Saturday, October 6, 2018

"Abundant Giving"

            This Sunday, October 7th, at Christ UMC-Lincoln, we will continue our proclamation series on Abundance.

Our first focus was on Abundant Living, where we saw that Christ intends for his disciples to live full, abundant lives filled with peace, hope, and joy.  We saw that in order to achieve an abundant life, we need to (1) be satisfied with a sufficiency of possession; (2) live with generosity; (3) depend upon family, friends, and others for security; (4) focus on authentic abundance through gratitude, positivity, inter-personal relationships, helping others, and pursuing deep meaning in life; and (5) maintaining a deep commitment to discipleship. 

Our second focus was on Abundant Opportunities, which occur when God invites us to become created co-creators in God’s ongoing work of creation and redemption.  Expressed another way, they are those opportunities when God invites us to become junior partners in establishing God’s Reign here on Earth. 

This week we will examine Abundant Giving.  To help us reflect on abundant giving, I will draw from the Apostle Paul’s insights in 2 Corinthians:
So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.  (2 Corinthians 9:5-12)

            The Apostle Paul had a vision for the new churches which he established.  It was a vision of reconciliation and commitment, a bonding of all communities of faith who cared for one another, shared with one another, and worked together to serve God.  One central component of his vision was a collection of money, which his Gentile churches would collect to be given to the poor in Jerusalem.  For Paul, this collection was a way for the Gentile churches to express their appreciation to the Jerusalem church for its willingness to welcome them as brothers and sisters in faith. 

            Paul begins this part of his letter to the Church in Corinth by reminding them of their earlier promise to give abundantly to this special gift of appreciation for the Jerusalem church.    Paul continues by elaborating on why all Christians should give abundantly toward God.  He begins with a metaphor from farming.  A farmer who sows his seed sparingly will also reap sparingly, whereas a farmer who sows abundantly will also reap abundantly. 

Similarly, for Paul, when Christ’s disciples invest grudgingly in ministry for God, then in the future they will receive sparingly from the Divine.  By contrast, Christ’s disciples who invest wholeheartedly and generously into serving Christ, will also receive abundantly from Christ.  Paul then follows up on this observation by essentially providing three guidelines for the Corinthians in their monetary gift to the Christians in Jerusalem:

1.      Each church member should decide for themselves how much to contribute to the offering for the Jerusalem church.
2.      No church member should give reluctantly or out of a sense of obligation.
3.      Each church member should give cheerfully and graciously because that is what God intends.

Continuing, Paul shares his conviction that God has the ability to provide each of us with every blessing that we need in abundance.  God provides us with everything which we need, so that we, in turn, will be able to give and share abundantly in every good work, which God calls us to do. 

Underlying Paul’s view of abundant giving is that all of Christ’s followers have a duty and an obligation to serve others and work for justice.  Believers must do good works.  From a Christian perspective, God has already given to us so graciously and abundantly.  From the beginning, God created humans in the Divine image and then sought us out in love.  Then, out of love for us, God became incarnated in the human person, Jesus of Nazareth, teaching us how to live—and then suffering crucifixion and death.  In response to God’s love for us, Christ’s followers must do good works.

Later, in verse 10, Paul elaborates.  Again, referring to the metaphor of the farmer sowing seed, Paul suggests that it is God “who supplies seed” to the farmer, so that the farmer may have an abundant harvest.  It is God who provides the means by which we earn a living and acquire material possessions.  Continuing the metaphor, Paul suggests that God will “multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest…”.  That is, God will increase our material possessions. 

But, then note what Paul says next:  God will increase the “harvest of your righteousness.”  Here, righteousness means either justice or benevolence.  In other words, Paul claims that God may increase our material possessions, so that we can give even more than before.  This claim reminds me of the John Wesley dictum, “Earn all you can.  Save all you can.  Give all you can.” 

Paul continues in the next verse by noting that the Corinthians “will be enriched in every way for your great generosity…”.  This observation returns us to our first reflection on Abundant Living.  By giving generously and abundantly to the offering for Jerusalem, Paul claims that abundant living will be available to the Corinthians.  As we saw previously, one of the central keys to abundant living is “to live with generosity.”
If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, October 7th, as we continue our exploration of Abundance.  This Sunday, as we build upon the Apostle Paul’s vision for his ministry and the churches which he established, I will ask members of the congregation to reflect on their visions for the future of Christ United Methodist Church.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

Come, join us.  We are committed to acting inclusively because God loves us all.

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