Sermon preached at Church Of Our Saviour, Johns Island, South Carolina, on Sunday May 13th 2012
It's over a year since I last preached. A time of being in a wilderness.
But now I have been given this huge privilege of sharing - with YOU: here at The Church of Our Saviour.
COOS has been in a preaching series on giving, and I have been given the last of the series – and it’s based on 2 Cor 8:1-15. Like most preachers, when asked to preach during one's vacation, I looked on my laptop to see if there was a previous sermon on this that I could just repeat! And discovered that I last preached a sermon on these particular verses in October 2007 – standing right here in front of you all at COOS! I was tempted just to give you a quiz to see what you could remember! What a ways we have all come since then.
What I want to share with you is some of what I have been learning over the past 18 months, and in particular what I am learning about GRACE. So if you thought I was going to be talking about money you can relax, let go your grasp on your wallet and take in some thoughts about God’s grace.
Apparently the number 1 reason people say they don’t come to church is because they feel they are always being asked to give money.. But this part of 2 Cor 8 is not really just about money. It’s about being rich because of grace.
So I want to look at 2 things about GRACE:
- Grace grows out of grace
- Grace leads to great riches
First - Grace grows out of grace
Paul begins this section by mentioning that the Macedonian churches had received God’s grace. Verse 1:
“And now brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace God has given the Macedonian churches.”
When you think of someone who has received grace, what do you think of?
Someone who has been blessed in some way - with financial resources, or with great gifts and abilities.
But there's another kind of grace that God had given the Macedonian churches. Verse 2
“In the midst of a very severe trial… extreme poverty’
They were impoverished and they were being persecuted. I discovered that the phrase that describes their poverty literally means, “their deep poverty, right down deep - to the death of it.” That is not just being uncomfortable, that is being poor and destitute. The Macedonian churches – the Philippian and the Thessalonian Christians – were suffering great economic hardships. The Romans had taken over most of their industries, including the gold and the silver mines; they had reserved for themselves the right to import basic necessities such as salt, and they had cut down all the forests to build their own ships. The Romans had pillaged looted Macedonia. And the Christians were being persecuted on top of all that.
Poverty and persecution are not things I expect or want - yet God had given the Macedonian churches just that:
Severe trials and extreme poverty.
Paul calls this “grace”!
And what is the net result of that grace, according to Paul?
Overflowing joy and rich generosity! V2
I'm most of us would like to be joyful and generous. But we think we need to have security and prosperity before we can be joyful and generous. It seems logical – if God gives me a lot, I will share a lot. At least that’s the way I think about it. “I can’t give a lot because I don’t have a lot. I’m waiting for God to bless me.”
And we pass the collection plate and don’t put anything in, saying that’s it for the rich to give, not us who are retired or who have lost lots in stocks and shares (not that I have any stocks and shares!) or who don’t have a job or who have huge bills to pay.
OR we don’t volunteer to help because that’s for those who have lots of spare time and we have enough to do already thank you.
I once heard about a pastor in China who begged Christians in the West to stop praying that the Chinese church would be freed from persecution. He felt that the reason why the believers in China are joyful and the church is thriving is precisely because they are being persecuted! Like the Macedonians -
They had received God’s grace.
Their severe trials and extreme poverty overflowed in joy and generosity.
They were truly rich in grace!
Grace had led to grace.
And not only were they generous, v. 3 tells us that they even gave beyond their ability. What would that phrase look like to you and me – “beyond our ability?” If you’re anything like me, you calculate out what you are going to give based on your available resources. I have limited financial amounts and a finite number of hours. So I give what I think I can easily afford whether financially or time wise.
Earlier this week, I received an email, telling me about a dear couple, who are really going through it at the moment. He is an Anglican priest - and he has had terrible back problems for some years and is in constant pain; she has had Lyme’s disease which was undiagnosed for over a year and has led to severe fatigue and debility. They are in a bad place yet have not stopped their ministry and their work for the Lord. So some friends said they wanted to form a little consortium of people who would give regularly to this couple so that they can have a sabbatical for a year, to try to regroup and heal and sort out problems with themselves and their kids. The email came to me just earlier this week; and my first thought was: well, I can’t give them anything; I am not in paid employment - I have had to resign because of my own situation of ill health so I have no spare money.
And then I realized that I was preparing this sermon even as I was thinking those things - I wasn’t even considering giving beyond my ability, I wasn’t asking God for the privilege and honor of giving knowing that God has blessed me with His grace so I can bless others.
Often, you and I don’t even want to think about what giving above our ability might look like!
But the example of these Macedonian Christians gets even more radical. Not only were these churches joyful and generous, not only did they give beyond their ability, but look at verse 4.
“They urgently pleaded for the privilege of sharing…”
They begged for the chance to help.
They were not asked, they were not prodded, not made to feel guilty, not shamed into it. They “urgently pleaded for the privilege of sharing in service to the saints”.
Why did they beg to be allowed to help? It wasn’t because they were just very kind people, although they may have been; it certainly wasn’t because they were very wealthy – verse 2 tells us that that faced severe trials and extreme poverty. They were scraping the barrel, and yet they urgently pleaded to be able to gave very very generously.
What would motivate someone to do this? What would motivate US to do this? I think the answer is simple. It is an understanding and an acceptance of God’s grace.
Grace grows out of grace.
And if you and I are not gracious, it is only because we do not fully understand and accept God’s grace.
If you and I had any appreciation for the depth of God’s love for us and the depths from which He has saved us, we could not help but to be joyful and generous.
We would give of ourselves, not because God had need of our time, talent or treasure, but because we would want to be part of that incredible life-saving effort that saved you and me. Grace grows out of grace.
And grace is not just a concept. Grace is not just an idea or a thing that has a memorable definition – we’ve all been taught that G .R. A. C. E. stands for God’s riches at Christ’s expense.
No, grace is more than that idea. Grace is an amazing, Holy Spirit-filled, life changing power.
The Greek word for grace is charis; ‘Strong’s concordance of the New Testament’ defines charis as
Grace - a gift or blessing brought to man by Jesus Christ, (b) favor, (c) gratitude, thanks, (d) kindness. The core idea is gift, or favor. Something given which is undeserved.
The word comes again in verse 9
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
The GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
The second thing I want to mention this morning is this:
Grace leads to riches
Notice this: Jesus did not give out of his riches. Jesus gave out of his poverty! Paul reminds us in Philippians ch 2 that Jesus emptied himself and took the nature of a slave. He became poor and he submitted to the most horrible and cruel death, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually too. And it was only because of this poverty that you and I are made rich.
He gives us SO much. I don’t think I had realized that until recently. As many of you know, 18 months ago I was involved in a terrible car accident in which I saw my dear 90 year young mother swept away and crushed to death by a passing car. The shock of what happened and what I saw of my mother at her end plunged me into the depths of depression and despair. I have been mentally bruised and broken.
Then, last summer, I picked up a book called One Thousand Gifts. You may have read it. In it, I read about learning
to give thanks -
in spite of the brokenness.
IN the brokenness.
The Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharisteo. We get the word we sometimes use for communion from it – the Eucharist. The thanksgiving. In the middle of that Greek word eucharisteo is charis: grace, favor, gift. Giving thanks for the grace.
And each time Jesus broke something, he gave thanks, eucharisteo.
He broke the bread for the 5000, gave thanks – and fed them a free lunch.
He broke the bread, gave thanks, and gave the disciples the Last Supper to remember him by.
He broke the bread, gave thanks, and gave it to the two disciples in their home in Emmaus - and they knew immediately that Jesus was alive and risen.
And He himself was broken; he emptied himself of his riches, became poor and was broken on the Cross. And we give thanks and remember the gift, the grace, that we receive through that action.
And each and every day, we are given the gift, the grace, the favor.
In spite of our brokenness.
IN our brokenness.
The book, One Thousand Gifts, makes a challenge: to keep a list each day of the gifts and grace we receive. I decided to do it: starting on August 21st last year, I began to write down each moment of grace that I was grateful for, to notice each gift and to record it.
Some days there were lots, some days hardly any; but the more I looked the more I saw.
Whether it was a shaft of sunlight or a grandchild’s kiss; a cup of coffee made by a friend or a good night’s sleep; the smell of fresh bread or the glimpse of stars; the satisfaction of clean laundry or the joy of the bubbles of champagne….. I noticed and I wrote it down. I reached 1000 7 months later - on March 17th .... and I layed down my pen.
But as my family will tell you, over the past couple of months I have not been doing so well. Without that daily looking and recording, without being so mindful of GOd's grace-filled gifts, I have slipped back.
I need to begin again.
For you, it might be a good golf shot, or even maybe a hole in one; or a home grown flower or vegetable; or your team scoring high in their match; a cold beer in your hands or a fabulous concert.
It doesn’t matter what – what matters is that you notice these gifts and give thanks for them. Gifts which we do not deserve, which we receive because of what the Lord Jesus did for us. Gifts which make us rich in Him – verse 9
Grace does generate riches.
God does want you to be rich.
There are dozens of times in the Scriptures where we are promised God’s riches. Jesus said that God wants his children to have good gifts, just like you want yours to have good gifts. It may or not be security and financial wealth. If you are secure and financially wealthy, give thanks for it is a gift from God. But the Macedonians’ gift was nothing like that. Their gift was trials and poverty. And yet they were certainly richer than you and I are.
God has no need of our time. He created time. God has no need of our talents. He is talented enough to accomplish anything He chooses without your gifts. God has no need of our money. He created the cattle on a thousand hills, and he can sell the herd anytime He wants.
No, God wants us to be generous with our time, our talent and our treasure - not so the church can become rich and not so that God can become rich, but so that YOU, Me – WE can become rich!
My prayer for you and for me is that today and every day we might accept God’s grace and learn what it is to be rich.
And in doing so, give ourselves, all that we have, all that we are, to Him for Him to use as He wants.
His grace, His love, is so amazing, so divine and it demands our lives, our souls, our all.
How much of you, yourself, all that you have and all that you are, have you given to Him?
In a moment we will come to the Eucharist, that celebration of Thanksgiving for His brokenness, His grace, His gift.
Will you, as you kneel, as you receive, will you give yourself afresh to Him, give Him your everything?
Whether we have much or little,
whether we are broken or rejoicing today
may we dedicate ourselves, all that we have and are, to His service,
remembering that the Lord Jesus, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor that through His poverty we might become rich.
We haven’t got to give. We get to give. It's part of the riches of God's grace.