Yes, this is a giving sermon. In many churches, that often means a moment where the preacher either begs or lectures. But today we celebrate giving, looking at what has been done and what I believe will be done through this church known as Luminary.
In our Bible text, Paul tells the church at Corinth how to understand giving, in the process enlightening us a little about the Christians in Macedonia, a group he holds out as a standard for other churches. The Corinthians would have found Paul’s words difficult to hear. Corinth and Macedonia were political rivals in Paul’s day, and the apostle is trying to inspire a touch of jealousy, shame or some similar emotion in the Corinthians, who need to be doing more for God’s kingdom.
Paul’s writings raise a question for any church: When it comes to giving hearts, are we more like Macedonians or Corinthians?
The church in Corinth was relatively affluent, it would seem. We don’t know a lot about the situation of the churches in Macedonia—Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea—but it is clear from Paul’s letter they had fallen on hard times, despite being in a relatively prosperous region. Some of the Greek words Paul uses to describe their affliction are associated with religious persecution, and it is also clear from his words the Macedonians had descended into poverty because of what they suffered.
And yet, they give to help others, Paul writes, giving “even beyond their means.” The Macedonian churches even beg for the privilege of participating, finding great joy in the midst of their suffering to join in Jesus Christ’s work on earth.
In their giving, the Macedonians were like Christ, reducing themselves so that others might be made rich by the gift of eternal life flowing from the cross.
Nothing about the Macedonians’ attitudes should surprise us. Among people who study Christian giving patterns, it is known to be a basic fact that the best givers are among our poorest people. I have heard needy people say, “If you want help, go to a poor community, not a rich one.”
I’m reminded of the story about a church that announced in 1946 it was going to take up a collection to help a poor family in the community. A widow and her three daughters went to great lengths to participate, finding great joy in the sacrifices they were making. They raised most of the money collected by the church, only to discover they were the intended recipients of the offering. They ultimately gave what the church had handed them to a missionary working in Africa.
There was a family that would have been comfortable in Macedonia.
In terms of resources available to us at Luminary, we are more like Corinth than Macedonia. Most of us are not what anyone would call poor. Certainly, as a church, we are not mired in poverty and persecution. That’s a blessing, of course, but such a blessing comes with great responsibility.
The great preacher and writer Charles Spurgeon told the story of being invited to preach at a rural church so a special offering could be taken to retire the church’s debt. The man making the invitation said Spurgeon had his choice of places to stay during the visit: the man’s country house, his town house, or his seaside home. Spurgeon declined the invitation, suggesting the man sell one of his homes and pay off the debt himself. Abundant resources are an invitation from God to take bold actions.
As a group, bold action is always possible for us. I have mentioned before, and I will mention again, that committed tithing is the great equalizer for all church members, allowing us to commit equally to our community, rich or poor.
And this is where I begin to celebrate. Clearly, some of you are developing a deeper understanding of what it means to give to the kingdom. I don’t know who tithes and who does not tithe, but I can look at the bigger picture and surmise a few things.
♰ A significant number of you are giving in committed ways. I can tell this because our church income remains steady even as our “regulars” travel during the summer. Thank you for treating your church like a community with ongoing ministries, and not like a movie theater.
♰ Some of you also have increased your commitments. We are succeeding financially in ways we have not succeeded in a long time. Halfway through the year, our income is exceeding our expenses by about $6,000.
♰ Our better financial performance has happened while you have been “tithing up” to support the larger church, much like the Macedonians desired to do. Late last year, your leaders decided to begin tithing from our general offerings to the conference after many years of not supporting the larger church in full, and we have stuck to that commitment. (Until 2011, this system was called “paying apportionments.”) In all of 2014, Luminary sent $7,583 in support of the larger church; to date in 2015, we have already sent $12,236, and there’s no reason to believe we cannot continue that commitment. And none of that accounts for the special gifts you have made—for example, the more than $1,900 you sent to the Holston Conference to aid area children in poverty, or the regular gifts we send to Holston Home for Children.
All of this translates into lives being changed, locally and beyond. And there is so much coming in the life and ministry of Luminary:
♰Starting in August, our worship will be made richer and more vibrant with the arrival of Seth O’Kegley, our new music director. I cannot say enough about what this young man brings us in terms of music skills and devotion to worship. Your giving makes his presence possible, and he will bring Christ into people’s lives in ways we are only beginning to imagine.
♰A new vision for how we function as a church is taking shape, thanks to your Church Leadership Council. You will hear more about that soon, and I’m already praying each of you individually will see your lives and the lives of people around you changed for the better. Some of these changes will require new tools; the retirement of current debt, the acquisition of church vans and the completion of the upstairs keep coming up as likely needs.
We may not yet be Macedonians in heart, but we certainly are moving toward Macedonia. Pray that our financial commitment to our church holds and grows; pray that we become a people so enamored with Christ that we beg for the chance to give.