Staunton Mennonite Church
2 Corinthians 8:1-15
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you.
7Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. 8I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9For 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. 10And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
It was Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year. The local Mega-Shop had been advertising slashed prices on all of the year’s hottest gift ideas: X-boxes, Tickle-Me Elmo, laptop computers, you name it, it was on sale. The doors were to open at 6:00 am, but a line began forming hours beforehand. In fact there was a crowd pushing and shoving and getting agitated all around the entrance.
A smallish man with glasses pushed his way to the front of the crowd, almost to the doors when he found himself lifted above the crowd and carried to the rear. He found his way to the front again, this time to be struck in the face by a burly man holding a shopping list. As the smallish man found his way to his feet he declared out loud, “I’ll try it one more time, but if they don’t let me get to the door, I don’t know who is going to unlock it.”
We North Americans sure do like to shop, don’t we? And we need to buy things, I understand that. But my goodness, things do get ugly around the holiday season. Every year we hear about fights breaking out, people being trampled, even people dying because of the crowds of shoppers.
It is really sad that consumerism has taken over and really overshadowed the reason of Christmas. Christmas has become just another time to buy, buy, and buy some more. And not only is this sad because there seems to be no apparent connection between Christmas and Christ for most people, it is sad because consumerism seems to be so far outside of what we as Christians are called to. And it isn’t just a problem during the holiday season.
Today I want to look at the scripture from 2 Corinthians and see how we as Christians should be spending the money that God has given to us as stewards of this resource. And hopefully we will see that God does indeed want us to spend money, but perhaps not in the way that most of us North Americans choose to.
Our scripture for this morning is Paul’s encouragement to the church in Corinth to be generous with the material blessings that they have received. Paul makes reference to the church in Macedonia and how though they were afflicted and stricken by poverty, they were able to contribute to the ministry of the Lord. Paul makes sure to mention that the Macedonians gave freely and were not forced to do so. More specifically, they freely gave according to their means. It actually says that they gave even beyond their means (vs. 3). And they did this because they considered it a privilege to be able to contribute to the Lord’s service.
Not only did they give of their finances, verse 5 tells us that they gave of themselves as well. I take this to mean that they didn’t just send money out to the people, but they helped by cooking meals, opening up their homes, sending warm clothing, and praying for those who were in the service of the Lord. The Macedonian Christians gave of what little money they did have and they gave of their own time and goods as well.
Is it is easier to give when you have a lot or if it is easier to give when you have little? I have known of very rich people that have given large portions of their income to charities. Ted Turner and Bill Gates come to mind. But which is more impressive to you? When a billionaire gives millions of dollars to charity or when a poor widow gives her last two pennies?
In the January issue of Guideposts there was an article about these women who were going door to door collecting money for a young girl that had recently been paralyzed in an automobile accident. They wanted to raise $1,000 for the family of this girl.
As these women went door to door trying to collect the money for the young girl, they found themselves being turned down house after house. One of the collectors hand not received any money all day. Then she made the decision to stop at a run down home at the end of the block.
She knocked on the door and heard an old lady call out, “Come in. I’ve been expecting you. I heard that you were collecting money for the accident victim. I placed all of the money that is left from my social security check in an envelope on the kitchen table. It’s for you to take for the fundraising efforts.”
Inside the envelope were two copper colored coins. The woman had given her last two cents. And as any good Guidepost article should, this story had a happy ending. Those two pennies were needed to put the collectors over their goal of $1,000…by one penny.
So yes, I am encouraged to hear about billionaires giving millions of dollars to charities. But I believe that I am even more encouraged by hearing about an old widow giving her last two pennies.
This brings to mind the story from Mark 12 (and Luke 21) about the widow’s offering where a widow dropped her last two coins in the temple offering to which Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” And I think the point of this story is that how much you give is less important than how much you keep for yourself.
So Paul is writing to the church in Corinth about how these poor Macedonians were able to give freely out of their relatively little amount of money. And Paul is saying that there is something special about choosing to live below your means and giving a larger percentage of money to the Lord. He knows that the church in Corinth is doing alright financially. He even says in verse 14 that the Corinthians have plenty. So Paul encourages them to give; to give more than just the bare minimum; to give enough that it makes them need to tighten their belts a bit. To give enough that it might cause them to have to give up a few luxuries.
Now Paul isn’t suggesting that they give away everything. But I like the way that the NIV puts it beginning in verse 13, “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality.” Give a little more so that others can have a little more.
This seems so out of place in our society, doesn’t it? If I can afford a $100,000 car, society says buy it. If I can afford bigger this, faster that, I am told that I am entitled to it. And if I can’t afford it today, all I need to do is put $500 down and make an easy monthly payment of $29.95 and it will be mine in six short years! Our society is enamored with consumerism. We are addicted to buying.
David Brinkley once said, “Thrift used to be a basic American virtue. Now the American virtue is to spend money.” Do you remember when thrift was a virtue? I believe that I grew up in a home where thrift was a virtue. We were not given every toy we ever wanted. I was the second male child in my family and you better believe that my clothes were hand-me-downs. Our new clothes came from K-mart, not Abercrombie and Fitch. We had our own garden where we grew our own food and canned it for the winter to come. I believe that I started my first savings account when I was in the third grade. And I knew that if I wanted something that I needed to raise the money first. Thrift was a virtue in my home growing up, and I bet it was in many of your homes as well.
But thrift has been replaced with consumerism. Wikipedia defines consumerism as, “the equation of personal happiness with consumption and the purchase of material possessions.” In other words, buying stuff makes us feel good. It makes us happy to buy stuff.
Is this true? Does stuff make us happy? Is it true that the one who dies with the most stuff wins? Does stuff really give us a sense of satisfaction or improve our social status? Not by my perspective. Stuff is addictive. Once we get some stuff we just want more. And more is never enough. (View this video on stuff http://storyofstuff.org/ ).
But consumerism is not only dangerous for our bank accounts but it is dangerous for the future of our children. We are running out of resources because it takes resources to make the stuff that we want to buy. Here in the United States we make up about 5% or the world’s population and we consume about 30% of the world’s resources. This means that if all of the world used as much stuff as we do, it would take about 4 planet earths to sustain the world. We only have one earth.
And not only do we buy stuff at an unhealthy rate, we also throw it away at an unhealthy rate. Only 1% of what we buy today will still be in use after 6 months. We live in a throw away society, a society that is slowly killing itself. Perhaps we need to regain a virtue of thrift. Not for our own sake, and not only for the sake of the future generations, but for the sake of the gospel.
This past summer Sonya and I had the opportunity to go to Maine as staff members for a theological educators’ seminar. We knew right away that we were out of our league. There was a lot of money being thrown around; fancy restaurants, exciting events, expensive clothing, you name it. So us poor Mennonite farm kids might have stuck out a bit.
My frugality surfaced a few times and was noticed by our supervisor. I don’t try to hide the fact that I don’t like to spend a lot of money. So after the seminar was over and we were packing up all of the things to ship them back home, I began packing items with the used pieces of paper from large easel charts. Our supervisor said, “Kevin, we can go buy more bubble wrap if we need to.”
I explained to her that I felt that this used paper would do just fine and we could save a few bucks by using it instead. She commented on how frugal I was, actually I believe she called me cheap. And she asked me something I will never forget. She said, “So what do you do, do you save as much money as you can so that you can buy something big and expensive?”
I told her, “No, I save as much money as I can and give it to those in need.”
She laughed at me…she thought I was joking and she laughed at me. I know that I like to joke around with people and have a good time, but this was not one of those times. I was being serious. I choose to live a more simple life so that I can afford to give more money away. And I know that there are still many things that I can cut out of my spending so that I can give more money away. And I think that all Christians should do this.
It has been said by many people that we must live simply so that others might simply live. This is what Paul is suggesting to the church in Corinth when he says “your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.” If we all consumed the maximum amount of stuff that our money will allow and not leave any for others, then we are not being very good stewards, are we?
So here we are, the last Sunday of January. Next Sunday marks the first day of February. And I am going to propose something that might not be very popular for this February. I am proposing that we observe February as “buy nothing month”.
Obviously, we cannot go the entire month of February without buying anything. Continue to buy food, continue to buy your medications and other drugstore items. But I would like to suggest that we observe buy nothing month by assessing whether or not we really need the things that we think will make us happy or bring us fulfillment.
Can you go the month of February without buying any CD’s or DVD’s? Can you go the month of February without buying any new clothes? I’ve got a pair of running shoes that need replaced. Can I go until March without buying new ones? Can we go through the month of February without buying a new tool, a new nick knack, a new antique, a new golf club? Can I go through February without buying any new books? Maybe I can try out the local library instead? Let’s see how much money we can save in February of 2009. Let’s make thrift a virtue again.
And what then are we to do with the money that we have saved by not buying these non-essential items? Don’t save it. That sounds a lot like we are storing up for ourselves treasures on earth. No, I am suggesting that you give it all away. Take all of the money that you saved in February by not buying anything but the essentials and give it away.
Now this is probably where you are expecting me to say give that money to the church, right? I’m probably telling you to save up as much money as you can and send it to me and I’ll send you this free bookmark with God’s blessings. Wrong! I am not asking you to give one single dime more to the church. Please continue what you have been giving, but take that extra money that you saved in February and give it to the place where you believe it will best be used for God’s kingdom. Give it to the Valley Mission, give it to Campus Crusade for Christ, give it to Virginia Mennonite Missions, give it to a local or international missionary, or give it to Our Community Place. The point is to give it away. And I hope that by me telling you to give it to someone or someplace other than to this church you can see that I am not just after your money. Stewardship sermons are usually seen as attempts by the pastor to raise more money for the budget or something like that. But I am trying to show you the same thing that Paul was trying to show the Corinthians. I am trying to show you that it is better to give than to receive.
Paul gives much praise to the Macedonians for giving as much as they were able to give toward a mission that they supported. Paul recognized that the Macedonians gave beyond their ability to give, meaning that they probably sacrificed some of their own comforts for the efforts to further God’s kingdom. And Paul encouraged the Corinthians to do the same thing. You can call me Paul today because I am encouraging you all to live simply for the month of February. I am encouraging you to live simply so that others might simply live.