Newport United Church of Christ

Here is last Sunday’s sermon. Older sermons can be accessed to the right.

July 15, 2018

Reading from the Bible   2 Corinthians 9:6-8

 Morning Message “Cheerful, Blessed, Sharing”

I want to give you a little setting for this scripture. There are two books in our Bible- First and Second Corinthians.  But most people today believe when we read them, it is a little bit like having one end of a telephone conversation. When someone is on the one end of the conversation and you can’t hear what the other person on the other end is saying. You hear, “I wouldn’t do that but I think you should do that.” And the person hearing doesn’t know what they are replying to and that is a little bit of what is happening to Paul in these letters. And some people believe that the letters were collected and there maybe even some missing pieces but what we have today are just as valid as if we had them all. And these verses really fit for us today.

St. Paul had visited Corinth three times. The first time he was there about 18 months. He seems to know people pretty well after the 18 months. He made tents with Pricilla and Aquila so he got to know the community.  We will talk about the community in a minute. But after he left, he got words that things were not going very well actually they were upside down. He wrote a hard letter to them. Part of that letter is what we read at weddings—“love is patient love is kind—it was written to a church is a knock down drag out situation.  And we can look at that scripture a little differently. He wrote that letter and then made an emergency visit which was not any small task in 58 AD. Then he wrote some more and eventually he would return to them. Meanwhile some of his helpers visited also.  We have his end of a phone call for First and Second Corinthians. We have Paul’s relationships with people there. We have First and Second Corinthians which people who put the Bible together felt were for our own edification. What can these scripture mean for us today? What can these verses teach us today? We are going to look at chapter nine which has some pretty words, some important, and some challenging words for us today. It gives us a reason to pray and praise.

“The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

Now we are going on to Corinth. Paul visited there several times. If you have studied its history you know it was a wild and crazy place. There was immorality and prostitution. It is a harbor town and all of what that might imply. It was on a trade route. Every kind of person and every kind of worship was in Corinth. And some people even call people Corinthians saying that they were immoral and loose living people. Corinthians were sinful, but that is not the issue from in today’s scripture. I learned so much about the Corinthian church and the Roman culture. It is sort of hard to translate that culture into today’s world. In Corinth this quote is from a classic Roman writer named Juvenal. He wrote satires poetry, “If you are poor-you are a joke on each and every occasion. Poverty greatest curse is that it makes men objects of mirth, ridicule and embarrassment.” You were considered impoverished or indigent  if you worked with your hands or if you were a craftsmen. If you were able to sit back and get rich from the works of others you had a higher status. But as long as you made money with your hands you were considered way down on the totem pole. Some writers say that when the Roman Empire collapsed one half of the people were slaves to the other half. And a hopeless feeling reigned high. There was no hope for a person to move up in class. You couldn’t make enough money to move up to a higher class. A lot had to do where you were born and your citizenship.

The key to this scripture, I believe, for today is their understanding on giving. Their understanding on giving was an absolute opposite to what Paul was teaching or what any Jewish Rabbi would teach or any believer in Jesus. It was so different that the Corinthian church had trouble getting their head around it. Paul had talked to them about taking an offering for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. They were very improvised. There was also a great difference between the rich and the poor in the Jewish Christian churches in Jerusalem—they were experiencing famine. It was a really tough time for them. Paul had shared this news with other churches on his trips. The other churches had come through with offerings for the Jerusalem believers. Now Corinth seemed like they were dragging their heels in collecting their offering. They said at first we want to get behind this project. Paul told them the Christians in Jerusalem where people you will never see but they are your brothers and sisters in Christ and the offering is a way to show that unity across the distance and show Christ’s spirit. In the Scriptures, Paul said “They will bless you and pray for you. Yes the Corinthians were not quite ready for that. And I think it was the fact they were such a Roman community. They had been established there about a 100 years prior by Julie Caesar and they were a settlement of retired Roman soldiers and everywhere you went they were influenced by the Romans. There were Roman gods and goddesses and there was Roman Empire worship.  It had the Roman language, Roman literature, and Roman drama parties, and all of those things. So here we have a community that thinks very, very poorly toward anyone not doing as well as they were. Paul spoke hard words but he is also encouraging them. He reminds them, “Do what you promised to do.”  Paul was struggling with them to stay the course and keep their promise.  The people in Corinth didn’t want to give if it wasn’t going to benefit them. If you were Roman and you were going to give.  For example, let’s say Nancy is a high class Roman woman and she wants to make sure that she gives, she gets something. Maybe her name is on the donor list. She is not going to give to Ruth who needs help with her food because Ruth can’t pay her back.   The Romans would say, “Never give to anyone who can’t pay you back.  Never give to someone who can’t do something for you Never give to somebody who won’t be able to give you recognition.  Maybe your name on a statue-or carved into a rock—or an election to an office—everything that was given, everything that you did in that culture was for gain.” That is a really interesting way of looking at things. Just think about how this works when you have Christ saying, “Give to least of these.” Give to those who can’t repay you. Give where ever there is a need. Give sacrificially. And Paul is saying give cheerfully. Give cheerfully to the Christians in Jerusalem. Those people can’t do anything for you. Won’t do anything for you because they have nothing to give And maybe if you give you won’t know for six months or a year if they even got it. This is what is going on.

Does that sound vaguely familiar to our culture? There are a lot of people who do not want to do anything for anyone else unless it  benefits them. It is something like a person “working the room” in a meeting. We used to make friends because friends were good to have. We sat on the front porch and visited with them. We took them a casserole when their baby was born and we did things like that. Now we meet people to visit with if they can do something for us. It is a twisted way of looking at the world Paul was teaching them that they should give without any compulsion and give just because you want to give.  You want to help. Jesus mentioned giving to others in secret. Don’t let your right hand know what the left hand is doing. Don’t let it become a great big deal. Just know you have done good. God knows what you did and that is the only one that really needs to know and God will bless you. (Dee Hargitt mentioned how she and Jerry helped a woman in trouble.) I think, Dee, your friend that you and Jerry helped knows about blessing.  She was blessed not in very single thing that she could have but she was blessed in the moment of need and she praised God for it. And that is what God is calling us to do.  The Lord loves a holy giver, a cheerful giver, and the lord loves holy hearts.  God will never let us down. Remember the Bible story of the widow who gave her last coin. And I expected gave cheerfully and without compulsion. Paul was encouraging the Corinthian to shake off the cultural baggage that told them that who so ever they gave to deserved it. Sometimes people think that whoever we give to shouldn’t have so many hand outs because they should be getting better. That those we give to should come to church. This church helps them so they better come to church. At least if we give, we should see them in the pew. The cultural baggage in Rome and Greece carries on with us.

The blessings come from God not from other people. It doesn’t come from circumstances but what God does to our heart in giving. The blessings of God is our response in giving as a response for God’s goodness and grace Is God good? Yes God is good. Has God been generous to you?  When we think about what grace does for us in the forgiveness of our sins. None of us would be interested in posting all our sins that Christ has forgiven. I am not doing it FIRST. I may be the leader in this congregation but I am not putting my sins on a poster. You can do that if you feel like you need to do that. Christ knows he has forgiven them.

Paul has asked the Corinthians to give an offering and they will be blessed far above what they can.  He says make up your mind and give what you can. He tackles this issue theologically their giving is grounded in the fact they would be blessed.

How committed are we to giving? Is it whole hearted and extravagant or do we hold some back for ourselves. When we give are our hands clasped so God can’t pour anything into them. The Corinthians won’t hear the thanks from Jerusalem but they will be rewarded. They have to make a personal decision. You know what happened in Corinth is they had gotten a little luke- warm.  They were having problems figure ring out who they are. Remember the Bible story about the communion table. The poor had to eat somewhere else and share what little they had while the rich shared what they had.  Paul said you are one in Christ. What you have here is what you have together and that is true for us today. We may not always have the material ability to act charitably. I know that many of you are on fixed income. Did you know that some of the poorest people are the best givers  in church all across the United States. The poor give percent wise more than the rich do. We are supplied by the grace of God there is always some kind of good work that we can do. We do not to earn our salvation but to prove our salvation to show our salvation so others and they will glorify God in heaven.

So what do we do with this. So if there is a special offering pray about it and decide what you  can do. When there is a need in the church, you pray about it, think about it and do what you can. Don’t feel pressured.  It should come from a deep well of joy, of love and of thankfulness within us.