Sunday, October 28, 2012

Abundant Joy and Overflowing Generosity

2 Corinthians 8:1-12

How do you see the world?  Is the glass half empty or is it half full?  Is the economy getting better or is it getting worse?  Is your consumer’s confidence quotient going up or going down?  Is there an abundance or scarcity?

Jesus was confronted with a large crowd of people.  They were hungry and there weren’t any McDonalds or Krogers nearby.  Jesus’ disciples got worried and told Jesus to send everyone away, before their hunger got the better of them.  But Jesus decided to have his disciples feed the crowd.  So he asked them – what foodstuffs do you have? They  responded – well there seem to be a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.  Jesus said – that’ll do, and everyone went home satisfied with their meal!  As they Scripture says – With God all things are possible.

  The Macedonian churches were experiencing poverty and distress, but they also were experiencing “abundant joy.”  And as a result, they overflowed with a “wealth of generosity.”  When Paul took up a collection for the Christians in Palestine, they voluntarily and generously gave out of this abundance.  Paul then turns to the Corinthians, and asks – will you excel in your generosity? 

One of this congregation’s core values, which we discerned nearly four years ago, states that we shall be a “spiritually joyful” missional community.  To put it in the words of an old gospel song:

It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Full of glory, full of glory,
It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Oh, the half has never yet been told.

This song has Pentecostal roots, and so do I.  The Pentecostal message is this – God has poured out the Holy Spirit on the church, along with an abundance of gifts – including power, joy, and love. It is out of this abundance of Pentecostal power, joy, and love, that comes to us as the Spirit moves in our midst, that we can reach out and touch the world with healing grace.  It is this same Spirit who produces within us a spirit of generosity.   

The Macedonians gave generously according to their means and even beyond their means, because they had an abundance of joy.  Paul encourages the same Spirit to be present among the Corinthians so that they too might give generously out of this joyful abundance that comes from the Spirit of God.   And as a model of generosity, Paul points their attention to Jesus, who though he was rich, became poor, so that in his poverty – that is, his willingness to become like us -- we might become rich.  Not rich in material things, but rich in joy.  

So, “if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has – not according to what one does not have” (v. 12).  The gift isn’t judged quantitatively.  It’s judged according to the way it expresses our relationship with the living God.  

As you may know by now, we’re heading into a season of stewardship.  For the next four weeks bulletin inserts, sermons, and testimonies by the elders, will speak of how we can find our joy in the act of giving.  

Some wonder why we give tithes and offerings to and through the church?  Is it just about sustaining the institution?  Or, is it an expression of our gratitude toward God.  Although the treasurer will take any gift, joy only comes from giving out of an attitude of joy and trust in God.    

So, keeping with our theme, over the next four weeks you’ll hear about the ways in which we can give generously out of the abundance of God’s giftedness.  

  • We give our days to God in prayer, for each day offers an opportunity to celebrate God’s presence.
  • We give the Sabbath by devoting ourselves to worshiping God, offering up words of praise and thanksgiving.
  • We give our Spiritual Gifts to and through the church.  We don’t keep them hidden in a basket, but instead set them free, so that God can use them for the glory of God’s realm. 
  • We give our money, not only because it pays the bills – including my salary and that of the rest of the staff, upkeep of the building, and to support ministry inside and outside the walls of the church – but because it expresses our trust in God’s abundant provisions. 

When it comes to the gift of money – each of us has to decide what is right and what is appropriate.  Our giving is intended to express our joy and our gratitude, and so it shouldn’t simply be the dollars that are left over when everything else is taken care of.  Our giving is intended to be a spiritual discipline and an act of worship.  It can take a variety of forms – including our regular pledged and unpledged giving, through special offerings, and even through the legacy gifts of estates and trusts.  Darwin Collins, who is here today,  can talk to you about how to make such gifts to the congregation and to the Region, so that your contribution to the ministry of this church can continue uninterrupted even after death.  

We support a wide variety of ministries, both in the local community and beyond, through our giving.  We’ll be highlighting some of these at the East District Assembly in two weeks, but this morning, the Rev. Eugene James, our Regional Minister, would like to share a few words about his recent trip to the Congo, where we have a strong Disciple ministry partner, and he’ll share a word about how they view giving, which parallels the vision of the Macedonian Christians.  So, let’s attend to the message of our Regional Minister. 

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
October 28, 2012 

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