Sunday Service – St. Paul Lutheran Church

Message:  Giving Without Guilt  2 Corinthians 8:8,9

3rd Sunday After Pentecost

June 29, 2003

   You know, I’ve been preaching in this church for a long time. I know it’s hard to remember sermons, hard to remember what was in them, even a good sermon. But let me ask you this: When’s the last time you heard me preach a sermon on giving? It’s been a while hasn’t it. When ia the last time you heard me preach a sermon on money?  It’s been a while hasn’t it.

   Now I don’t intend to break that record starting this morning, but there are people in some churches who will tell you that’s all they hear about when they go to church, or so it seems.   

   “Give! Gotta give more!  Money! Need more money!  Bills! Boy are we behind bills.  Please!  Listen up, folks. We’re counting on your do give your fair share.”  Other churches maybe, but not here.


   Talk about making a person feel guilty or having people give with a sense of guilt & resignation, there are some pastors, maybe a few professional fund-raisers who think if guilt works, if guilt is what it takes, if “guilt is the gift that keeps on giving,” use it.  A little guilt is good for people - if it gets the job done.  

   People may hear that in some churches, but not here, and you not going to hear that this morning.  So if I’m not going to preach on giving; and I’m not going to preach on money, and I’m not going to lay a guilt-trip on you what AM I going to preach on?

   How ‘bout, I just look for a little guidance & see what I myself can learn from the apostle Paul in the text before us, just in case, some day I may need to preach a sermon on giving. What are some things that would be helpful for me to know if I do have to preach on giving?

   The first thing I’m going to note is that St. Paul the word invite is of paramount importance. When Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth he made it very clear he was not requiring them or commanding them to make an offering. 

   I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the enthusiasm and earnestness of others (8:8), is how Paul put it.  Paul invited his brothers & sisters in Christ at Corinth to give of their own free will (8:3). A few verses later on, he writes, Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”          

    So, if & when I have to speak of giving I’ve made note of this: Always invite. Do not pressure. Do not use guilt. Nobody responds well when they feel they’ve been strong-armed or manipulated or made to feel guilty. No, if there’s a need to be met, and offering to take, a ministry to support, invite.

   Isn’t that what you & I do when we’ve experienced something

enjoyable. We invite; we invite because we’re enthused, pleased, excited to share things we enjoy. Like going to a good movie with someone. Checking out a new restaurant. Taking a tour of the Minden Opera House Gladly going to watch the Minden Community Players “do their thing” and do it well.  The things we invite others to do are things we’ve found to be personally satisfying or worthwhile ourselves, or at least they promise to be. 

   That’s something for me to note in this text too. Next to invite, a second important word is excite. The special offering that Paul in-vited the Corinthians to give was clearly dear to his own heart. Paul was excited about it; he believed whole-heartedly in the good it would bring, so he had no qualms, no reservations about inviting others to join in giving; giving without guilt or resignation.

   The offering Paul mentions was a special offering, a free-will off-ering for the Jewish Christian Church in Jerusalem. According to the Book of Acts, the church in Jerusalem was the Mother church of all churches. Jerusalem was where the good news of Christianity began with Jesus’ crucifixion and the word of His resurrection. It was in Jerusa-lem on the Day of Pentecost that the church was born.

   It was also in Jerusalem that there was some friction between Paul and the leaders of the Jerusalem Church over the issue of integrating Gentiles into the church without teaching them the ways & customs of Jewish Law. There was some real “head-butting, arguing, disagreeing going on” but as far as Paul was concerned, all of that only made the offering he was gathering more significant.  The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were suffering due to economic hardship; hunger, poverty.

   Paul saw the offering that he was gathering from Gentile mission congregations as a way of mending fences.  With such a freely-given offering a lot of Gentile Christians who were truly giving their gifts from the heart were extending the hand of friendship and fellowship to those who didn’t trust them.  Or to put it plainly, instead of trying to coax out of people enough cash to underwrite next year’s budget, Paul was excited about inviting the Christians at Corinth to join in an offering that would relieve suffering, promote reconciliation and underscore the unity of Christ’s church. 

   So that too is worth me noting & remembering for future reference.  

If and when I have to preach on giving, excite people. Highlight the ways giving will relieve human suffering, bring people together, show what good can be done when Christians do things together.  It’s when somebody stands up and asks for people to “pleeeeeease” give because it costs money to keep the lights on and the grass cut and air conditioner running that people begin to shift uncomfortably in their seats and start looking for the exits. 

   No, what I hear Paul saying is that once people see that their offerings are making a genuine difference in other peoples’ lives, that excites people; that’s when they actually want to give.

   That was Paul’s experience with the Christians up in Macedonia. They were in no position to make an offering.  Far from it; they were poor as church mice; as poor as farmers who have to give up farming.  But even though they were experiencing “extreme poverty” themselves, those Christians in Macedonia responded with an offering which when added up “overflowed in a wealth of generosity”

   Which leads to a third thing I see in this text. Invite people; excite people, unite people. What calls forth a giving that overflows in a wealth of generosity?  Not hammering away at a need for more money!  Not laying a guilt trip on people with an endless litany of shoulds and oughts.  My take on what was going on with those Christ-ians in Macedonia is that deep down, those Christians in Macedonia simply “got it all together”. They got from Paul what he wanted them to get – that deep down going the extra mile with someone, giving what you have to give doesn’t empty your pocket or your wallet as much as it fills your heart with the unspeakable pleasure that comes with joining other people of faith, people filled with the grace of God in helping to make a difference in the lives of other human beings.

   So I add this to my notes for a future “sermon on giving” if & when I need to give it.  Nothing unites people more effectively in giving without guilt or resignation than stories of others give generously and joyfully and actually look forward to giving, caring, sharing what they have to give & to share.

   Invite!  Excite!  Unite!  Mrs. Linda Reiser, from Peace Lutheran Church in Grand Island, the woman recently elected to a four year term to represent the 250,000 member LWML of the LCMS, said to the 600 plus delegates who elected her that the word that most characterized her faith in Jesus Christ and most characterized her style of leadership was TEAM - Together Everyone Accomplishes More.

   So many stories of self-less giving one hears at an LWML national convention; or an LLL national convention; or a Synodical Youth Gath-ering, and yet they are the same kind of stories that can be told of individual members & groups in Lutheran congregations no different than here at St. Paul. 

   I can remember a Sunday in June over 20 years ago when a major storm system hung over the city of Grand Island, spawning a series of damaging tornadoes that literally level major portions of Grand Island. The Sunday after it happened, we took a free-will offering at the door, which together with matching funds from AAL totaled close to a $1000 dollars, a door offering, $1,000 above & beyond what was the regular offering that Sunday.   

   Earlier this year, from the end of February to the end of March, we had a ten gallon aquarium out in the narthex marked “Pennies for Life”, loose change to help support “Nebraska Lutherans for Life,” which slowly turned into an offering of over 25,000 coins totalling close to $800.00.  Hardly what you would call a small offering, and there was no arm-twisting, no cajoling, no guilt-giving pep talks.

   And one other thing, as long as I gathering notes and useful, help-ful biblical thoughts for some future sermon on giving, wouldn’t it be good to remember what’s at the heart of such giving. 

   For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, writes St. Paul, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes  he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

   When you or I make an offering from  the heart, we are, above all else, reflecting what Jesus did, we are being LIKE JESUS.  In its purest form, an offering is a fulfillment, an embodiment of Jesus’ own selfless, self-giving love.

   Elsewhere Paul writes of Jesus, He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant . . Jesus emptied not just his pockets, but his life.  He poured it out for us so that we might be filled.  That’s how it is Paul can say  when we give generously of ourselves, we do what Jesus did.

   To this place of fears He came, says a short, simple Christmas hymn.  Servant, healer, mender; Though His death we haven claim, There to reign in splendor.

   We are rich, for he was poor; Is not this a wonder?  Therefore praise God evermore  Here on earth and yonder.

   Well, if and when I have to preach a sermon on giving – I’ve got four good notes to work with – Invite – Excite – Unite – Be like!