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This Week's Sermon !

June 28, 2015 -

2 Corinthians 8: 7-15
Psalm 130
Mark 5: 21-43

In Receiving and In Giving

When I arrived back from study leave in Truro there was an envelope from the General Council Office sitting on my desk. It contained a booklet about a new program for a congregational giving campaign! We will receive the detailed campaign in the fall. The churches who do annual campaigns usually conduct them in the fall so budgets can be set and plans can be made for the following year. It is about as exciting to some as watching paint dry and looked forward to by others with about as much anticipation as they might a root canal or one of those hospital tests for which you have to drink some kind of awful tasting stuff that makes your insides light up like a Christmas tree when viewed on an X-ray! .

By now some of you are becoming very uncomfortable. Indeed, I once heard someone say that in the United Church it is more acceptable to talk about sex from the pulpit than it is to talk about money!

For good or for ill, today is not the day I will take the easy way out; I’ll leave the “sex talk” for another day! .

We are a people who place a high value on privacy when it comes to money. These days, in the church people’s donations are considered private and confidential. Yet, many public institutions have donor walls! You can get your name on the wall for a certain amount of money given over a certain period of time. The more you give the closer you get to the top. They will invite you to a banquet the year your name is put on the wall and the people who give the most get the places closer to the front.

More than one church or church related organization utilizes similar incentives.

We are all familiar with hospital telethons - the hospital in Charlottetown does one as does the IWK. You know how it works. Over a period of many hours various community groups entertain the public in tv land interspersed with various groups and businesses presenting enormous cheques made from bristol board - a law firm, for example, has collected money on “casual Friday” for the previous year and is donating, $2,997.67 from this effort. Meanwhile you are encouraged to call in and give. If you do your name will scroll across the bottom of the screen. If you aren’t paying immediately by credit card you will receive a reminder in the mail with instructions on how to pay. Then, after the donation is sent in you receive a receipt and a thank you letter.

The folks at the hospital in Charlottetown were happy to report to me that between 95-98% of pledged money actually arrives! The IWK reports a rate of around 90%. Apparently industry standards are as low as 60% for phone based fundraising!

There are many stories that could be told about the people and families who have been helped by these hospitals. Many people have wondered: “What is the story behind the campaign Paul is talking about in today’s letter to the Corinthian church?” Why were they so destitute? There are theories but few facts. All we know is that they were in desperate straits and had no one else to help but the followers of Jesus in other places.

This is not the fist time the Corinthian church has heard of the financial problems with the Jerusalem Christians.

We also need to know that there were serious tensions between Paul and the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. An objective outsider would easily understand if Paul wanted nothing to do with that community. However Paul was committed to helping them in a significant way because he saw them as part of the one body and he saw it as part and parcel of following Jesus.

He speaks of “a fair balance” to the Corinthians. There is no point in giving so much that you yourself don’t have enough to live on, Paul would agree, but there is something wrong when you had much more than you need and someone else has NOTHING!

We have all hear the phrase, “charity begins at home.” Many of us are willing to give beyond the point of hurting for family, particularly, grandchildren but what about complete strangers? What about people who have been in conflict with us in the past?

In the recent past the Corinthians had called into the “Jerusalem Church Telethon” and had made a pledge to help out the - impoverished Christians of Jerusalem. This is Paul’s follow up letter! He writes trusting in their desire to follow through.

Paul uses the example of the manna in that fed the people during their wilderness years. There was no point in hoarding because it spoiled so each person gathered or received only what was needed.

All ministers know that it’s often easier to raise money for something we can put a plaque on, than it is to raise money for an outreach program.

After today, you wont have a leg to stand on if you claim the early church never talked about money, giving and generosity!

Retirement specialists tell us that in general we have to save more than we have been accustomed to saving in order to have the standard of living we expect in our golden years. Credit Cards have never been easier to obtain and every time you turn around you are told you need the latest and the best of whatever it is - patio furniture, cars, cell phones, big screen televisions, and larger and larger houses! How can you possibly live in a house with only three bathrooms!

What I am saying is that North Americans are encouraged at every turn to transform our wants into needs. Our profit based economy has driven many jobs off shore and impoverished a large number of people who fall through the ever widening cracks.

For every need there is a charity! There are the disease of the month campaigns. You know what I mean: one month it’s diabetes, and then its kidney disease, and then cancer, and finally heart trouble, and I have probably missed a few needs in the cycle of the ‘charitable ask”.

As people of faith we need to take a serious look at our culture in the light of the gospel call, at our own personal finances and at the needs and opportunities for outreach we see around us and make our own decisions about how we will spend the resources placed in our care.

The great reformer and church leader John Wesley said something like this:

earn all you can,

save all you can,

give all you can.

My father used to love to tell the story from many years ago when a cousin of mine was given the task of distributing candy at a family gathering. She happily and importantly doled it out, “one for you, and one for you, and one for you”. UNTIL she came to the last few people and she realized that there was too many people and not enough candy and that, if she continued, there would not be one for HER! I hope that she was rescued by an adult who decided that they had no room for candy after my grandmother’s good cooking, but I don’t know for sure.

We have been raised in a culture which instills in us the fear that there will not be “one for me”. We have been raised in the culture of look after yourself first.

One day a woman at the church brought in some food on Sunday morning for the food bank and I knew that she was a food bank client but she also knew the importance of giving and of sharing what she had with others. I could contrast this with a few people with more money, as far as I could tell, who would refused to give even a can of soup, because “some people” received help that didn’t need it! Or there were some who maintained that because they grew up poor and didn’t have enough to eat, that today’s poor children should have to do the same!

I’m hoping that Avon United could take on two challenges in the next few months. I’ve picked two foods commonly given out at the local food bank.

Could you accept the Peanut Butter Challenge which is to donate 60 Jars of peanut butter to our local food bank? That is roughly the amount of peanut butter given out at the Hantsport Food bank in one month.

As an added excitement I am proposing the Amazingly Tall Kraft Dinner Tower. I wonder how many boxes of Kraft Dinner can we stack before the tower falls over? Just to note that when its tall enough to see over the edge of the pew, I’ll put it on the floor because so we can stack more boxes before Harold has to help! (Harold is about 6'8") When it falls over we will pick it up and take it to the food bank.

Keep in mind that generous people are encouraged to be savvy shoppers buying things on sale to get the best value for our money. when on sale. I thought first that we could line the aisles with peanut butter but that might cause a tripping hazard so a mountain at the front might be better.

Who said we couldn’t have a little fun with our giving? Who knows, it might be so much fun that we could focus on Ketchup or Coffee in the fall.

Remember that charity is not just about the disparity between our resources and another’s need but also on what Christ has done for us (and for everyone!) We have so much says Paul, in Christ, who was rich but became poor for our sakes

We are given grace both in in receiving and in giving. May the Spirit open our hearts so that we are able to be people of both.



1995- 2015 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

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