Summary: What it means to excel in the grace of giving.
Imagine that a large church burned to the ground somewhere in north Wisconsin, and that all the congregations of our district were asked to help rebuild it by collecting an offering. Every congregation was asked, all but one. This tiny little congregation could hardly afford to keep going. They couldn’t support a pastor on their own. They were elderly, and they lived on fixed incomes, small fixed incomes. Their church building—beloved and cared for—was nevertheless falling into disrepair due to lack of funds. This was the kind of congregation that many people would write off. They should disband and join other churches. That would be more practical. Yet this congregation begged and pleaded to gather an offering. No one thought they should. No one expected they would, but they did. They gathered an offering. It was more than their fair share. It was more than anyone thought they were able. It was an offering to God. It was a testament to the power of God and to His promises. It was motivated by God’s love. It was an example for all the rest. Not once did they complain that they had their own problems. Not once did they complain that an offering should be taken up for them, instead. No, they freely and joyfully gave.
This is no imaginary congregation. Once it really existed, and it was called the Macedonian church. I just changed a few of the details. The Macedonians had a Sunday morning offering every Sunday, just like we do, and they pleaded to have the privilege of being a part of the collection being taken up for the church in Jerusalem. They were poor in some ways but rich in others. They heard about the need: how the Christians in Jerusalem were socially and economically excluded because of their faith, how these brothers and sisters in Christ were suffering the effects of famine and double taxation, and how they were still trying to bear the burden of being the “mother church.” So the Macedonians gave. They gave sacrificially. They gave joyfully. They gave themselves. They even gave beyond their ability. This is the example that Paul shows the Corinthians and us.
What was their secret? What was their power? What was their reason? Was it a sense of duty… of obligation… of this is what we are supposed to be doing, or else? No. It was all because of a Savior who became poor for them.
I was at Lifest last weekend, along with our group of a couple of dozen wonderful people. It changed me, no really, and I’m not just talking about getting my head shaved. (You should have seen me when it was a mohawk!) Lifest is a contemporary Christian music festival that’s held every year in Oshkosh with a huge variety of Christian artists and speakers. As great as that is, it’s so much more, so much more than I could ever put into words. On the Lifest website, Wendy O’ Brien, one of the interns, tells this story. She says, “I felt like I was watching a scene from a movie. It couldn’t have been timed any better. I was standing by the back entrance to the media room waiting for a black Durango to arrive with Rebecca St. James. Just as the vehicle pulled up to the door, I heard the opening bars of “Wait for Me” coming from the Karaoke tent across the parking lot. I said, ‘Rebecca, they’re playing your song right now,’ and pointed to the tent. She listened carefully, smiled and ran to the tent where she stood in the back watching two young girls sing her song. As the girls were coming up on the final chorus, Rebecca walked up to the girls and finished the song with them. One of the girls was so surprised that she stopped singing for a while, but apparently none of the other people recognized Rebecca who was wearing a black tank top and blue jeans with a bandana covering most of her hair. When the song was over she gave the girls a hug and started to walk away. The karaoke DJ, impressed with her voice, asked her if she wanted to help sing another song. She politely excused herself explaining that she had somewhere else to be. It was so amazing to see Rebecca, on a day when she was double-booked with interviews and media time, seizing the opportunity to bless two small girls who chose to sing her song.”
We weren’t even singing God’s song, when His Son, Jesus, became one of us—poor, like us—He walked unrecognized into our midst, and stretched out His arms, and cried out, not between two little girls, but between two thieves. There, Jesus emptied Himself and became obedient to death on the cross. He paid our punishment, not because He had to, but because He begged to love us. He was condemned and executed. He placed Himself under God’s vengeance, so that you and I could be lifted up out of the deepest spiritual poverty and despair.