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Sermon for Sunday 27 June 2021

First Reading: Lamentations 3:22-33

22The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” 25The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. 26It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. 27It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. 28Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; 29let him put his mouth in the dust — there may yet be hope; 30let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. 31For the Lord will not cast off forever, 32but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 33for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.

Psalm 30

1I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me. 2O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. 3You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave. 4Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness. 5For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favor for a lifetime. 6Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning. 7While I felt secure, I said, “I shall never be disturbed. You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.” 8Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear. 9I cried to you, O Lord; I pleaded with the Lord, saying, 10“What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness? 11Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; O Lord, be my helper.” 12You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. 13Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15

1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints — 5and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7But as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

13For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

Gospel: Mark 5:21-43

21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32And he looked around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” 35While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Formula for a Truly Rich Life

I’m sure most of us know what an oxymoron is.  The Greek word οξύμωρο can be translated as “pointedly foolish.”  An oxymoron is created when you put two words together that normally have opposite meanings.  For example, “clearly confused,” “act naturally,” “open secret,” “jumbo shrimp” and “Military Intelligence”.  What’s even better than an oxymoron phrase, is an oxymoron statement.

Artist Andy Warhol was famous for the statement, “I am a deeply superficial person.”  Movie producer Samuel Goldwyn was also famous for his totally contradictory statements.  He said things like, “Give me a smart idiot over a stupid genius any day” and “Gentlemen, I want you to know that I am not always right, but I am never wrong.”  And one of my favorite oxymoron statements comes from entertainer Dolly Parton, who once said, “You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap.”  I wonder if the apostle Paul laughed when he wrote these words that introduce our epistle lesson today.

St. Paul wants to tell the believers in the Corinthian church about the incredible spiritual work God is doing in the Macedonian church.  He writes, “In the midst of a very severe trial, [that is in the midst of Christian persecution], their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty, [which was a result of their persecution has] welled up in rich generosity” (vs. 2).  For me, this statement has got to be the mother of all Oxymorons!   The Macedonian believers were enduring severe persecution, yet they were experiencing overflowing joy.  And even though they lived in extreme poverty because of their situation, their overflowing joy resulted in rich generosity toward other believers who were in need.  Think about that.  When have you even known these two situations, severe trials and extreme poverty, to go hand-in-hand with overflowing joy and rich generosity?  It almost sounds like Paul is deliberately being ironic here. 

Let me restate this as a word problem.  According to St. Paul, in this case, severe trials plus extreme poverty plus giving oneself to God is equal to overflowing joy and rich generosity.  When put this way, Paul’s statement here forces us to ask, what did the Macedonian believers know that we don’t?  The Rev. Gary Waddingham, of Billings, Montana, tells of something that happened while he was serving in a rural community.

One Christmas, the church had lots of leftover food after packing their annual Christmas baskets.  Pastor Waddingham thought he would deliver the extra food to a poor family nearby.  But as he drove to their house, he began thinking about how to preserve the dignity of the family to whom he would offer the food.  He arrived at the family’s house, and the mother opened the door.  Her children were gathered all around her.  

Pastor Waddingham explained the situation and asked, “Do you know anyone who could use some extra food?”  The woman replied, “You bet.”  She then put on her coat and went with Pastor Waddingham to deliver the food to another needy family in town.  She didn’t hesitate to help out.  In spite of her own poverty, she had a generous spirit and found joy in leading Pastor Waddingham to a family with an even greater need.  Think about that.  She could have kept that food for herself and her family, but she placed the other family ahead of her own needs.  She saw theirs as the greater need and gave generously.

In 1847, during the Great Famine in Ireland, the Choctaw tribe here in the U.S. raised $147 (which would be equivalent to about $5,000 today) and sent it to Ireland.  The Choctaw tribe most certainly wasn’t rich back then.  But they were generous anyway.  They saw others in need, and they sacrificed what they could to help.  Now fast forward almost two centuries.

Last year, in response to COVID-19 deaths in the Navajo Nation, the Choctaw and Hopi tribes set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for clean water and medical supplies for Native Americans.  Donations to the fund “flooded in” from the people of Ireland.  One Irish donor wrote on the GoFundMe page, “Returning your kindness 170 years and 4,000 miles later.”  With that in mind, let me ask this, if generosity doesn’t depend on resources, what then does it depend upon?

In our second lesson for today, Paul is praising the generosity of the Christians in Macedonia.  He’s using their giving as an example to challenge the church at Corinth.  He writes to the Corinthians, “But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”  Paul then adds, “I do not say this as a command, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.”  

Paul isn’t demanding that they increase their giving.  He’s hoping that the Corinthian Christians will see that giving beyond their tithe is a natural response of Christian devotion.Giving generously goes hand-in-hand with worship, thanksgiving and praise as a natural expression of our love for God.  In Paul’s terms, alms giving can be seen as a litmus test of the sincerity of our appreciation for all God has done and is doing in our behalf.  With that being said, let me enumerate why generous giving is critical to the devotional life of a Christian.  First, we need to recognize the seductive nature of wealth. 

Now to be clear, this isn’t a sermon against money.  This congregation has proven, time and time again, just how generous you are.  You demonstrated this recently in how you responded when Dallas Christian ministries was in need of canned goods and with the Crisis Pregnancy Center’s Baby Bottle campaign.  We all know that money is simply a tool, just one blessing among the many that God entrusts to us and as such, when used properly, money can do some wonderful things.  However, money can also become an idol in that the more you have, the more you want and thus the harder it is to share.  If you recall in my sermon two weeks ago, Jesus warned about the allure and pitfalls of money, so much so that it’s the second most talked about subject, right after the kingdom of God, in the New Testament.

To illustrate this point, a Gallup poll sometime back confirmed what many of us have observed for years: Donations to charity decreases as income increases.  The survey found that low- and moderate-income Americans, especially churchgoers, are more generous than upper-income Americans.  Maybe this has to do with simple math.  For example, let’s say that as an intern you make $100 per week.  Using the 10 percent guideline, giving $10 to the church doesn’t sound like a lot of money.  Now that same intern gets hired and suddenly their salary is multiplied 10-fold and suddenly that same person is making $1,000 per week.  Again, using the same 10 percent guideline, giving $100 to the church seems a bit harder.  The formula hasn’t changed, just the bottom line.  For a good many people, the more they earn, the more they want, and the more they accumulate, the less they want to give to others.  Thankfully, this isn’t a universal rule.

            Another pastor tells of his friend Don, a wealthy businessman who gives generously to those in need.  When questioned about his giving, Don responded, “It helps me to slay the dragon.”  He went on to explain that our greatest temptation is to believe that our happiness or identity can be found in buying newer, better or more stuff.  He pictures materialism as a dragon that he must fight against every day.  And the only way to fight the dragon is to be a “faithful and generous giver.”  Every time he wrote a check to fund the work of the church, he said it was like wielding a sword to slay the dragon.

Country music star Ricky Skaggs and his wife believe in tithing, giving 10% of their income to the church and charities.  As he said, “If I believe anything about the Bible, I have to know that God wants my money because He knows my money wants me.  God, he said, doesn’t need my money, but He wants whatever I want more than Him.”  This is true.

God doesn’t need our money, but He does want whatever we want more than Him.  This is probably why Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24).  Giving generously helps us slay the dragon of materialism, of pride, of greed, of self-centeredness, all these are the modern-day idols that can stand between us and finding our true happiness and identity in God.  John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church once said he used four criteria for measuring any purchase.

Before spending any money, John would ask himself: “Am I acting as a steward of the Lord’s goods?”  Second, “Am I making this purchase in obedience to the Word of God?”  Third, “Can I offer up this expense as a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ?”  And finally, “Do I have reason to believe that this purchase will bring me a reward at the resurrection of the just?”  Those are some tough questions!  I wonder, if we were to sit down with our latest credit card bill and these four questions, how many of us would find ourselves squirming in our seat?  

The dragon of materialism looms large in our society’s value system.  It’s not easy to live by God’s value system in a society that values image, appearance and status symbols.  It should work the other way.  It should get easier to give as our wealth increases, but for many, it does not.  There’s something about money that seems to entrap us.  By nature, money is attractive and as such, selfishness and greed are its snare.  Again, this is why Jesus repeatedly warned us against the dangers of wealth.  One could say that our giving back to God is a spiritual question.  For some, their very souls are at stake. 

The second reason generous giving is critical to the devotional life of a Christian has to do with the good that money can do.  Regardless of our circumstances, we must admit that there are some things only money can buy.  For example, braces for your children’s teeth, a good education, quality health care, a worry-free retirement, dependable transportation, and a comfortable house.  In today’s society, money is a useful and valued commodity.

19th century pastor C. H. Spurgeon was one of the most famous and influential preachers of the late 1800s.  In addition to his church ministry, Spurgeon founded an orphanage in London.  Once each year he would preach a special service to raise money for the orphans.  One year at this special service, a man approached Spurgeon and asked accusingly, “Why, Mr. Spurgeon, I thought you preached for souls and not for money!”  Spurgeon answered, “Normally I do preach for souls and not for money.  But my orphans can’t eat souls and if they did, my brother, it would take at least four the size of yours to give one of them a square meal!”  Our giving is a spiritual matter simply because there are some things in this world only money can do.  

It takes money can help house the homeless and feed the hungry.  It takes money to send Bibles to new Christians in developing countries.  Money can provide counselors to young people in runaway shelters and it takes money to build and maintain a place of worship to call secular people back to God.

I would be willing to bet that many of us have enough money in our wallet or purse right now to feed a hungry child for several days.  Consider the power that gives us.  Consider also the joy that those few dollars could bring, not only to the satisfied child but also to you.  We have the ability to positively impact another person, even in whether or not a child survives!  It would be nice if the hungry and destitute of the world could be helped with our prayers and best wishes alone, but we know that it also takes money to make that happen. 

Giving is a spiritual matter first because of the seductive nature of wealth, and secondly, because there are some things only money can accomplish.  Finally, giving is a spiritual matter because it’s one among the many ways we worship God, that’s why we call it an offering.  St. Paul follows the two verses we’ve already read with these words: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.”  

Jesus gave up everything He had and took on our nature and lot to show us the unlimited, overwhelming riches of God’s love for us.  We worship a giving God, and He says to us that there is only one way that we can become truly rich, we must give ourselves fully to God.  Nothing we have belongs to us.  We’re simply the stewards of God’s blessings.  St. Paul reminds us that “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of [anything] (1 Cor. 7:23).

Christian author Randy Alcorn writes, “Jesus said it is more blessed to give [than to receive]”, (Acts 20:35) but He never says why.  Here is my why behind his statement. When you keep what you have, you will be blessed.  The more you keep the more you have the more you have the more you can spend on yourself, etc.  If you give, on the other hand, two people will be blessed by ‘your’ money—you and the recipient.  Keeping blesses one—giving blesses two. . . People never discover the second blessing until they actually do it, and I have learned the more they do it the more addictive giving becomes.”  God is love, and out of that overflowing love God is continually giving us good gifts to manage and use for His kingdom.

God wants us to share in the joy of giving by giving generously to others.  Love is the true sword that slays the dragons of materialism, greed, pride and self-centeredness.  Love sets us free to be a blessing to others.  Many think that more money will set them free, but that’s rarely the answer.  Love for God and trust in God’s blessings set us free to be a blessing to the world.  That’s the answer to our word problem at the beginning of this message: Severe trials + extreme poverty + love for God = Overflowing joy and rich generosity.  St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they were doing great in every area except one.  If they wanted to really excel, really grow as disciples—if they wanted to know what rich really is—they would need to learn to give. 

Many years ago, after a devastating flood affected parts of California, the president of the Guerneville, California Rotary Club received a letter from the president of the Rotary Club of Burundi, Africa.  The letter read, “In the spirit of Rotary International, a club even as poor as ours wishes to share this modest contribution from the members in response to the flood that has devastated your area.  We trust this minute contribution would display our solidarity with you in your time of grief.”  Enclosed was a check for $200. 

When we keep what we have, we’re the only ones who experience the blessing.  However, when we give generously of what we have to others, the blessing is multiplied and the joy overflows.  Do you want to grow in your love for God and others?  Do you want to know how overflowing joy and rich generosity can transform your life?  Paul’s seemingly oxymoronic statement isn’t so ridiculous after all: Severe trials + extreme poverty + love for God does = Overflowing joy and rich generosity.  As the church of Macedonia demonstrated, generous giving to the work of God is indeed the best way to experience overflowing joy in our own life today.


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