2 Corinthians 8:1-7 • November 18, 2018
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
This is the final week in our worship series “Abundant Joy. Overflowing Generosity.” Our theme this week is “Giving to God our Income.”
I pray that this worship series has been a blessing to you and your family. And as we travel this journey of faith together, I pray that this series has challenged you at times, maybe even ticked you off a little bit.
Most importantly though, I pray this series has helped you grow more deeply and fully into what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and a steward of God. Helped you grow more deeply in your relationship with other brothers and sisters in Christ. I mean, come on…how can you not feel the Spirit’s presence as the prayers of our brothers and sisters hover over our heads as we worship.
The eighth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth has been our guide. As we conclude today, Paul invites us to live out our faith joyfully and generously “…their abundant joy” he writes, “and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” These words are a direct reflection of our worship together today. Because today, we will be invited to enter an intentional time that will allow us to prayerfully make a financial commitment before God to support the mission and ministry God is calling our congregation to live out in the world.
Our giving to God – whether it’s giving our time, our spiritual gifts, our prayer, or through our financial ability – can often become secondary to a million other things that occupy our attention, time, thoughts, and money. Sometimes our giving to God can become selective, inconsistent, impulsive, or something we do out of guilt way more than we do out of joy.
Paul invites the church in Corinth, and I believe the church of Good Shepherd today, to give joyfully and to give generously. God, and God alone makes it possible for each and every one of us to give in ways that overflow with joy and generosity. For some of us, that means two coins. For others, that means abundantly more than the spare change in our pocket today. Whichever side of that spectrum we find ourselves on, you and I have an opportunity today, and in every day of our life of faith, to give generously. Generously at levels of abundance that we may never have considered possible before.
There are ways in my own life of faith, ways far beyond anything my spouse or I could have imagined when God made it possible for us to give. To give in ways that bring us joy each and every day. To give in ways that allow us to experience God’s presence in our lives in ways we could never have imagined were possible.
I know first hand that many of you have experienced something similar in your faith life. Throughout this worship series, I’ve asked dozens of people who call Good Shepherd their faith home this question. “In what way(s) has generosity brought you joy as you live as a follower of Jesus?! Either through your own generosity or in someone else’s generosity toward you.”
One person said, “By giving to others, I believe I become a little closer to the person God created me to be.”
An 8-year only boy asked if he was going to get to fill out a commitment card again this year. Yes, someone is actually excited about this faith practice. This 8-year old boy has set aside money from his monthly allowance in the pastor year to give to the work God has done through Good Shepherd. It’s a faith practice he began last year after completing a commitment card during our fall stewardship worship series.
A young mother said that as she was generous she, “ experienced joy through the overwhelming freedom from her own sinfulness or shortcomings in that act or moment (control, greed, selfishness, perfectionism, entitlement, lack of trust etc.). As a receiver of generous giving,” she said, “the way I have experienced joy was through authentic humility and recognizing that I am loved by God so much that he would send his people to bless me.”
A retired couple in our congregation has experienced joy in generosity by helping a family who lives in poverty in our community have a blessed Christmas.
Other brothers and sisters in our congregation have experienced joy in generosity by serving at Heaven’s Helper’s Soup Cafe or Ministry on the Margins or leading worship at the North Dakota State Penitentiary. And still, others have experienced joy in generosity during service work in Houston, Texas or the Dominican Republic or Ethiopia or even at the Dakota Zoo, raking leaves.
A stewardship mentor once told me there are three kinds of giving: grudge giving, duty giving, and thanksgiving. Grudge giving says, “I have to.” Duty giving says, “I ought to.” Thanksgiving says, “I want to.” The first comes from constraint; the second from a sense of obligation; the third from a full heart.
Nothing much is conveyed in grudge giving since the gift without the giver is bare. Something more happens in duty giving, but there is no joy in it. Thanksgiving is an open gate to the love of God. It is the “Amen” of giving. Thanksgiving is abundant joy and overflowing generosity.
It is my hope and prayer that thanksgiving is the kind of giving we have lifted up during this worship series. It’s the type of giving I believe most fully reflects God’s mission for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.”
The average church member in our denomination – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – gives about 2% of their annual income to God’s work through the church. I believe there are members who are part of Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry who give far more than 2% of their annual income – maybe even reaching to and beyond a tithe level of 10%. I also believe there are many other members who are part of Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry who, for whatever reason, choose not to give anywhere near 2% of their annual income. The fact of the matter is, about half of our membership households give nothing, 0% of their annual income, to financially support Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry.
The good news of God’s mission and ministry for the congregation we love and live out our faith through is that all the money and all the time and all the people that God needs to fulfill this mission is already here. All that God needs, we already have.
The hands, feet, and voices that strive for justice and peace and care for our neighbors in need are those who already call this church their faith home. Your pastors and staff do not have a secret collection of people to do the work God is calling us to do. You and I are those people God is calling into ministry. You and I are those people God relies on to do this work each day.
Hopefully, you know this, but if you don’t, I want you to know that there are no outside sources of financial support that enable Good Shepherd to exist in the world beyond our own financial generosity. Every penny that is given to our congregation is used to carry out God’s mission and ministry faithfully, joyfully and generously. Your pastors and staff do not have secret stashes of cash just in case we need it. You and I are the people God relies on to financially support the work God is calling us to do in the world today through this congregation.
Throughout this worship series, we have heard the Apostle Paul commended the Macedonian church for giving themselves first to the Lord. Because out of that act of faith, abundant joy and overflowing generosity was the result. Thanksgiving in never before seen ways.
Today, as we make financial commitments to Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry for the next year, we make those commitments by first giving ourselves to the Lord.
As one of your pastors, I implore us to give ourselves first to the Lord in all that we say and do.
I believe with everything I am, that when we do that, when we give ourselves first to the Lord, abundant joy and overflowing generosity will result.
Joy and generosity beyond anything we can begin to imagine possible today.
Joy and generosity that will be life-giving, to thousands of brothers and sisters in every corner of God’s creation.
Joy and generosity that are possible because God wants Good Shepherd Lutheran Church to be part of God’s work in the world today.
Joy and generosity that is a gift from God. May our giving always be thanksgiving. Amen.