2 Corinthians 8:1-15 Brothers and sisters, we want to let you know about the grace of God that was given to the churches of Macedonia. 2 While they were being tested by many problems, their extra amount of happiness and their extreme poverty resulted in a surplus of rich generosity. 3 I assure you that they gave what they could afford and even more than they could afford, and they did it voluntarily. 4 They urgently begged us for the privilege of sharing in this service for the saints. 5 They even exceeded our expectations, because they gave themselves to the Lord first and to us, consistent with God’s will. 6 As a result, we challenged Titus to finish this work of grace with you the way he had started it.
7 Be the best in this work of grace in the same way that you are the best in everything, such as faith, speech, knowledge, total commitment, and the love we inspired in you. 8 I’m not giving an order, but by mentioning the commitment of others, I’m trying to prove the authenticity of your love also. 9 You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although he was rich, he became poor for your sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty.
10 I’m giving you my opinion about this. It’s to your advantage to do this, since you not only started to do it last year but you wanted to do it too. 11 Now finish the job as well so that you finish it with as much enthusiasm as you started, given what you can afford. 12 A gift is appreciated because of what a person can afford, not because of what that person can’t afford, if it’s apparent that it’s done willingly. 13 It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties, but it’s a matter of equality. 14 At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way there is equality. 15 As it is written, The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little.
This morning was the last time I will be getting up at 4:30 in the morning to get ready for worship! Transitions! As a pastor, I have gone through transitioning into and out of churches 4 times over the years. With each time there was the pain of letting go, and the uncertainty of starting new. And now a new transition. This time it is a changing of hats. We were received here with open arms, not because we were a new pastoral family, but for ourselves. Because it is my passion, I became involved in the music program of the church as soon as we moved here. Then came the call to fill in as the interim pastor in December of 2018. Being your pastor has been a blessing, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It will be nice, however, to get back to just one job.
As a church we are ready for a transition. We have been working on knowing what we wanted and needed in a new pastor for two and a half years, wrangling a bit along the way. Now, when we receive Pastor Paul, Caitlin and Sophie, it is like receiving new family members into this great family. A great comparison might be at a wedding. Two people come to the Lord and join their lives together. In the wedding services I use, I usually ask, “Who gives this bride in marriage to this groom,” of course using the names. In a wedding service I have used on occasions, that “permission” is changed to a blessing. In this one, I ask families – not their permission, but their blessing. It goes something like this:
“To the parents, congratulations on the part you have played in raising a son and daughter … . They accept a very mature and meaningful task in taking on this marriage. On their behalf, and on behalf of those here, I thank you. I remind you that it is more than their blood that is joined here, it is yours as well. With this marriage, God joins your two families, and it is the family unit that shall rebuild the world. With this in mind, I ask you to take this man as your son. I ask your family to take him into your hearts, as son and brother, and beloved. I ask that you take this woman into your hearts, that she might live from this day as your daughter. I ask your other children as well to receive her as their sister, for she is dear and beloved to your son, and shall be so, through the grace of God and all of your family. May the miracle of this marriage extend throughout your family.” [A Wedding Service, 2001]
As I said earlier, one of the things we will be doing this next week is accepting new family members here. One of our tasks is to welcome and bless them as they welcome and bless us.
In the context of today’s passage, “this work of grace” was an offering for the Jerusalem Church. Persecution and poverty has stressed the followers of Jesus. Rome continued to breathe heavily on any one or group that posed a threat to their power and dominance. Beyond that, the Jewish authorities we actively seeking to stomp out this new movement. Saul, renamed Paul after his personal Pentecost with Jesus, was a shining example of the persecution that was directed toward Christians. The word used for “relief” (vs. 13 in the New Revised Standard Version, in the Common English Bible it is “financial ease”) was usually translated “ministry” in the NT. The focus of the passage is an invitation to participate in the ministry of the Jerusalem Church. It was a ministry that needed to continue and even flourish. It was a participation in the ministry that is to come. It was a call to invest time, talent, and acceptance – the addition of family – into the body of believers called the church. The family was growing. There were Jerusalem Christians, Macedonian Christians, Corinthian Christians … list goes on and on, extending further and further through the known world. Paul was expressing a concern for ministry.
In verse 4, the Macedonian Christians begged for the privilege of sharing in this service for the saints. It is a posture of anticipation and care. They wanting to be a part of the positive new future that was unfolding. Even though they didn’t have much they knew they could make a difference.
Now, Paul is inviting the Corinthians to participate fully in the work ahead. His invitation was to Invest themselves. Paul, in his writing to them, is asking in essence, ‘Who you are, what do you have, and what you can do?’
So, I am asking us to consider, ‘What will “this work of grace” look like for us?’ There is much that we already know. There will continue to be varieties of worship – our 8:00 blended worship where we utilize a variety of music; the 9:00 PTL where we are seeing many new families discover our church and a way to connect with God; and then our 10:30 traditional worship with choirs. Worship will still be a major emphasis in connecting us with the way of Jesus Christ. Then there are the outreach ministries we have invested ourselves in. Ministries like People to People, Meals on Wheels, Doorstep visitation ministries, the Food Pantry, and Circle J. Bible Studies will continue to feed and challenge us to grow spiritually. But then there are some unknowns. Will there be changes or additions to the ministries we share? One of our hopes is that we will develop a ministry with youth. Maybe we will be expanding our family and children’s ministries. There may even be some ministries we have never thought of. With this new “family” coming to minister with us the sky is the limit. As Pastor Paul steps in to walk beside us in ministry, adding his own distinctiveness – his strengths and talents, his weaknesses and needs – we will be discovering where our strengths and talents will fit in the future, where we will need his guidance and expertise, and how he can help us discover that future.
Paul offers a very important insight to the Corinthians in verse 14 – “Your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit.” Do you hear the mutuality there? Pastor Paul and his family will be coming to a place where everything is new, and they are not sure how things get done. Don’t presume. As they will be new in this church and this community, they will need information, invitations, mentoring even. Think of the last time you were an outsider and what helped you to find your way.
Verse 7 is a direct challenge. “Be the best in this work of grace… .” Your talents and skills are amazing. Any pastor will be blessed by what you bring to the table. Your caring is powerful. Your beliefs are a great foundation. Your commitment is outstanding. Be the best at this work of grace in transition to the next chapter of Community Federate Church’s ministry.
Ultimately, verse 5 brings the focus to a sharp point. “… they gave themselves to the Lord and to us, consistent with God’s will.” It is a guiding force and focus for this transition. We are a spiritual family, grounded in Christ. We have been led by God for 124 years and have done amazing ministry together! God will continue to lead us into a future with hope.
I want us to be very intentional in this transition. So, my question this morning is this: Think about how you can offer yourself, in the name of Christ, to Pastor Paul and his family, and to the ministry of this church. Offer welcome. Offer gifts and talents. Offer an open heart and mind. Think about it and then … do it! Amen
Pastor Paul Grossman