Theo-economics 101

Scripture | Philippians 2:1-15 | 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

I was recently thinking back,
as I’m sure most of you do on regular basis,
to my church’s stewardship campaign when I was in 9th grade.

The stewardship campaign wasn’t anything special, There was nothing about the campaign itself that makes this memory stands out to me. This memory comes to mind because in 9th grade I had just completed confirmation the year before and this stewardship campaign was the first time I was asked to fill out a pledge card for myself.

I remember being really confused about everything… Up until that point the only money I gave to the church was the symbolic dollar bill my parents gave me to put in the offering plate. And now the church wants me to tell them what I’ll give them?

I remember talking to my parents about it… okay so the church just wants me to name an amount, so there are 52 Sundays in a year, and if you give me a dollar for each of those Sundays, then I guess I could say I will give $52 to the church.

“No, no” they said, “your a full member now, so your pledge card is about your money, not ours. So think about what you want to commit to giving the church, it doesn’t have to be a lot, think of what you have, and decide what you want to give”

I remember thinking… well thats ridiculous, I’m in 9th grade, I don’t have a job, I barely have money except when I ask my parents for it”

I kept thinking about it throughout the worship service. And ultimately when the pressure was on and the offering plates were coming down our row. I grabbed the pew pencil and wrote in the blank next to the dollar sign the word “Time” and put it in the plate.

I didn’t have money, but looking at my life and what I did have I realized I had time like crazy, so I pledged to give some of my surplus of time to the church. So, I decided, instead of walking to my friend’s house everyday after school to wait to get picked up, at least two days a week, I’d walk the extra 15 minutes to my church to hang out with my youth director and pastor, and see if there was anything I could help with.

How do you look over the the resources you have at your disposal and determine that you have “enough” of something or “too much” of something?

And how do you make the jump to giving it away?

Each of us, I’m sure, have different answers to these questions

Each of us have a different amounts of resources that we’re measuring,

And there never seems to be a perfect formula that works for everyone,

there isn’t a plug and chug equation that cleanly spits out the perfect answer of giving for each of us.

There is however a model of giving that we as Christians can try to live into.

It’s God’s model of giving, as we understand it through Jesus Christ.

Its this concept called Grace.

It serves as both a model and a measuring stick that we can continually hold ourselves to.

Paul details this concept of God’s giving throughout our passage today.

He says “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although he was rich, he became poor for our sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty.”

God gives everything out of love, its not only how God gives it is who God is,

It is in God’s very nature to give everything completely to us out of love.

We know this because that’s how we’ve seen Christ give,

He saw everything not as his own thing to possess, butbut belonging to God,

Because of this perspective everything was a resource to be shared

Including his love, including his divinity, even including his very life.

God gives everything to us out of love. This is grace, a free and voluntary gift that we have no control over. We have all received this gift, whether we recognize it or not. But something changes within us when we do recognize it. God’s grace starts working in us, shaping who we are, the decisions we make, how we see and interact with the world, and ultimately how we give, compelling us to give as generously as Christ did.

 Paul calls this “the work of grace.”

He talks about it as it happened with the Macedonian churches. They were in the midst of difficulties, they had been experiencing extreme poverty. But somehow they were able to recognize God’s grace in their lives, Paul says “they gave themselves to God first, and then to us.”

God’s grace worked in them and allowed them to find within themselves an extra amount of happiness and generosity that caused them to exuberantly give way more than they could afford and way more than anyone expected.

Even In the midst of their poverty, they saw how God was still giving to them abundantly, They saw God’s grace in their life, and it worked on them and worked on them, and from this place, they were compelled to give freely.

This is the work of grace.

Being able to look at everything God has entrusted you with, and see not only that there is more than enough for you, but that there is enough to share. No matter your income level, no matter how little or how much you may think you have by comparison, God has given everyone an abundance to share.

The summer before I started seminary, I had an amazing opportunity to go on a mission trip to Haiti. It was 2009, it was before the Haitian earthquake, but even before that devastation it was one of the most impoverished places on this side of the planet.

There were a lot of stories from this trip but one that continually stands out in my mind was when we went to visit and worship with one of our partner churches. After a 3 hour long service, we set about our work for the day which was to simply go and visit some of their church members who couldn’t handle the mountain paths anymore to walk to church, so they wanted us to join them in going to visit them, offer prayer, and distribute some basic food stuffs, some water, rice, beans, and oil. 

We divided into three groups and headed up different paths, to visit about four homes, each of them spread quite aways apart, and all of them smaller than half of our chancel.  Every individual we visited was so grateful to have folks thinking of them and praying for them, and each of them were moved to tears when we shared food with them. But the last person we visited in particular is etched in my mind.

Because this was the last house, and the pastor who was guiding us learned that I spoke french, and very little Haitian creole, I was invited to lead the conversation, and eventually close us in prayer. So we stepped in, and saw the woman we were, very old and frail, and sat on a low stool in the corner of this one room house. I started as the pastor had, “Sister, we’ve just come from your church, and wanted to visit you, ask God’s blessing for you, and say a prayer together… How are you?” We talked as we had at the other houses, we prayed as we had at the other houses. After we said Amen, we gave her food. She started to cry in gratitude. But then as we started to tell her goodbye, she told us to wait. She reached behind the curtain she was sitting next to, and dug around for a moment. The next thing I knew she was reaching out to me, with an egg in her hand.

I was confused at first.

“No sister, we’ve come to bring you food, you don’t have to give us anything, you need it more than we do.”

But, judging by her face it was clear that it was really important we take it.

The pastor whispered to me, “You have to take it, she wants to give back”

This is the work of grace.

From our limited perspective this woman had nothing. But from God’s perspective even this woman had more than enough to give something back.

As God’s grace worked throughout her life, she saw places of abundance,  and decided that she had enough to give joyfully give generously.

God has graced all of us in abundance.

When we start to look at your life through the eyes of God’s grace. We see that we have more than enough. We see that our surplus is designed to be shared.

We see that the economy of God is not designed on designating what is mine, or yours, but seeing it all as ours.

Where are your abundant places?
…That is exactly the place to start giving from.
Do you have more than enough money? 
         There has always been a need for that. Let God’s grace work in you and give it away
Do you have time in abundance? 
           Start your giving there. Volunteer, show up, linger around and let God’s grace move
Do you have love in abundance? Talent? Intellect?
Do you have an extra egg?

Wherever you have abundance, I guarantee there is a person in need in our community or in our world, Someone who is just waiting for you to share.

May Gods grace go to work in you.
may it give you an extra amount of happiness,
so much that all of us are compelled to give generously
until we can give as completely as God does,
as completely as Christ did.