nurse and Lay Ministry programs give endless hours of time to bring spiritual care and compassion to those in need. And time and time again, I receive anonymous love offerings given to me to help a brother and sister make ends meet. This is Christ’s work in action. It is what our faith is all about.
Paul makes it clear that our giving is not a test…but a testimony to our faith in God who gave us grace. Paul believes this is a core part of what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ. And what it means to live and thrive in God’s grace. To his point, our faith and our giving must be rooted in humble gratitude for God’s self-emptying in Christ. Paul writes, “For we know that the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, though he was rich, yet for our sake became poor so that by his poverty we might become rich.” Christ gave up everything for us. So…what are we willing to give up for the one who left us with the responsibility to care for the poor and feed the hungry?
Now in addition to expressing gratitude for God, our giving must also stem out of genuine love for one another. If one of us lives in need…while another lives in abundance…then the entire body of Christ is wounded. God’s grace and love is the healing balm of life. Our generosity is a way we participate in that healing.
Take for example of the Macedonian Church. They suffered in poverty and yet displayed a wealth of generosity. They were not commanded to give as they did, but instead they gave abundantly…and with great joy out of their own free will. We too are called to do the same, not because we have to, but because we want to. Our giving should be the very joy that radiates from each one of us. It is so tightly tied to the faith we profess that it has become one in the same. It should be second nature to faithfully give and give and give as freely as God so graciously gives to us.
Again, this is not a test, but a testimony to our faith in God whose grace is given to all. God has not withheld anything from us. His love and mercy and peace and grace are ours for the taking. These are free gifts, that cost us nothing. So what’s stopping us from giving it away…liberally? We must remember God doesn’t measure us by the amount we give…but by the desire to give freely.
I know the economic make up of our church is vastly different than what it was a generation ago when Greenville was a thriving working class community. But what I love most about this church is that rich and poor, sit and pray side-by-side. We break bread and share our joys and concerns with one another. No matter how much or how little we have,…we are all one in the same. The world may try to divide us by the have’s and have not’s, but the Body of Christ is made up of only one… the have’s. For we all have God’s grace permanently etched and tattooed on our hearts.
Faith is the great equalizer. By our faith we all inherited the great wealth of Jesus’ name. And in his name we are called to faithful give in abundance. This is putting our faith into action. It’s not about what you can afford to give, but about what you can’t afford to give up.
Jesus always points out that the most generous givers are those who seem to have the least amount of money,…but the greatest amount of faith. Remember the poor widow in Mark’s Gospel, who puts her last two copper coins into the Temple Treasury? In monetary value it was not worth much, but she gave all that she had…truly believing God gives her all that she needs.
Jesus tells us it is not the size of the sacrifice, but the motivation behind it. Again, God does not measure us by the sum we give, but by the burning desire to give freely. The widow loved God so much that she willingly give all she had. This takes great faith. And such faith yields God’s blessing…the greatest and most joyful reward.
Giving is at the heart of Christianity because it comes from the heart. It is born out of our devotion to God rather than out of a duty. Jesus says it is about the heart of the giver who gives out of poverty and not wealth; the one who gives out of gratitude and not grudgingly. God has lavished on us the greatest gift of all, the gift of his Son.
And so I will say it one more time, our giving is not test, but a testimony to our faith in God who gave us grace. Christ died for all. So in gratitude we are to love all, and we are to give all that we have. The world may tell us that “the more you take, the more you have.” But it was Christ who said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
The Grace of Giving, Simon Bickersteth, Nov. 18, 2007
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 3. Louisville: WJK Press, 2009.