18 February 2019
Paul writes to the Corinthians [2 Corinthians 8:10-15] two thousand years ago. I want you to know about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For as I can testify , they voluntarily gave according to their means and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints.
Paul roots this in an understanding of the deepest giving of Gods own self to the world. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
One of the signs of a fruitful life and a fruitful community is gratitude and generosity. The whole bible sings of Godís abundance. From the beginning in the creation stories, we are told of Godís gifts, there is plenty, there is enough for all. The gospel story of abundance asserts that we originated in what the theologian Walter Bruggemann expresses as " the magnificent inexplicable love of a God who loved the world into generous being".
The grace of God unclenches our hands and our hearts. We are enabled not just to let go, to forgive others, but also to give of ourselves and our wealth. I canít think of any passage in the bible which more directly challenges our present society and us personally, especially at this time of world recession and the realities of budgeting in such times, as to what we really believe about the power and grace of God, We are torn by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God's abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity -- a belief that can turn our society and us into being greedy, mean and unneighbourly.
We are bombarded with the myth of scarcity, it's powerful. It's there in the ads, "get here quickly its all going to run out" and the motorway clogs up at 7.00 am as people head for Sylvia Park sales and the pot of gold. Cheap TVs and other goodies - every one likes a bargain. Bruggemann says that this story of scarcity ends in despair. It gives us a present of anxiety, fear, greed and brutality. It produces indifference to the poor. It tells us not to care about anyone but ourselves. The real faith issue confronting us is whether the news of God's abundance can be trusted in the face of the story of scarcity?
Paul points out to the well-off Corinthians that itís the poverty stricken Macedonians who have experienced God's grace, implying that the Corinthians have missed out on something. The gratitude, generosity and joy of the Macedonians flows from a deep understanding of the gift of Christ. A scarcity culture doesnít understand gifts, they are always for something, to gain something, a free gift to entice you into spending more.
Henri Nouwen writes that when we recognise that all that is, is a divine gift born out of love and freely given to us so that we may offer thanks and share it with others, it changes the way we see everything - from our relationships to our wealth.
Paul tells the Corinthians that now he is testing the genuineness of their love against the earnestness of others. They know about God's abundance. The generous act of Jesus Christ, who gave his life that they might live and know how to love. Well, says Paul, give freely for you have been given far more that you will ever give.
In the church we give as a response to God's love toward us. We give for the work of the church itself and through the people of the church, that giving flows into many areas. At the same time we also provide for ours needs and for those who are dependent on us. We try to exercise good stewardship of the resources that we are entrusted with, both individually and as a community.
This month we see the response of St Johns to one area, the challenge of helping people in other lands who have basic needs. The World Vision response that is recorded is only part of it. Over the year, as individuals from this community we have given to the agencies of Christian World Service,World Vision and the Leprosy mission who know the needs of the people they work with.
Locally, we make a direct contribution through the ministry of this church in the work of our Community Centre and through every member in their daily lives, and to specialist social services through our giving to Presbyterian Support Northern and to the chaplaincy at Middlemore hospital. Both overseas and in Manukau City, we contribute to providing education so people can take responsibility for and celebrate their own lives, to giving for emergency needs such as food, shelter and clean water and also to spreading the good news through the PCANZ Global mission supporting partner churches in other countries.
We are also asked to pray for and to know about those for whom we care by proxy.. I want to take the opportunity to thank Betty Ingram who has been the collector for World Vision and the Leprosy Mission and is now handing over the administration of this to the church office. Betty has responded on our behalf for many years to the children we have sponsored, and has said she will continue to fulfil that task, as well as reminding the "cheerful givers" of their pledge to support.
All of us are challenged that the gifts we have been given are to be received with thankfulness, and used and shared generously, not because we have to, but as an out flowing of our response to the love of our generous God.
May God Bless you and keep you in God's care.
Walter Bruggemann : The liturgy of Abundance: The myth of scarcity
Henri Nowen: Lifesigns
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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