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I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the second letter to the Corinthians chapter eight and follow along as I read verses 7-15
Hear what the Spirit says to us.
7 Now 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.
8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.
9 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.
10 And 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--
11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.
12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has--not according to what one does not have.
13 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
14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.
15 As it is written, "The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little."
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Let us talk about cars, the way we use them and the way we buy them. In an article, titled “Receiving the call — the adoption option,” [Christian Family Web Site on Adoption, angelfire.com. See www.Adoptionfamily.org.]. Barb Burke writes:
One [time of financial strain and struggle came] when we were waiting to adopt our Chinese-born daughter, who was a 3-year-old suffering from Ventricular Septal Defect, a heart disease requiring open-heart surgery. Our Nissan van manufacturer reported combustible fires in the engine compartment and had recalled the van three times already, finally offering a national final trade-in recall to all owners with a deadline date. This trade-in offered a refund above bluebook value on the van, and most accepted the generous offer. To this day, we have never seen another Nissan van on the road aside from ours.
Unfortunately, we could not take advantage of this deal because our adoption costs for our daughter were close to $10,000 at that time. She needed heart surgery more than we needed a new car and the added expense of a car loan. So Christine came home and had her surgery and the van is still with us six years later. It has never shown any sign of engine problems, nor has it given us a bit of trouble. We have traveled within nine other countries with it and still own it today. Our van is now 14 years old and the speedometer reads over 145,000 miles. We’ve long since given over our faith in the van to the Lord. He hasn’t let us down. We know our van is nearing its last days but believe God will provide.
Then there is Monica Belmonte. Monica Belmonte is anti-car; she does not own a car; she does not want a car, but that does not mean she never drives. She has found that some everyday errands simply cannot be performed using buses, subways, taxis, or a metal shopping cart. In those situations, she uses a Flexcar.
Here is how it works: It is a Saturday at 8 a.m. Belmonte walks into a garage in Washington, D.C., and slips into Flexcar 791 — an immaculate forest-green Honda Civic. This Flexcar is shared by a couple of dozen people for a $25 lifetime fee and a monthly charge, such as five hours for $35. Belmonte has booked it for two hours.
She adjusts her seat and punches a code into a black lockbox to get the ignition key. Firing up the engine, she is off: first to a nearby drop-box for used clothing, then to the grocery store. She returns to the car with bags of food, loads them in and then zips off to another store for olive oil and wine. Then it is home to unload and back to the Flexcar lot, racing against the clock. She makes it, five minutes before her time is up.
Burt Ulrich arrives a bit after ten, and repeats this ritual. He takes the car and makes his way downtown to drop off two photographs for a competition, then continues on to the grocery store, and finally to a party store to pick up smiley-face balloons for his son’s first birthday party. That is the way flexcar works. For many city dwellers, this sharing of an automobile is the perfect way to keep their abundance and their needs in balance.
The concept is similar to what the apostle is talking about in his letter to the Corinthians, only he is talking about a FlexChurch, a community of believers, so flexible, so sharing, that the needs of both the church and its members are routinely taken care of.
In 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Paul is encouraging the church at Corinth to fulfill a pledge they had previously made concerning a collection for the church in Jerusalem. Paul says, in 8:8, that the reason he is encouraging them to complete the offering is so that the genuineness of their love might be tested “against the earnestness of others.” Just as love, in 1 Corinthians 13, is said to trump all the other spiritual gifts, so Paul encourages the Corinthians here to finish the offering for Jerusalem as evidence of their love. This is why all Christian should be generous people—because of our love.
Love means that we help others in their time of need. It means those with an abundance share that abundance. This is an idea found throughout the Bible. Both in the Old Testament and the New, huge inequalities of wealth within the covenant people was seen as a sign of unfaithfulness. The idea that some churches should be very wealthy and some should be very poor was distasteful to Paul, and to the Old Testament prophets. The problem Paul might tell us is a problem of perception. We are so focused on our needs, that we cannot imagine that others might have needs.
Chad Myers, in an article entitled “Balancing abundance and need,” [The Other Side, September-October 1998, theotherside.org.] writes:
Each day, an elderly African-American street preacher takes up his post on the sidewalk in front of my church in south Los Angeles. He greets every passerby warmly in his ministry of sharing the Word. On one particular morning, he held a prominent, hand-lettered sign that stopped me cold. It said: ‘The consciousness of scarcity is the root of all evil. ‘” Now, like Chad Myers, I am not sure what that street preacher meant. Perhaps he meant that we are so concerned that we might lack, that we are unwilling to share. This is always the motive of the miser; this is the reasoning of the tightwad. I might not have enough, so I dare not help anyone else. Ultimately, the person who reasons this way does not trust in God. The miser is always a person of no faith.
Deuteronomy 8 and 15 teaches us that there should be no poor in the people of God because all should realize that wealth belongs to God and is to be shared among all God’s people. Even the land on which the ancient Israelites lived was not their own land; it belonged to God. Among the ancient Israelites, you could not sell land to a stranger. It had to stay in the tribe (Joshua 12-21). The Israelites had an economic safety net in a wide variety of laws that required that they look out for each other, and that they acknowledge that their wealth was not their own, but God’s. Hence they were not sharing from their own abundance, but from the abundance God had given them.
Paul urges the Corinthians to share from the abundance God has given them. This is not about welfare; this is about balance. Note that Paul make a surprising statement. He says that the rich Corinthian Christians are indebted to the poor Jerusalem Christians. Now I promise you that is not the way most people think.
If I took a penny and gave it to the youngest child here, then I took a $20 bill and held it up and asked you who is richer: me or the child with the penny. Most people would say, "You are richer, you have the money." Not so. I may have the money, but the child is rich in youth, energy, enthusiasm, creativity, laughter, and faith. That is what Paul understood in our text today. That is why he said that the Corinthian Christians were rich in some things, and the Jerusalem Christians were rich in other things (2 Corinthians 8:13-14), and Paul wanted them to put their riches in balance by sharing with one another.
The rich should share of their wealth, and the poor should share of their spirituality. Because the Jerusalem church has sent spiritual wealth to the Corinthians, Paul believes that it’s only fair for the Corinthians to respond with a gift of material wealth.
Call it FlexChurch: the free and flexible sharing of spiritual and material resources. It is the perfect way to keep a community’s abundance and needs in balance.
This is not to say that the Corinthians are anxious to pony up and put their hard-earned cash in the collection plate. Although it appears that they responded enthusiastically to Paul’s appeal at first, they then began to hit the brakes, and so the apostle has to put some pedal to the metal by saying, “now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means” (v. 11).
But talk of money aside, Paul challenges us to strive for balance. He wants us to be as fair and free and flexible as a Flexcar program, making sure that there are always resources and support available for the Christian community. It is a question of “a fair balance,” says Paul, “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” (vv. 13-14).
Fair balance is the engine that drives a FlexChurch. In day-to-day life, this means simply sharing what you have. “For example, you have five apples, so you give away three,” suggests Victoria Sirota, vicar of the Church of the Holy Nativity in Baltimore. And why not? “They were going to go bad before you ate them anyway.”
Once you begin to behave in this way, you discover that the first step in ministry is simply sharing what you have in abundance.
It may be apples or carpentry skills or child-care abilities or an interest in teaching English as a Second Language. This kind of work turns into ministry when you begin to see that it is a way of achieving balance — balance between your own personal abundance and the world’s pressing needs.
In time, predicts Sirota, you may start to care about other people above yourself. “In this case, you find yourself buying five apples (or approaching a store and asking them to contribute them) and giving them away, because you know that there is a family in need and they really need fresh fruit.” Your focus shifts from acquiring apples for yourself to sharing apples with others, so that both you and the people around you gain all the nourishment that is needed for a healthy life.
This seems so simple, and it is; so why is it easier said than done? I suspect that it is because while most people may occasionally read the Bible, they watch Nike ads every day. And the Nike story seems to say that whoever has the most shoes when he dies wins. It is an ugly story that tells us not to care about anyone but ourselves—and this is the creed of American society.
It is not a Christian Creed, and it is not a new creed. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, testifying before a U.S. Senate committee, July 16, 2002, said, “It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed have grown so enormously.” We possess so much more and we live in such a rich economy that we can now be greedy in ways that people never thought of before—which means that we can be possessed by possession in ways that no one ever thought of before.
William R. Phillippe, [A Stewardship Scrapbook (Louisville: Geneva Press, 1999), 124.] writes: “When the landing gear of US Airways Flight 479 collapsed [in 1999] at Charlotte and the crew ordered an evacuation down the emergency slides, almost half the passengers reacted by grabbing for their carry-on luggage .... One man grabbed two bags. Another struggled with a large bag. A woman blocked the aisle struggling to get a garment bag out of an overhead bin.” Their very lives were in danger, but they still had to get all their stuff. Getting stuff and holding on to stuff is what most Americans are about.
We want control of lots of stuff. If we buy an immaculate forest-green Honda Civic and lock it in our garage, then we know that it is going to stand a chance of remaining immaculate. However, if we rent such a vehicle through Flexcar, then we lose control of its cleanliness and its overall condition. We do not know what kind of mess the previous driver will leave behind, or what kind of accident the next driver will get into.
Using a flexcar, belonging to a FlexChurch requires faith.
Faith that the Flexcar will be waiting for us when we arrive at the garage to drive it.
Faith that the car will remain in decent working order.
Faith that a FlexChurch will meet our needs, as well as the needs of others.
Faith that our gifts of food to the hungry will be put to proper use.
Faith that our contributions of time and effort will bear good fruit in the community.
Faith that our monetary offerings to the church will truly support God’s work in the world.
And toughest of all: Faith that what we give away will not diminish us, but will give us greater balance and peace and purpose in life.
Being a FlexChurch is all about balance. It is not going to put more apples in our fruit bowls or autos in our driveways, but it is going to give us the deep satisfaction of using our abundant gifts to meet the most pressing needs of the church. Participating in a FlexChurch means sharing spiritual and material resources so that together we can do God’s will, and be a creative and committed community in an individualistic world.
Jesus himself, Paul says was the Prototypical Sharer: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ,” says, Paul, “that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (v. 9).
The folks who minister to people who are mentally and physically disabled have an interesting saying, one that I think Jesus would approve of. They say: “If you can help someone, you are not disabled.” Pastor Wesley Taylor of the Tualatin United Methodist Church in Tualatin, Oregon, tells the story of a thirteen-year-old boy in a hospital. Joe had been run over by a tractor and left almost completely paralyzed. He could use only one arm. The accident left him blind and without speech and in such a deep depression that no one could reach him or help him.
A few beds away, in the same pediatric ward, there was a two-year-old boy suffering from a brain inflammation and whimpering pitifully hour after hour. Joe’s mother, remembering that saying, remembering that if you can help somebody you are not disabled, went over to the little boy’s bed and, with the permission of the child’s mother, picked him up and carried him to her son’s bed.
Then she laid the child on top of Joe — just laid him there. Joe stiffened with surprise at first, but then he took his good arm and began to caress the baby.
They lay there together, Joe stroking the crying baby. And the whimpers stopped. In the days that followed, the two spent a lot of time together and both began to improve and recover. Joe began to talk again, to leave his crippling depression, and started therapy to learn to walk again. Joe, you see, was not disabled. He could help someone. What about you? Are you disabled? Do you help? Do you share? Do you give? God gives all of us opportunities. The challenge to us is not to act like we are disabled people, but to act like we are God’s people. Amen.
Axe. Kevin. “Finding a ministry that’s right for you.” Faithlinks. February 4, 2002. Faithlinks.org.
Kleiner, Carolyn. “Go cars.” The Washington Post Magazine, September 15, 2002, 7.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 01/28/04