Because I Am Blessed! Part I
2 Corinthians 9:6-12
In Middle School, I was a part of the swim team. It took me a couple of years to figure out that I was, and remain to this day, a pathetic swimmer. But the thing that I was especially bad at was getting off the block.
Every race I would step up to the diving bock with an expert confidence, and I’d take my mark in perfect form, and as soon as the buzzer sounded I would dive straight out like a frog, limbs splayed in a sort of half dive, half belly flop into the pool. Then I would sink and have to recover in the water to rebuild all of the momentum that I lost.
I have a keepsake box of all of my childhood metals and certificates that lives in the attic. And if you were to look in there you would find an entire stack of participation ribbons from my years on the swim team. They affirm the fact that I tried.
I loved swimming! I did! But I was terrible at it!
Well, every October I feel like I’m 14 years old again crouched on the diving block listening for the sound of that buzzer. But rather than have my eyes looking out on the water. I am looking out at the flood of holidays that await me.
Soon the buzzer will sound and I’ll be diving into costumes and candy, into making hand turkeys with my niece and nephew. I’ll be diving into a mountain of wrapping paper, and twinkle lights, and shopping!
And eventually, together with the whole of America, we will all issue a collective groan of exhaustion as we check our account balances. I wish they still issued participation ribbons to adults… something like “Good job trying to stay on budget!”
It is because of this holiday race that comes like clockwork every year that churches across the country host their annual stewardship drives right at the beginning of the race. Before your debit and check books cards get too hot and need to be put on ice.
Now, I can practically hear the groans going off in a few of your weary heads right now.
“Did pastor say, what I think she said: Stewardship drive? UGG! If someone would have told me it was stewardship drive day, I’d have stayed home… UGG!”
For some reason, it has become taboo, or cringe worthy, to talk about money in the church. And on those few occasions that we dare to talk about the dreaded “M” word. We find ourselves sitting in the pews clutching our wallets tighter and tighter.
But I’m going to just state the obvious that no one wants to admit… it would be artificial and a tragedy if the church avoided the topic of money. Because so many of our problems, so many of your problems, so many of my problems are rooted in our struggles around money.
I was talking with the Church Counsel last Thursday night at the meeting about the nature of money, and I asked them, “Do you think money has power?” and unanimously we all agreed that it did. Power for good and power for bad.
Jesus knew this.
Nearly a quarter of all of Christ’s teachings directly deal with money. There is, what theologians call a Hermeneutical Arc of money, in the Gospel of Luke because the topic of so prevalent.
So we have to talk about it. Its necessity, the fear that it invokes… its challenge.
The teachings of Christ and the lessons of the first testament regarding money all boil down to one thing: Because money is such a powerful tool, there can be no significant spiritual growth unless we put our money and our attitude about money into God’s hands.
Tim Keller, one of my absolute favorite preachers, gave a sermon called Radical Generosity where he gave this example:
If you went to the doctor one day, and you went for a sort of general appointment wanting to improve your health, and you said, “Doctor I feel terrible. I’m tired all the time. I’m constantly getting sick. Can you help me?”
The doctor would respond, “Yeah, but your going to have to tell me everything. You need to talk to me about how you’re sleeping, how your eating, about life’s stressors. Are you content at work? How’s your family life?”
And we say, “Woe woe woe, wait. You’re a doctor. Give me a physical check up. I don’t want to tell you about things that aren’t your business. I don’t want to tell you about my stress, or my work, or my family drama. You need to just deal with the health of my body… that’s your job.”
But to that the doctor would have to say, “Listen, I’m sorry, but those things are all connected. You can’t just break your life apart. You have to bring all of that to the table if we are going to talk about bettering your health. … The mind, the body, the soul. They are all connected.”
And in the same way, God says, “You come to me and you want meaning, your want renewal, healing, strength… forgiveness! Then you got to let me talk to you about money.”
If we want to grow in our relationship with God, then we have to put our money and our attitude about money in God’s hands.
So, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (that Justin read for us earlier) teaches us about how we go about being generous people – people that have put their resources/ their money into God’s hands – Paul point out three things Impact of Generosity, the Motivation behind Generosity, and the Measure of Generosity.
To give us a little context for this lesson… Paul is raising money for the church in Jerusalem. Because that year Jerusalem experienced a devastating famine which took a big toll on the economy… so the church in Jerusalem was broke and hurting big time.
So Paul says, in his request to pass the hat, that the Impact of their Generosity will have two results. That people who are hungry and in need will be feed and that their generosity will give praise to God. Verse 12: “Your ministry of this service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God.”
Our gifts/ our resources, when we surrender them to God hands, offer a practical service by supporting the work of the kingdom of God AND they offer an opportunity for praise.
For example, when we have someone come into the church office looking for help paying their rent. Which happens every week. We have the resources to write a check in our office to help them find and keep a roof over their heads through our Making It Program. And handing that check over to those who need it is an act of praise! Not only for us, but for them as well.
I know that I have talked to many of you over the past year about moments when you have had the opportunity to minister to someone by providing a practical need… Such as helping someone pay a bill, or helping someone plant their garden, visiting someone in the neighborhood that you know is feeling blue or feeling like an outsider. These are times when you have realized the Impact of Generosity.
That realization brings meaning and celebration and praise into our lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters.
We are going to talk about this, the impact of our generosity, even more over the next couple of weeks because it is beyond vital. But for now, lets move on to the Motivation of Generosity.
Riddle me this: What is it about Christians that marks them as Generous people?
- 8 “God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything that you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work.”
The answer to this question: we are marked as generous when we act on the realization that we are born blessed and that we are Christ’s redeemed people.
The fact is everyone that sits here today was already born blessed. Through God’s grace we have been promised the kingdom! It doesn’t get any better than that.
Imagine this. You are gifted a huge new mansion, with the latest and greatest features. It had a pool in the back yard, it has a home theater system, there is a fun elevator that runs up and down all the many floors. But the only catch is, is that the person who gifted it to you, came back one day and said that he wanted one of the rooms for himself… one tiny little corner of the house. Just 1/10th of the house… He promised not to bother you too much. The house was yours… he just wanted one room.
Or image buying a candy bar for one of your kids… you give it to them and say I just want one little bite of that candy bar. They are likely to grab the candy bar and run.
Children of God, we are born blessed. We have the mansion. We have the candy bar.
There is nothing we have to do to earn those things because they are already ours.
You may have heard stewardship sermons in the past that imply, if you give money to the church- then God will bless you.
But what marks Christians as Generous people is that they know that they are already blessed and redeemed – so they want to save a little bit of the riches for the one who made it so.
If you have to be commanded to give, forced to share that bite of the candy bar… then you have never experienced the grace of God. Giving you resources (your time, money, service, prayer) is a response to the work of Christ.
If you find yourself looking for ways to share your blessings, that is one of the truest ways to know that you are on the right track with this whole “being a follower of Christ” thing.
Martin Luther said that a Christian is someone that wakes up everyday and looks up to God and says, “Lord, you are my goodness and I am your punishment. You took everything I deserved. And now I get everything you deserved.” Which is just a very Luther way of saying a Christian is someone that wakes up every morning no matter their circumstances and says, “I am rich! Thank God! I know God’s grace!”
That is why we embrace generosity. Because of the beauty of God’s goodness. Because we were born/ made/created blessed.
And I would love to stop there… but we still have to talk about the challenging aspect of Paul’s message for us the Measure of Generosity.
“So how much are we talking, Pastor? Generosity sounds wonderful. But how much are we talking? Lets get down to the bottom line here…”
Paul answers this question of the bottom line. He says give in accordance to the Gospel. In the first testament, it was required that everyone give 10% of their earnings. This went to the temple and then it trickled down. But in the Gospel, a tithe of 10% is never directly commanded.
But before you think, “Yes! A loop hole!”
Really think about it. Scripture tells us to give back to God, for God’s Kingdom work… in accordance to the Gospel.
So rather than doing the math of what makes up 10% of your income and cringing… Paul is asking you to think about how you were created/ born/made blessed. Paul is asking you to think about what God has done for you in Jesus’ redeeming work.
What does that mean to you? Think about it… give according to that.
Is that worth 10%? Is that worth less? Is that worth more? Is that worth my time, my presence, my gratitude, my resources, is that really worth 10% of what I have?
Now, you may be thinking. I would love to give to God every penny I have. I love my God and I am so thankful for God’s provision! But I have no idea how I could ever give as much as 5% of my income to the church… I have no idea how that could ever happen. I have debt to pay, a family to feed, there are other programs/ projects that I like to support… so there is just no way.
And to that God says in Malachi chapter 3, “Bring the 10% into the store house so that there might be food in my house. Please test me in this!” God says, just dare me. Just dare me! Bring enough to provide for those physical practical boring things… like food. And just see what all I can do with that! Just see how I can provide for you.
To wrap up our message today, this is what I ask you to do: reflect on the blessings in your life this week and then ask what does generosity look like to me?
Our Scripture passage says that God loves a cheerful giver. This word cheerful, is rooted in the same Greek word as hilarious. So pray, and reflect, and consider giving back to God until it feels a little hilarious and see just what God can do with that consideration. And dare God to provide that gift.
Now if you pray about it, and feel God moving you towards giving more of your resources. Maybe contributing another 2% of our income to church, maybe through giving your time to a local outreach… then that is great!!! That is cause for praise, because any movement at all means that you are working towards surrendering your resources into God’s hands. Which is scary, but so important to our spiritual health.
Take a step. Dare God to provide you enough to make your need to give and need to be generous a reality.
All of us in this room knows what it means to be eaten up worrying about money. Whether that is a constant concern for you today, or maybe that was a distant memory of 50 years ago.
But God says, “Give to the store house, and dare me to see how I can provide for you.”
God wants to give you more and more blessing, but God can’t put blessings into a clenched first.
Dare to open yourself up to generosity.
Let us pray,
Lord, It is so hard to talk about money. To talk about those thing that we guard so fiercely and hang onto so tightly. Help us God. Help us to loosen that grip so that we can make room for what you desire in our lives. Lord, you have given us the greatest of all gifts, your son. And that outweighs any need or want.
Together, Lord, this community that sit here today can do great things for you kingdom. Help us God! To be generous, not just with our resources, but with our gratitude, our welcome, our witness in this community. Lord work in the tired and concerned corners of our hearts. Provide for us lord.
Over the next couple of weeks as we engage this stewardship drive, help us, above all to give praise to you. May our efforts honor you. And God redeem these words for I know that they do little justice in portraying your love to these people whom you have named beloved. In Christ’s name. Amen.