by Chris Ritter
These are divisive, polarized times, aren’t they? In the midst of a very political and plague-ridden year I ran across a couple posts on social media that made me smile.
Merriam, a member of our church, wrote:
This morning on my walk (it’s absolutely gorgeous out!) I am reminded how divided our country and even our neighbors are with the election by all the signs. It’s sad really, as we all know that there’s more to the signs than just the name, there’s so much more representation and symbolism. There’s so much hurt. It’s hard to imagine coming to some middle ground. With that being said, I feel called to invite you to church. There, I know there is goodness. Even if you have a church and just want to worship with my family and others for a Sunday. Sunday school (9am) is also available. You can come to church (masks required) or worship online (We need fellowship and togetherness more than ever. Praying for everyone as we transition through these new seasons in life.
Another church member, Shelley, posted:
During the next 28 days don’t let the elephants and the donkeys make you forget that you belong to the Lamb.
Amidst all the tumult of earthly politics, the Church of Jesus Christ represents something and someone greater. The kingdoms of this earth, with flags, governments, armies, officials, and all the rest… are only for a time. If human history teaches us one things, it is that kingdoms rise, and kingdoms fall. But our citizenship is in a Kingdom that cannot be shaken.
I remember the early days of the Gulf War in 1991. My son, Isaac, was born the day Operation Desert Storm began. I was twenty one years old and just sure I would be drafted. As our soldiers first arrived in Saudi Arabia to form Desert Shield, they had only their green fatigues. The desert combat uniforms were not prepared. One soldier asked his commander how they were supposed to be camouflaged while wearing green in a desert. The answer: “We are going to bunch together and make like an oasis.”
In the middle of earthly politics, I hope that church can become an oasis for you.
But we can never retreat from the world. Our Lord calls us to be salt and light within it. Let’s revisit our key verses:
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.Matthew 5:16-16 9 (NIV)
Jesus calls us to be salt and light… to have a positive impact on the world around us. Most of us have good intentions in that department. Others of us have a plan. Just to recap…
In Week #1 we said that a key way to be a light is simply to share our story. Our testimony is maybe the most powerful tool we have. We need to learn to use it often. We need a short (elevator speech) version, a longer version, and a current explanation of what God is doing in our lives. 1 Peter 3:15 says to “always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us.
During our second week we discussed how Jesus said people would see our good works and glorify God. We are salt and light as we serve in the name of Jesus. The servants with the biggest impact are those who make themselves available on a regular basis to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I want to brag on our senior high youth who have signed up to do yard clean-up in our community this fall. Others in our congregation have plans to serve at the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Moline and serve our veterans around Veteran’s Day.
Last week we focused on “salt.” Jesus warned that our saltiness may lose its flavor. Chemically, this is impossible. But it is possible when salt gets so mixed with other things that it is no longer distinguishable from what is around it. I focused last week on the Christian distinctive of physically gathering together to worship on The Lord’s Day.
Shining through Giving
Are you a generous person? I think that most of us would like to think we are. If we imagine what people might say about us at our funerals, “generous” is a word we would love to hear. Giving to others in Jesus’ name is one of the ways we let our light shine and glorify God.
Like everything else in this message series, most people have good intentions, some people have a plan. Generosity doesn’t happen by accident. It takes discipline. It takes a process. We really see Paul walking people through the steps of generous giving in the Corinthian Correspondence.
One of Paul’s great projects was an offering among Gentile churches for the mother church in Jerusalem. He wanted these donations to be a huge and public sign of the unity of the church. You read about the offering in several of Paul’s letters. Let’s read his instructions to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 16
Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.1 Corinthians 16:1-2
1 There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. 2 For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 3 But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given. 6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” 10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!2 Corinthians 9
Let’s break out Paul’s teaching:
It is one thing to give when you feel like it. It is another thing to tell others they can count on you. Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 9:5 that they promised a generous gift. I have noticed that businesses often make requests for charitable donations at their cash registers. They do that for the same reason they pack soda, gum, and candy bars near the check-out. Just as people make impulse purchases, they also do impulse giving. But the most generous people challenge themselves to be consistently generous.
A promise requires a plan. Paul’s suggested plan for the Corinthians:
2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.1 Corinthians 16
Most people give as often as they are paid, but there are many ways to plan to be generous. This time of year we have farmers that give grain to the church. They sell the grain in the name of the church. What a blessing! Others have learned to give directly out of the mandatory payouts from their individual retirement accounts. My first lesson in tithing was from a bumper crop of pumpkins that I sold from my front yard when I was in elementary school.
Another way to say it is “regular.” The needs are regular, so the giving must be regular, too. Paul said to give on the first day of the week. The most important secret to generosity, I think, is to give from the front end… not the leftovers. With both giving and saving, there never seems to be much available at the end of our pay period. But we do the most important parts first, everything else seems to just work out.
2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.2 Corinthians 9
Every so often someone comes to me asking what they should give to the church. What it their fair share of the church budget? They always leave disappointed because I never supply them with that number. We can’t simply take the church budget and divide it by the number of families. Why? That is not God’s way. Some are blessed with more and others are blessed with less. In God’s eyes, the smallest gift might be the biggest. Jesus praised a widow that gave two pennies… because it was all she had. She gave 100%. The big donors were giving only a small fraction, even though their gifts were large.
Proportional giving is the concept of the tithe. We give off the top. We give proportional to how we have been blessed. This is the way.
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.2 Corinthians 9:6
Our giving represents an impact zone around us. Our generosity increases our positive impact on the world. Paul speaks of it in terms of sowing and reaping. The most that is planted, the more that is harvested. There is a cycle of generosity and blessing that begins when we give.
7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.2 Corinthians 9:7
I once served Luther’s Chapel United Methodist Church as pastor. The treasures, Dwight, told about a man that used to come to church. During the sermon, he would carefully fold up a dollar bill and tie it into a knot. He would drop that knotted up dollar into the collection plate as a weekly declaration that he was tight and giving that dollar hurt him. What a way to live!
It is fun to give! It is a blessing to give. When something positive happens in and through our church, you are a share-holder in that blessing. Our collective impact redounds to God’s glory. When we are close to God’s heart, our giving will be joyful. God loves a cheerful giver because he is one!
You may have noticed a pattern of words starting with “P.” We can see this, too, in the results of our giving. Paul says one result is Provision:
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.2 Cor. 9:10-11
We don’t give to get. But neither can we deny that God takes care of those who give. Paul says that when we sow our seed that God makes sure we have more to sow the next time. Giving is not a trick in order to get rich. But when we participate in the economy of the Kingdom God’s blessing naturally flow.
Another result is Praise. Paul tells the Corinthians that many will praise God because of their giving. And these people will also pray for them as a part of the partnership that is created through generosity.
Let’s plan to be generous. Members of First Methodist in Geneseo are receiving an Estimate of Giving Card in the mail this week and will be praying over that, asking the simple question, “God, what would you have me do?” But no matter who you are, you can challenge yourself in this area of giving. We grow in grace as we grow in giving.