In the years we have shared the goodness of this lectionary blog, we have filled its pages with much exegeting, exhorting, explaining, organizing—and a bit of prophesying, complaining, and lamenting too. I’m going to use my opportunity this month to do a bit of bragging. Bragging? Yes, bragging. In nearly four decades of preaching, I have tried to keep bragging to a minimum, but the time has arrived. Blame Paul, he got me started.
So here we are again, working through Paul’s “stewardship moment” to the Corinthians. Paul is raising funds from churches in the hinterlands to support brothers and sisters in Judea who were hungry and in need. It’s hard not to seem manipulative when you’re encouraging people to part with hard-earned shekels, and Paul tip-toes right up to the line. He softens up the Corinthians by bragging about their virtues, then challenges them to match up with the all-time leaders in generous giving, those good church folk from up the road in Macedonia. Paul reminisced about how those Macedonians practically lined up give. One can almost see them stuffing money and checks into Paul’s coat pocket as he tried to get out of town.
Since you’re willing to listen to Paul brag on his generous friends, indulge me. Let me brag on our congregation too. We just came through a big (for us) construction project that demanded (and will demand) a lot of money. Before you start rolling your eyes, know this: I don’t preach much about money, but ours is a giving congregation. I didn’t preach much specifically about money during the building project either. We didn’t hire a marketing consultant; we didn’t explode the thermometer chart when we reached our goals. But people gave. Generously. With Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians before us, let me share a few things I think we did well.
1. Balance. For a long time our congregation attempted to strike a generous balance between providing for the needs of others, and looking to our own needs. For years we have given 25-30% of all church offerings to minister to people locally, regionally, and around the world. We have never squirreled money away, but considered those gifts the Lord’s, and so we put those funds to work for the kingdom as they came in. When we decided to build, we resolved not to back away from those commitments to people and projects outside our walls. God’s sense of “balance” (8:13-14) surprised us when two area churches gave unexpected generous gifts in our time of need. And lots of people opened their hearts to support the new project. The pendulum of generosity swings both ways.
2. Truth in advertising. Paul was open about where the funds were going and about how the offering was to be collected and sent. We were up front about the finances of our project too. We were conscious not to manipulate, schmooze, or resort to emotional appeals or guilt trips. We simply shared where we were with the project, and what we hoped to achieve.
3. Not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice (8:12). Our people gave according to their abilities. The joy of giving spread through our congregation. Sunday school kids brought nickels and dimes. Folks baked pies, washed cars, raffled off time and talent. We decided we would not distinguish between “big gifts” and “small gifts.” Who can make that determination? People gave “according to what they had.” Money. Prayer. Stuff. Presence. Sweat equity.
4. “God loves a cheerful giver.” We found great joy in giving. We learned this not only from Paul (II Corinthians 9:6-7) but also from the King’s Daughters, a group of women from our church way back in the 1930’s, who raised money at the height of Depression to pay for a previous renovation of the church. We took notes. They made it fun, working together, crafting together, engaging in projects that built bonds between people as they labored toward a common goal. We found evidence of their plan in documents tucked away in the church archives and copied their recipe. The “genuineness of their love” (8:8) was tested and proved to be just as potent and tasty ninety years later.
5. Finish the job! “…Now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means” (8:11.) We still have a long way to go before we finish paying for this project. And we have every intention to…ahead of schedule. Call it premature, but I’m so sure we’ll finish well that like Paul, I’m willing to brag a little ahead of time. And if this post and Paul’s encouragement have fired you up to give generously, come on down to Tennessee and we’ll work something out!