Not Grudgingly Given

Not Grudgingly Given

November 07, 2021 • Rev. Rob Fuquay

During the reign of Oliver Cromwell, there was a shortage of currency in the British Empire. He sent out representatives throughout the country to identify any and all sources of silver in order to make new coins. After one month, the committee reported that they had searched the Empire in vain. The only silver they could locate was in the cathedrals where the statues of the saints were made of choice silver.  

So Cromwell replied, “Then melt down the saints and put them into circulation.”

Sometimes we get a little tripped up with this word “saint” and even get uncomfortable with being called one ourselves and seeing the idea that a saint is something we should live up to. Some believe being a saint means being holier than others, someone to be revered or honored or great. But in reality a saint is nothing more than a person who allowed their lives to be melted down and used as currency in God’s economy of mercy, service and justice in the world.

So as we honor the saints of St. Luke’s today, let me ask you, How are you doing with your sainthood?

My preaching professor in seminary used to say that when it comes to giving our lives to the Lord people think that is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table and saying, ‘Here’s my life, Lord, I’m giving it all.’ But the reality for most of us is that God sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of saying, ‘Get lost.’ Go to a committee meeting. Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home.

“Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious,” Craddock would say.

“It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.”

Melt down the saints and put them into circulation. If you think about it saints become invisible people. They get melted down. Their silver shows up in the lives of those they bless. I wonder if that is why Paul identifies saints the way he does in today’s passage. He said, “Now it is not necessary for me to write you about the ministry to the saints.” (9:1) Who is Paul calling saints? Not the givers, but the receivers.

If you are just joining us in this series we are looking at the largest section of material in the New Testament that talks about giving, 2 Corinthians 8-9. Paul spends two chapters discussing giving because the Corinthians have stopped taking a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul writes to inspire them to give, and he begins the second chapter of his appeal talking about this “ministry to the saints.” Clearly the saints are the poor in Jerusalem. Its as if Paul is making a subtle point about who true saints really are. A saint isn’t someone who goes through life needing the honor of others who value them. A true saint is someone who lives to bring value to others, to treat others as saints. This question really goes beyond church and religion. It’s a question that applies to any person anywhere. Do we go through needing the value of others or do we go through life looking to give value to others?

Now, it’s clear by this point which answer Paul hope the Corinthians will choose, but Paul knows that for people who have slipped over the category of making life about them, that they are not going to change because someone tells them to. No, most people are inspired to change their lives because of what they see others. So do you know what Paul does? He inspires the Corinthians with…themselves. This may be Paul at his most brilliant use of persuasion.

He brings up the Macedonians again. That’s how he started the conversation on giving in chapter 8. We looked at this two weeks ago. Paul bragged on the generosity of the Macedonians to provoke and inspire the Corinthians. I said then it’s a very risky approach. Its sort of like saying, “Why can’t you be more like them?”

So Paul drags the Macedonians back into his argument, but this time he doesn’t brag on them. He brags on the Corinthians! He reminded them that when they first heard about the appeal to help the poor in Jerusalem, they responded eagerly. Their generosity inspired the generosity of the Macedonians. So he tells them here: “Your zeal has stirred up most of them.”(v.2)

That’s what true generosity does. It stirs something beautiful inside us that inspires us. Paul is trying to reawaken what he knows is inside of the Corinthians.

A few weeks ago we put out an appeal here at St. Luke’s to help Afghan refugee families staying at Camp Atterbury. We gave out list of all kinds of things people needed, personally hygiene items, baby needs, etc. That weekend I got a text from one of our members saying she went to Costco to buy her items. It makes sense. With the amount of things they put in a package at Costco you could supply most of Afghanistan. Anyway, she bought toothpaste that was on special. At the check out the cashier said there was a limit of 2 packs per customer. She explained that she was buying this to help Afghan refugee families through out church, so even if she couldn’t get the special she would pay regular price. The guy said okay and walked off.

But a few minutes later he returned and said he could void the charges and ring them up separately so she could get the special. She thanked him and then he handed her a $50 bill and asked her to add it to the collection for the families. Let me read the rest of this from the text I got:

He said he hadn’t tithed this week and also hadn’t felt like he had done anything particularly useful to help others so he wanted us to have his donation. I thanked him for his generosity and told him how appreciative we were for his support. I was so touched by the gentleman’s attitude—a great reminder in a very tough time that there are still good, kind and generous people out there. I needed that this week—He truly gave me a special gift today. And tomorrow you will find an envelope from “Jim at Costco.”

Melt down the saints and put them into circulation. You don’t have to come to church to meet saints. You can find them at Costco. Inside of all of us is something beautiful and wonderful that wants to do good in the world and make a difference. It just gets covered up sometime. It gets covered up with fear. “Will I have enough? What if I run out? Times are hard.” It gets covered up with resentment. We get treated poorly by others and fall into that place where we say, “Well, if that’s how people are going to treat me, then I’m not bothering to help!” Sometimes its covered up by the enormity of the need. We get overwhelmed by the problems and say, “What good can I do? How is my gift going to make a difference with those problems?” And that’s when we need reminding that the key that unlocks us from fear, resentment and helplessness is generosity.

Some of you may be thinking this is all just a ploy to get money for the church, but it’s not. Generosity is so much bigger than a church pledge. Look at what Paul says. It’s as if he has been leading us up this point. Everything he’s been saying about giving so far is like a trail of breadcrumbs that have brought us to our destination. Paul says, “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.” (vv6-7)

There are lots of ways to sow in life. We sow with words. We sow in the compliments we give and the encouragements we offer. Sometimes the greatest ingratitude we show with words are not the mean ones we speak but the positive ones we fail to offer. I confess this is a big one for me. You would think someone who uses words for a living would find this form of generosity the easiest, but that’s not so. I often get so caught up in my own sainthood, all the things I’ve got to do, I fail to acknowledge what others are doing or to compliment and praise people. It can be easier to give my money than the generosity of my words. This may be one of the most important acts of generosity we can show.

There’s also the generosity of our time. Giving time and attention to be with others, help others, listen to others, is a great gift.

And there’s the generosity of our talents and abilities we offer to help people.

The point Paul makes is to sow generously with everything we have, as you are able, not because you have to, but because you want to discover if the secret is true.

You know the secret don’t you? I know a good many of you do. I’ve been your pastor for over a decade now, I know many of you know the secret. But just in case some aren’t sure, I’ll tell it to you. I believe you can handle it. The secret is this:

The more generous we become in all of life, the more generous life becomes for us. That’s it. That’s where Paul has taken us these last several weeks. It comes down to what you sow and realizing that the reward is the generous life.

I was going to close with a story about a man I read about. I ended up telling that story in my Friday email devotion. But I felt God tap on my heart Friday morning and say, “Tell them about a saint they know.”

Jacquie Reed was a pastor’s wife. She and her husband, Mike, served churches all over Indiana. In ____ they retired settled in Fishers where Mike has just finished serving the Fishers United Methodist Church. They became active members in St. Luke’s. This past Thursday morning Jacquie was out doing what she did a lot of days, walking in her neighborhood, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation, when she was struck by an automobile. It was an accident but due to the injuries she sustained she passed away early Friday morning.

Jacquie was a model of generous living. They were generous with their resources. Oh my, if you added up all they gave across the years in the churches they served and ministries they supported and what became of those gifts there’s no way to measure the compound interest. You think the stock market can increase your wealth, it’s nothing compared to what God can do with it. They have no doubt touched thousands of lives through their giving.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg with Jacquie’s generosity. She was generous with her time and talents. She loved to teach. Sitting at the hospital Thursday evening Mike told me she had just taught a class the night before on Richard Foster’s book on prayer. She taught healing ministries…

But maybe the most important way Jacquie was generous was with her heart. She had a heart to help other people in their hurt.