Sacrificial Sharing and Commitment

 This past Sunday, we passed out the last three bookmarks from the 7 Principles of Giving.  I hope you have time to reflect on the questions on the back of the bookmarks.

 Once again – as we look to the Macedonians as an example of giving to the church, this time we learn about sacrifice, sharing, and commitment!

 II Corinthians 8:1-5 

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. 

 

Sharing:

Paul didn’t have to beg for money from the Macedonian Christians (which he wouldn’t have done anyway). Instead, they were begging him to receive the gift!  It was the Macedonians who begged Paul for the privilege of giving, not Paul who begged them for money. The Macedonian Christians gave far beyond what Paul hoped for. What made their giving so spectacular? It wasn’t the dollar amount. It was that they “first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.”  Why were the Macedonians such good examples of giving? Because they first gave themselves to the Lord; then they gave their trust to Paul and the other apostles.  If we really give ourselves to the Lord, then the right kind of material giving will naturally follow.

When have you said “yes” to something that required your full involvement?

When you see the work this church does in your community and beyond, do you see yourself as a donor, recipient or spectator? Why?

 

Sacrifice:

Secondly, since their heart was freely willing to give, and they gave in proportion to the little they did have, they gave beyond their ability.  The account of the widow’s giving in Luke 21:1-4 illustrates the same point. She only gave two mites, which was a very small amount of money. In that sense, she gave according to her ability. Nevertheless, since she gave all she had – after all, she might have kept one mite to herself – she gave beyond  her  ability. The same principle of giving was evident in the Macedonian Christians.   “That poor widow’s mite was beyond the rich man’s magnificence, because it came out of a richer mind.” (Trapp)   “The example of the Macedonians is practical proof that true generosity is not the prerogative of those who enjoy an adequacy of means. The most genuine liberality is frequently displayed by those who have least to give. Christian giving is estimated in terms not of quantity but of sacrifice.” (Hughes)

What form does “giving according to your means” take in your life today?

When has someone made a sacrifice to give you something that seemed excessive?

When have you made a sacrifice so that you could give to someone beyond your means?

Which reminds me of a story I’ve used in a sermon before.  Florence Ferrier wrote a story about a social worker in poverty-stricken Appalachia.

 “The Sheldon’s were a large family in severe financial distress after a series of misfortunes. The help they received was not adequate, yet they managed their meager income with ingenuity -- and without complaint.  One fall day I visited the Sheldon’s in the ramshackle rented house they lived in at the edge of the woods. Despite a painful physical handicap, Mr. Sheldon had shot and butchered a bear, which strayed into their yard once too often. The meat had been processed into all the big canning jars they could find or swap for. There would be meat in their diet even during the worst of the winter when their fuel costs were high.  Mr. Sheldon offered me a jar of bear meat. I hesitated to accept it, but the giver met my unspoken resistance firmly. "Now you just have to take this. We want you to have it. We don't have much, that's a fact; but we ain't poor!"   I couldn't resist asking, "What's the difference?" His answer proved unforgettable.  "When you can give something away, even when you don't have much, then you ain't poor. When you don't feel easy giving something away even if you got more'n you need, then you're poor, whether you know it or not."

 Our wealth, or in this case, being rich toward God, isn’t measured in what we have, but in what we give away.

Here is a quote - I don’t know where it came from, but the image is powerful for me: “If you are more fortunate than others, it’s better to build a longer table than a taller fence.”   May we be people that build longer tables and give more away than we accumulate. May we be rich toward God!

Commitment: I put this last, because of the Dec 4th Commitment Sunday, but it should have gone first!

Too often we think of giving to the church as a financial decision rather than as a stewardship decision. We shortcut the ground-rules, like a child playing tee-ball running directly to third base.   We rush to start off in the wrong direction. We hurry the process. As a result, we may make a donation to the church, but we do not make a stewardship commitment.

 To make a stewardship decision, we have to go all the way around and touch all of the bases. Reaching first means making a faith decision before we even consider the financial aspect of our giving. Reaching first means calling to account our lives of faith before doing any financial accounting.

In 2 Corinthians 8:5, Paul says of the Macedonian church, "they gave of themselves first to Lord, and then to us in keeping with God's will.” Getting to first means determining your commitment level before deciding your financial position. Making a stewardship decision means responding to a deeper calling of faith, not reacting to a quick accounting. A stewardship decision is first and foremost a faith commitment, not a financial calculation.

 First things first. They gave themselves first to the Lord. That is the place to begin a conversation about a stewardship decision.

Prayer: Lord, first let me give myself more fully to You. Then let my decisions grow out of what I believe … and out of what You call me to be and to do.

This Sunday, December 4th, we will gather with our potluck of abundant food around tables after worship.  It will be a time of sharing food and fellowship with each other, as well as making a commitment to what we prayerfully discerned to pledge as offerings to the ministry at Risen Lord for 2017.  It is a commitment or a covenant you make with God in your stewardship of ministry in this world at this place and time.  Yes – it helps us set a “budget” to be our stewardly guide through the year, but the creative Holy Spirit has plenty of room to work around it and surprise us with unexpected blessings that open up our ministry even more!