Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Fair Balance

2 Corinthians 8: 7-15
******** United Church of Christ
June 28, 2009

I have a confession to make: I have a fear of talking about money with a congregation. It’s not that I feel inadequate or uncomfortable talking about money. On the contrary, discussing why I give and how much I give is something that gives me joy and that joy adds to the reasons why I give. Last year I recorded some testimonials for WSHU, the public radio station that my family and I listen to and support with a yearly pledge. This is the testimonial, of the six that were recorded, that gets the most air time during a pledge drive: (Play testimonial track 5).

My husband had always been giving, so even when I married him it was just something that he did; so then it was something we did after that. As our income increased, we also decided to increase our gift. So every year we’ve tried to give a little more. It seems as though in our society it’s really easy to receive something and not do anything else. And then we’re just a bunch of individuals that way, but to me it seems that when you give to something, that’s when it becomes a community; when you give support there’s this pool of strength that comes together—and that’s what makes it a community to me. It’s not just listening to it and knowing that there are other people listening to it. It’s also when we all give—that’s when it becomes a community. I’m Cynthia Robinson, I support WSHU public radio and I hope you will too.

Or "I'm Rev. Cynthia Robinson, your interim pastor, I support this church and I hope you will too."

But talking about supporting a non-profit like public radio doesn’t cause as much consternation as talking about money in church. I take great care about how a congregation is going to receive a message, a sermon that focuses on money and giving, because more often than not, most folks have had a bad experience with the church asking for money. Perhaps it was or is a difficult time financially: loss of a job, medical bills, or the economy tanked. Perhaps the church asked in such a way as to imply guilt or shame, even linking the price that Jesus paid on the cross with what one should give to the church.

Even Paul in his second letter to the church in Corinth, in crafting his call for an offering for the church in Jerusalem, sounds as though he is doing just that: making the sacrifice of Jesus into a transaction, converting an act of extravagant love into a quid pro quo, turning faithful followers of Christ into potential pledging units.

“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8: 9)

In the United Church of Christ Statement of Faith it reads “You call us into your church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship.” Not only are there benefits of membership, that is, great joy, but there is also a price. Once again, it sounds like there is a quid pro quo in this relationship between us and Christ, between God and the church. It almost sounds like an eye for an eye, a life for a life.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist…if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt. 5: 38-39a, 40-42)

Jesus’ idea of a fair balance was one of heaping grace upon those who did not deserve it, forgiving those who took more than their fair share, loving those who behaved as enemies, giving lavishly to those who had spent all they had on reckless living, and not counting the cost. For Jesus, giving was not only an act of compassion but also one of subversive rebellion against the status quo.

The status quo at the church in Corinth was a juxtaposition of conflict, excellent faith, speech and knowledge and eagerness amongst its members, and an obstinate resistance to Paul’s leadership and authority. In short, they thought they knew it all, they knew Paul was right, so they tried to debunk him and his authority to speak. In the face of all this contention, Paul had the audacity to ask the Corinthians to be generous givers to another church that was hurting for money.

Paul’s idea of a fair balance was a give and take where the balance is paid forward to others who have need, casting our bread upon the waters, having faith that it will all wash out in the end.

Giving, even when we don’t feel like it or when we think we can’t afford it, is an act of subversive rebellion against the status quo. When we’re feeling unsure, scared, anxious, or downright angry about our present circumstances, we human beings have a tendency to tighten everything, including not only our purse strings but also our hearts. Giving has the power to transform us and put us back on our conscious journey toward God. That’s why giving, being generous with our money, our time, and our talents, is part of the Christian practice: it’s not to repay any debt we’ve incurred but it is an act of gratitude for “all that we have received and so have yet to share.”

And none of us has too little that we can’t share what we have. When we compare what we have against what we think others have in such a way as to diminish the power of our gift, we diminish the power of God working through us; we diminish the kingdom of God that is in each one of us. Each of us has the ability to heap a grace of some sort upon another who doesn’t deserve it, to forgive those who have taken more than their fair share, to love those who behave like enemies, to give lavishly to one who has spent everything on a reckless life and not count the cost. We have been given that ability through one who though he was rich, became poor so that through his poverty we might be rich. And not only rich but generous. And not only generous but full to the brim with grace.

We do not possess so much grace that we have too much, nor do we have so little grace that we do not have enough to share with others. As it is, we are loved with an everlasting love. If God was truly fair, all that we have done and left undone would come back to us in full measure. God’s fair balance, therefore, is that all receive grace, all are forgiven, and all are called to be generous, yes, even extravagant, with anyone and everyone, with the whole body of Christ.

Without the cost of discipleship there is no real joy; without the joy of discipleship, the cost is merely a burden rather than an opportunity to partake and share in the kingdom of God. You have been called into the church, in this time and place, to excel in a generous undertaking with eager and open hearts. How, in your giving, will you be subversive and rebel against your present circumstances?

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