Thursday, October 27, 2016

God Is Glorified in our Giving

2 Corinthians 9:8-11 In the ancient Roman world, charity was viewed as a way to make a name for yourself and strengthen political ties.  For example, a wealthy Roman would pay for an aqueduct or commission a statue in a public place and make sure his name was on it.  Charity was about glorifying yourself.
That kind of “charity” never made it down to help those who were truly in need.  And so when a famine affected Judea in 45 A.D., there was no help for the starving. 
The poor and hungry were completely alone and on their own—except for the poor and hungry among the Christians.  They were not alone in their need.  They were not on their own with their own meager resources to sustain them--because the risen Christ was in their midst through the aid and comfort they received from fellow Christians around the world. 
Then and now, Christians support and help one another generously because we know that is what Jesus would do.
It is a testimony to the power and goodness and love of Christ seen in the lives of his followers, that the most powerful empire of the day, the empire that put him to death on a cross and put to death tens of thousands of his followers, was converted to Christ in less than 300 years from this famine. 
One of the big reasons for this dramatic turn in human history, a change that affected the entire world and continues to shape our world today, is the example of Christ’s people in how they lived their lives—the difference that Christ made in those who followed him.
Pagan historians commented on this difference in wonder.  These Christians don’t kill their unwanted children.  These Christians honor their marriage vows.  These Christians do not fear death.  And these Christians love one another and give to one another, generously. 
While the pagans and Jews of Judea succumbed by the tens of thousands to the effects of famine and hunger, the Christians in Judea were sustained and helped by their fellow Christians around the world. 
And as they were helped, praise and thanksgiving was given to God for the changed lives of those who had come to Christ, and God was glorified in the generosity of those who gave to the needy.  So it is for us, that God is glorified in our giving.  The Bible says that:
The ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 
            Every day in our world, hundreds of millions of people are fed and clothed and sheltered and healed and educated in the name of Jesus Christ at no cost to them because we Christians give generously to the church. 
The elderly are cared for; the addicted and mentally ill are ministered to; slaves are freed; and jails are safer because of Jesus Christ.  The needs of others are supplied by Christians just they have always been since the days of Jesus and thanks are offered to God because of it.
In our own community the hungry are fed; hurting families are helped, innocent babies are protected and their mothers supported because of Jesus Christ.  And in our own congregation, hundreds of children are educated and the needs of the poor are helped because of Jesus. 
This life of service and sacrifice that generously supports the needs of others, is the life that we are called to live as Christians because that is the life that Jesus led for us-- and the lives of the poor and the weak and the unborn and the sick and addicted and imprisoned are better because of Jesus Christ and the generous gifts of his people.
When we help those around us with our tithes and offerings, we show our love for others not just by what we say, but by concrete acts that put flesh and bone on the confession of our mouth.  And as we do that, God himself is served and praised and thanked because we are doing it in his name, to extend his kingdom, and to bring glory to him.  The Bible says that:
By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others
            The vast majority of Christians in Judea and Jerusalem were ethnically Jews who had come to know Jesus Christ as the Messiah God had promised to their forefathers and sent to earth in their own day.  But the Christians who were supporting them, the Christians who were giving to them to sustain them in their hour of trial, were Gentiles who had come to Christ.  
            Animosity and division and hard feelings that had existed for thousands of years between Jews and Gentiles were done way with in the death and resurrection of Jesus so that in Christ, in his body, the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile was finished and they were now one people in Christ.  And so then…
Rather than calling upon God to judge them and punish them and destroy the Gentiles, the Jews were glorifying God for the sake of the Gentile Christians who loved Christ and so loved all of Christ’s people—including their Jewish brethren in the faith. 
The love of Christ- and the power of Christ- to change enemies into fellow members of the same family was clearly seen in the gifts that were given to help the poor and God was glorified for his goodness in sending Jesus to be the Savior of us all. 
So it is to be for us.  Just like the early Jewish and gentile Christians, our lives are changed forever by our confession of faith in Jesus and our lives reflect that change. 
We believe that God is our Father and so we can give generously to others, knowing that God will meet our needs.  We believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior, who has given his very own life for us on the cross and so we give generously and sacrificially to care for others.  We believe that the Holy Spirit has called us to faith through the work of those who speak the Good News and the Church who sends them, and so we are glad to support the work of the church so that others might come to faith too.
Our confession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior changes us—just like it did for the Christians in the early church—and as others see that change, and as others receive the benefit and blessings that come from our changed lives, God is glorified.
Around our world today, and in our own community, and in our church, God is praised and thanked and glorified because of the tithes and offerings we give to the Lord. 
When we put our offering in the plate, we are doing vastly more than simply giving money to church.  We are feeding the hungry and protecting the unborn and helping mothers who have nowhere else to turn and educating children and bringing people into an everlasting relationship with God that death cannot end.
When we understand that our offerings are a confession of faith in Jesus, when we know how God is glorified through them, when we see their power to help those arounds us, why wouldn’t we be generous in what we give to the Lord?! 
What better way to bring glory to God through our daily vocation than by using the fruits of our labor to serve Christ and his people?! 
What better investment for our offerings than the lives of his people and the glory of God, both of which will endure forever?! 
What greater gift will we ever receive than the love and thankful prayers of those we help?!  The Bible says of those who are blessed by our gifts:  They long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 
            The surpassing grace of God has been poured out upon you in Jesus Christ.  He has enriched you in every way.  And he will provide for you and bless you in the days to come! 
And so then, here’s some questions for our reflection:  Are there people who long for you because of your generosity?  Are there people who love you because the kindness of Christ that comes from you?  Are there people right now who are offering up prayers of thanksgiving to God because of the way that you have given of yourself for their good?  Is God magnified and glorified in the lives of others because of you?
Those are the kind of lives that we are to lead as stewards of all that God has placed into our hands.  This is the sacrifice of thanksgiving that we gladly give to God for his gift to us.  The Bible says:  Thanks be to God for his inexpressible GIFT!

The Christians who were in the midst of a famine in Judea were blessed by the gifts of their fellow Christians throughout the world who sustained them in their need.  The Christians who generously gave to meet the needs of their brethren were blessed by the prayers and love of those who received their gifts.  These blessings are part of stewardship and why we give to the work of the Lord.  But it is another gift that is the foundation and purpose of all our giving.  We talked about that gift in our first message on stewardship.  The Bible says: 
You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that YOU-- by HIS poverty-- might become rich.
On the night when our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed, as he faced the cross in the hours to come, our Lord Jesus Christ lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed:  Father glorify your Son that I might glorify you.  St. Paul said: God forbid that I ever glory except in the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ.  Our gifts of tithes and offerings, time and talent, glorify God when they flow from the glory of Christ crucified for the sins of the world.  It is this surpassing gift of God’s gracious love and mercy in the cross that stands behind every gift that we give as stewards of God’s grace.

As we give those gifts, I pray that God would be glorified because his grace is clearly seen in our generosity.  Amen.

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