Holistic stewardship (2 Corinthians 8:7-15)

Paul is talking about a very specific act of generosity in this letter to the church in Corinth.

Paul almost always has something very specific in mind when he writes,

but his writing finds a way to implicate us, in this time and place,

such is the nature of this holy book of ours.

Paul writes about a special collection, taken up among the believers of the ancient near east,

for the support and relief of the church in Jerusalem.

Just in case we were curious,

the people of God were called upon to address financial crises even then –

and according to Paul, this project has been underway for at least a year.

And while this is an excellent text to encourage

faithful attention to the needs of the church and her mission,

it says much more to us than, simply, “the Lord loves a cheerful (and faithful) giver.”

Although Paul is writing to address a specific concern,

his statement of faith – his theology –

speak to us of the nature of faith and the character of God –

centuries after the specific need has been met.

Such is the nature of this holy book of ours.

“…so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.”

So here is our call to be involved in something beyond ourselves;

to participate in generosity – and not just participate in it, but excel at it.

But there is more to Paul’s request that just a physical need in another country

Generosity drives Paul’s understanding of God –

generosity of spirit – of forgiveness – of grace and salvation.

And a call to live this way – to express our faith first from generosity –

comes to us no matter our social status, our cultural context, or our tax bracket.

Paul’s argument goes like this:

God is the ultimate generous giver – how can you withhold anything?

So, our voices – our hands – our brains – our labours –

all we have is ours by grace – we are made in the image of a generous God.

How can we be stingy?

Too often we hear a call to give, and reach for our wallets…reluctantly, perhaps,

as though our money was all God needed to set things right.

But this call – this invitation to share – makes demands on every part of our being…

small wonder we are reluctant.

And sensing our reluctance, Paul offers us his prime example – our prime example:

“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.”

As we seem to have forgotten God’s generous nature, Jesus shows us how it ought to be.

Among us – living for others, in spite of himself –

Jesus’ life models for us how all-inclusive our generosity might be:

no one excluded. No one spurned. None are untouchable, all are invited.

Women, the sick, the dying and the dead.

No one is outside Jesus circle, except those who choose to be.

And those who believe themselves unworthy –

who feel like they must ‘steal some grace’ (as in our gospel lesson Mk 5:21-43) –

even they are welcomed in; such is God’s generosity in Christ.

Even so, we are sure that we know how this might work.

An outpouring of goodness from us will leave us empty;

we’ve seen it happen – our reserves are not limitless – we are not God…

…and Paul continues, that we might have no further objections:

“I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you,

but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need,

so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.”

How foolish we are, to think that God measures by our standards.

How foolish, to think that some must suffer while others enjoy plenty.

That kind of ‘either/or’ world – that division of goods and graces

is not a result of God’s generosity, but our greed and short-sightedness.

Balance is part of the created order – there is enough for all, to fill every need.

And so, Paul urges generosity, not that we might suffer some severity

but that no one might go without.

None without love- none without joy –

none without friendship – none without hope.

Those are gifts that cost us nothing.

Gifts made for sharing – gifts without limit.

And while it is true that Paul’s collection for the saints continues still –

through various ministries of every denomination on the planet –

and while it is true that this is an excellent text

for encouraging the faithful to continue supporting those various forms of ministry,

our generosity is not limited to that wonderful, spirit-led work.

Our living – our relationships – our work and our play

are daily drawn under the scrutiny of grace –

and we are urged to fully embrace this generous undertaking;

this risen life in all its complicated splendour –

for the sake of Christ and the Glory of God

such is the nature of this holy book of ours.

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