We worshipped outdoors this day but pre-recorded a service for YouTube. Thus the sermon in the video and the one below are two different sermons.
Proper 8 (13), Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
27 June 2021
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Years ago I attended a mission developer conference. The stewardship presentation included the encouragement for pastors to share their own giving with the congregation they serve. I have yet to do that, but I have long thought it worthwhile.
I consider it worthwhile because it assumes that we are accountable to one another. Without accountability to one another there would be no Our Saviour in Richmond.
Such mutual accountability includes the possibility to challenge one another, and by this I mean that if I shared our giving you could challenge us to do better. It would make the church less of an institution we support and more the Body of Christ that we are.
Of course, money is a taboo in our society. There was a time when those with wealth would not flaunt it, but now it’s OK to show it by the consumer goods we buy or the house we live in, we just don’t talk about it, except when we get a deal on something or what we would do with a lottery win.
I think that showing one’s wealth has become accepted behaviour in part because the whole Western world has subscribed to the American Dream that says that wealth is accessible to anyone, even though we know that it is not. And believing that it is accessible to anyone makes it acceptable for the wage gap to continue to grow and for some to have billions while others work three jobs to pay the rent.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6) Jesus instructs us – when giving to the poor – not to let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, but this is not an argument for making money a taboo, instead Jesus warns us not to think better of ourselves than we ought (Romans 12).
Years ago a United Church minister friend lamented that the anonymity of our offering to the church no longer accomplished what it had been intended to, to protect the identity of generous givers (and limit undue and disproportionate influence) but that it had come to protect miserly givers, by which he did not mean people who could not afford much in terms of financial contributions but rather our inability to encourage each other to a greater love of the church and a greater commitment to its ministry. He suggested that keeping our giving anonymous meant that we could live as if we were not accountable to each other and if we were not the church together.
I think I remember these things (the workshop and what my friend said) because – just like everyone else – I mostly avoid talking about money, and yet I am uncomfortable doing so because money has such a hold on our lives.
When we were younger and the kids were still home, we always lived from paycheque to paycheque, yet part of that was because – even though we lived relatively modestly – that while our house wasn’t bigger than other people’s homes (at least of those who were home owners) we lived in a house that was bigger than we needed, and that we wanted to live a middle class life with expectations of certain consumer goods and a certain life style. To be fair, when we moved into our house there were not many homes on the market but we also lacked the imagination to imagine less. Money had a hold on our lives because our expectations and our income only matched barely.
Money also has a hold on the political realm. The economy always trumps human rights, the environment, education, social commitments. The economy is the fig leaf for us not to rethink the world we have created and permits us to protect the status quo. And we continue to give the economy priority even though we know that not addressing human rights, the environment, education, social commitments or addressing them only insufficiently will cost us later and often much much more than if we had chosen not to subordinate them to short term economic goals.
Our reading from 2nd Corinthians is one of three passages in which the Apostle Paul talks about the offering for the church in Jerusalem. Paul appeals to the generosity of the Christians in Corinth by telling them about the generosity of others (just before our reading), and by reminding them of the generosity of God when he says ‘though Christ was rich, he became poor for your sake, so that you would become rich.’
Paul wants the Corinthians to be imitators of both the Macedonians and of Jesus. Of course, we imitate what we admire. And so Paul’s encouragement to enter into a friendly competition with the Macedonians is not just about parting with some hard earned money but is also a question about what they admire, who they want to be, and how they want to live their life.
Paul encourages more than a financial gift, rather by appealing to the generosity of God, Paul suggests that giving is an act of imitation of Jesus, though he was rich, became poor for our sake, so that we might become rich (Paul is appealing to a different kind of wealth).
This reminds me of conversations I have had with people in previous parishes who were opposed to either place the offering on the altar (there was no credence table), or to take an offering on Good Friday. Both seemed to imply that money was somehow too profane for it to come too close to what we consider holy.
Paul on the other hand sees giving to the saints in Jerusalem (Rom 15:25) as an act of worship, which is a way of life, because it is the way of God. Furthermore, Paul encourages giving that is contrary to the giving the Corinthians know, giving that offers patronage, status, recognition in the same way that the billionaires of today give and in turn receive tax receipts, recognition, and influence.
It is important for us to note that Paul does not promises any of these benefits which also serve to reinforce the power structures of rich and poor, powerful and weak, benefactor and beneficiary.
Rather, this giving and all giving shall level differences. Eugene Peterson translates the last three verses of our reading like this,
“No, you’re shoulder to shoulder with them all the way, your surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching your deficit. In the end you come out even. As it is written,
Nothing left over to the one with the most,
Nothing lacking to the one with the least.”1
In our translation Paul speaks of a fair balance.
And giving that aims at equality creates community. There was tension between the Jerusalem church and Gentile believers and the offering is far from a mundane gift but rather is an opportunity to create community by caring for one another.
Paul speaks about “a fair balance,” “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” It is human nature to compare ourselves to those who have more, not those who have less and then to conclude that we do not have too much. Paul, on the other hand, urges us to compare ourselves to those who have less.
St Augustine was less diplomatic when he said, “The superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor. Those who possess superfluities, possess the goods of others.”
Paul and Augustine don’t just talk about money but they talk about what kind of people we want to be, who we want to imitate, and whether we believe that we are accountable to each other.
I thank God for saints like Paul and Augustine who remind us of who God made us to be, and that following Jesus involves community and that community includes generosity and mutual accountability.
1 The Message