It Simply Flows
World Communion Sunday (O. T. 27); October 7, 2018
II Corinthians 8:1-7
Note: I read II Corinthians 8:1-7 from Eugene Peterson's Translation, The Message, and the title comes from that version. The other reading for the morning was I Corinthians 10:16-17.
Some of you said that you were struggling to find the connection between today's readings. I'm sure I could make something up, but there really isn't a connection, except that they were both for the same congregation of Christians, the one in Corinth. The reading from I Corinthians is because today is World Communion Sunday and the notion of "one bread, one body" was the guiding theme for our series in September, "A Place at the Table;" the reading from II Corinthians is because next Sunday is Dedication Sunday and the generosity of the Macedonians is the guiding theme for our Stewardship Commitment this year.
There is another connection, of sorts, a connection in my heart. Once I voice it, many of you will realize you have the same connection in your hearts: I love God and I love God's Church. Many years ago I was driving to a Presbytery meeting and my stomach was churning. Our Presbytery was going to be facing a difficult question and I feared I was going to be witnessing the Body of Christ tear itself apart that evening. As it turned out, we behaved maturely and worked through the matter and I remember that evening as the Body of Christ at its finest, but the fear of the Body of Christ being torn was something I felt physically. For some of us, Paul writing that there is "one loaf, one body" is simply a nice image, an ideal to strive for. For me and those of you who feel this love, too, those words describe a physical reality: that we are one.
I wish I could tell you why I love God and God's Church, tell you in such explicit detail that you too would feel such love. It is partly because of the wonder and glory of God: I sense it on a sunny morning, when the full moon rises, when I hear the birds sing as I run along the trail, when I listen to music and poetry inspired by the wonder and glory of God. It is largely because of the amazing work of God: to love, call, teach, inspire, and put up with a stubborn people; to come to the world in the words of prophets, the songs of psalmists, and in the flesh of a man from Nazareth. That man from Nazareth never ceases to astound me: his grace, his fierce devotion to the ways of God, his self-giving love. Anyway, all that is part of it, but I don't think it fully explains it. And my love for the Church is partly because of what the Church has meant to me: the community where I have been fully accepted, where I have been taught to know God, where I have experienced the love of God. Of course, the Church has also hurt me more deeply than anything else possibly could, except maybe one's family, but that does not diminish my love, because it is God's Church.
All these things are part of it, but certainly do not explain my love for God and for God's Church. Perhaps it is as Paul says in II Corinthians: it is the purposes of God working in my life. I wish only that I could describe it fully enough for all of you to love God and God's Church, too. It troubles me when other loyalties get in the way of the work of God, when other commitments crowd out our promises to God. I can understand it only by realizing that not everyone has a strong devotion to God and God's Church; the writers of the New Testament realized that people's love is fickle, it comes and goes, and is easily twisted. The hope I always have is because I see in so many of you such strong love for God and for God's Church; sometimes I worry about some of you, that you are giving too much time and energy to the Church. In a previous Church I served a young dad named Steve was deeply involved, so much so that one evening I said to someone, "If Steve shows up here at the Church this evening, I'm sending him home." Sometimes I feel that way about some of you.
I tell you all this partly to explain why I give generously to the Church, and always have. Years before I became a minister, when I was a college student, I made a pledge to my church. Now, I gave to that church in many ways: I sang in the choir, I taught sixth-grade Sunday School, and I served as a Deacon, all as a college student. This was an upscale church, most of whose members were well-to-do business people and well-paid college faculty. Anyway, the Elders noted in their stewardship letter how much an average weekly gift needed to be in order to meet their financial obligations. I was stupefied: my pledge as a college student, working part-time, was more than that. And I fulfilled it, despite feeling some resentment about it. But I did not give to the Church in order to help them pay their bills; I gave to the Church because I love God and I love God's Church.
Paul wrote to the people in Corinth that the Macedonians gave a lot more than he thought they could afford because their generosity simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives. They loved God and they loved God's Church and so they were generous. Now, they were being generous to a special collection to help the Church in Jerusalem, a fund Paul was raising. Generosity can be taught: My family made clear to me that generosity to the Church is simply something we do. When my dad started giving me an allowance, he also gave me offering envelopes and made sure that every week part of my allowance went into the offering envelope. Still, I think Paul's notion is the right one: those who know that God is working in their lives will love God and God's Church and will be generous.
I think generosity simply flows in many ways. People who give money freely to the Church are also generous tippers when they go out to eat and are generous with their time when a neighbor needs help with a repair project.
Generosity to God's Church simply flows from the purposes of God at work in us. I won't try to persuade you to love God and love God's Church; only the Holy Spirit can do that. Perhaps my love for God is a response to knowing that God loves me; perhaps my love for God's Church is a response to knowing that God love you. Still, I can tell you this: that love has shaped my entire life and so my dedication to the body of Christ simply flows from the purposes of God at work in us.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master