June 30, 2024- sermon- Betsy Wooster

Sermon Text...


6/30/24 Homily                                  2 Corinthians 8:7-15                      Rev. Betsy Wooster


Today culminates our last of five Sundays in June exploring the apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. Corinth was a relatively wealthy city in the Roman Empire, a crossroads of travel and trade, and Paul is heading there to ask for their generous support of the Christian community in Jerusalem who are in hard times. Hear this passage in 2nd Corinthians,Chapter 8:


7Now 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. 9For 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. 


10And 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— 11now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 


13I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’


Let us pray,

O God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable unto you. Amen.


Have you ever taken a work trip to accomplish something that your employer expects of you, and you don’t particularly want to take the journey because you aren’t particularly confident that your efforts therenwill be successful? Enter Paul, a former Jewish zealot who actively persecuted Christians in the earliest church community, who then has a personal conversion experience , when the risen Christ appears to him, gives him his new name (he had been Saul and now is Paul) and turns him into a prolific Christian apostle, best known to us as the writer of letters in the new testament.


This apostle Paul, still new to the Christian faith, took a trip on a boat and sailed across the Aegean Sea from Modern day Turkey, to the City of Corinth, which sits at the southern tip of Greece not far from Athens. Paul may have been uneasy about this trip. Although he had helped to start the Christian Community in Corinth, he is no longer well-loved there.


After Paul had first come to Corinth, some self-proclaimed apostles with big egos showed up, who won the people over with their razzle-dazzle.


You might say that they were the shady TV evangelists of their day and they criticized Paul’s ministry. So that’s where Paul is going.  And he’s not going to give them something, but to ask them to give. Paul’s message is that God will make our lives fulfilled as we model the gracious generosity Jesus has given to us. As Paul reminds them: “You know the generous act of Jesus, that though he was rich, he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” Paul is impressing upon them that Jesus, who had the full power of God and the security of heaven, had entered into the vulnerability of a human life – the ultimate generous act in order to be with us.  And part of the miracle is that Jesus is not diminished by what he gave; he is fulfilled and glorified. 


We all know, in one way or another, what it’s like to feel poor in spirit, or means, or even poor in Joy. And when that happens it can be life changing when someone shows up for us, when we are with each other through thick or thin. Don’t you find that’s true? That when we are generous with our interest in others, in learning about their lives, in sharing a meal, and in giving gifts, the generosity does not make us diminished. No, it makes us richer!


Over the years, I have found that when we gather for a memorial service, to remember to God a member of our community who has died, and when we gather up the gifts of that person’s life for which we are most thankful: inevitably we will remember the ways in which they were generous with others. We will give thanks for the ways in which they shared from the abundance of their time and their attention; or gave in financial support of others, near and far; and because of their desire to love, they gave to others the gestures and words and actions of their love.


Their generosity is what we remember most in our thanksgiving. And we see that their generosity did not diminish their lives, but made them full. Generosity is not about giving from your scarcity. It’s important to remember that generosity comes from our abundance, and our desire to give. The vision isn’t that people are supposed to get used up and exploited in their giving, or lose their own self-care in endless giving. Generosity doesn’t come from scarcity; it comes from abundance.  Paul asks them to be generous with what they have so that all might share; so that, as Paul quoted from a passage in Exodus, “Those who have much won’t have too much and those who have little won’t have too little.” In my mind’s eye, the concept of abundance is easily illustrated by a Thanksgiving table full of many flavors, that though different from one another, become a feast of tastes that make each thing on the table taste better than it would on its own.


The richness is built in by those who lovingly prepared the meal, who gave their heart and soul in the kitchen, thinking everything through weeks ahead, so that the feast would bring joy and fulfillment to those who sit at this table, join hands, and give thanks for the riches given by the fruits of the earth and the hands of those who give selflessly  so that in their generosity , by giving up several days in order to feed others, they become rich with the joy they are creating. I vividly remember as a child the excitement of the smells coming from the kitchen when mom and grandma, were pulling out the succulent dishes from the oven on Thanksgiving. And oh, how little I knew about the work that went into it, as I watched my favorite Thanksgiving themed cartoons.


I also didn’t know how tired they might have been or the depth satisfaction they felt in preparing a feast of joy for the family. I think that Paul wanted more than just financial means   from the people of Corinth. I think that he wanted them to feel the joy that he did when Jesus showed up in his life with unconditional love despite the harm that Paul had done to others, an encounter that transformed Paul with the love and grace of God. When asking the people of Corinth to extend generosity from their abundance, Paul uses the word charis, which the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates to mean Grace. Charis meant grace, it meant generosity, it meant thanks, and privilege, and blessing.


Paul was giving the highest of praise to the Corinthians’ character and kindness as a community of Christ by nurturing them to grow in charis, just as a parent nurtures kindness and love in their children by the most natural thing, loving their children. It is the way of Jesus. Teaching to love by first loving them. I don’t know how uneasy Paul actually was about bringing this message of generosity to the people of Corinth, but I do know that sharing generosity from your abundance, from our abundance, is sharing and fulfilling the work of Christ within us.  

It is this fulfillment of Christ’s generous spirit, and his generous choice to be with us, that is an eternal gift and joy. This joy can buoy us when we carry out a task that makes us apprehensive, a task we may feel God calling us to follow.


Let’s get in a boat and sail to those on other shores in need of Christ’s generosity in their lives, and we will find people who are ready to share from the kinds of abundance that they have. Regardless of what we give, we won’t lose too much. No Loss could match the bounty we receive by opening our hearts to others. For all the riches we have received through the abundance of Christ with us, we still have plenty to share.  In the same way that Christ, who fills us with Charis, touches us with a grace like the multiple flavors filling the Thanksgiving table that would not taste as good all by themselves, it is grace that teaches us that sharing our abundance, in a world of people who are different from one another, creates a diverse community of reciprocity in which we are richer than we could possibly be if we sat at the table alone.  Thanks be to God. Amen.