Fourth Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 8B (6/28/2009)

 This Generous Undertaking

Lessons:     Lamentations 3:22-33 or Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24     Psalm 30     2 Corinthians 8:7-15     St. Mark 5:21-43     Semicontinuous Series:         2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27         Psalm 130

Prayer of the Day:     Almighty and merciful God, we implore you to hear the prayers of your people. Be our strong defense against all harm and danger, that we may live and grow in faith and hope, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

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.

8I 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 between14your 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." 

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Apostle Paul was one of the great church leaders in the first century. Converted to faith as a young man by a personal experience with Jesus Christ. Mentored in the faith by a group of deeply committed believers. The first traveling evangelist: responsible for the formation of dozens of churches throughout his travels. One of the first great theologians, whose writings continue to shape beliefs some two thousand years later. A strong pastoral leader. And in today's passage: a passionate advocate of faithful financial stewardship.

Paul is writing, here, to the Christians at Corinth - a group of believers he has had a troubled history with. He was instrumental in the early formative days of their faith community, but had become distressed with how that church developed. So he sent them a strong, challenging letter (printed as First Corinthians in our New Testament). He also made a very difficult visit to them, during which he challenged them and called them back to a more faithful way of living together.

To their credit, the Christians in Corinth listened to Paul's challenge, and they responded positively. By the time this letter is written (Second Corinthians), Paul is able to praise them and offer them constructive suggestions about how to strengthen the community they are forming.

In the eighth chapter, he is dealing with one of his pet projects: receiving a financial offering from the churches he started, to support the Saints who were suffering back in Jerusalem. He had recently received a gift to that project from the church at Macedonia - a church that was suffering great difficulty, and living in severe poverty. But despite their difficult situation, "their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part." (8:2).

On the other hand, the church in Corinth (which was a relatively wealthy community - made up of artisans and craftsmen and those who were profiting from a strong trade-based economy) had fully intended to participate in that offering, but never quite got around to giving the money to Paul. So once again, he encourages them: "Now 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." (8:7)

Paul encourages the Corinthians, who had made a commitment to support this effort a year earlier, not only to fulfill their commitment, but to "desire to" fulfill their commitment (8:10).

Paul knew that the need in Jerusalem was great. And he knew that the potential in Corinth was significant. But he wanted the Corinthians to do more than promise support. He wanted them to deliver on that promise, and experience what it is like to be generous with the gifts God had given them. He knew that they had been given much, and he was bold in encouraging them to use what had been given to them in order to make a difference for the Saints in Jerusalem.

As Christians, we believe that any abundance we receive is entrusted to us not just for the benefit of ourselves or our families, but it is given as well for the good of the church, and for the encouragement of Christian ministry throughout the world. In this week's text, Paul encourages us all to consider what that might mean for us.


 Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. What is remarkable about the response from the Christians in Macedonia?
  2. What is remarkable about the response from the Christians in Corinth?
  3. What arguments does Paul use to encourage the Corinthians to be generous?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. In what ways have I been abundantly blessed?
  2. How and I currently using my abundance to support Christian ministry in the world?
  3. How is God nudging me to increase my support of the church's work?