Stewardship 1 – 2017 LSB #’s 915, 568, 566
Text – 2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor so that you by His poverty might become rich.
Stewards transformed by Grace
It had been a hard winter in the Rockies. The snow piled deeper & deeper. The temperature dropped below zero & stayed there. The rivers froze over. People were suffering. The Red Cross used helicopters to fly in supplies.
After a long, hard day, as they were returning to their base, the rescue team saw a cabin nearly submerged in the snow. A thin wisp of smoke came up from the chimney. The men figured those people in that cabin were probably critically short of food, fuel & medicine. Because of the trees they had to set the helicopter down about a mile from the cabin.
They put their heavy emergency equipment on their backs, trudged through waist-deep snow & reached the cabin exhausted, panting & perspiring. They pounded on the door & a thin, gaunt mountain woman finally answered. The lead man panted, “Ma’am, we’re from the Red Cross.” She was silent for a moment, & then she said:
“It’s been a hard, long winter, Sonny. I just don’t think we can give anything this year!”
You have become accustomed to almost relentless asking for money. The salesman who rings at the door, the computer recording on the other end of the phone, the appeal letter in the mail, the panhandlers on the street corners, Girl Scouts selling cookies outside of Walmart & Kroger are all out to get our money. We brace ourselves to say “no.”
When someone approaches claiming they want to help, we become suspicious. There has to be an ulterior motive. St. Paul was traveling all over the world taking up a collection for the poor, distressed Christians in Jerusalem. Usually the mother church supports the mission churches, but there was a famine in Judea, so the economy was suffering & the mother church at Jerusalem needed help. On top of that, Christians were being persecuted, & many of them had lost their jobs. Many of were just barely staying alive. So Paul went from church to church urging the Christians to give generously to support those who were in need in Jerusalem.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Just as you excel in everything… see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians 8:7 NIV) Brothers & sisters in Christ, whenever we talk about grace & giving, we have to talk about God. Grace begins with our Lord. It is a gift we do not deserve, but God is not only gracious, He is giving. He is the greatest giver ever.
What does John 3:16 tell us? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” When He wanted to tell us how much He loved us, He didn’t send a letter, an email, or put it on Facebook. His Son Who was rich became poor to express the love of our Creator for His creation.
Paul was referring to the eternal riches that were His as the Son of God from all eternity. There was & is nothing that does not belong to Him. But for your sake He became poor. Paul said, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” because this was something they needed to keep on hearing.
Writing to the Philippians, Paul put it this way, “Christ made Himself nothing.” Literally He emptied Himself. The Macedonians Christians had very little & the little they had they gave. Jesus had absolutely everything. He was Lord of the universe, & He gave all of it. As Paul told the Corinthians, Christ died so that they could become rich.
Jesus, the God-man, swapped places with us sinners. He underwent the desolation & the deserved punishment of sinful mankind. In return, sinners receive a share in His Sonship & the forgiveness of sins. You see, because of Christ’s poverty, we are rich, but we are not rich by nature. By nature, we are poor. Holy Scripture calls us spiritually blind, dead & enemies of God. There is no goodness of our own. There is no one good – not even one, we’re told in the book of Romans. There is no way for us to gain acceptance with God. All of our efforts fall short, yet in Christ we have become incredibly rich. The slate of our sins has been wiped clean.
Our Lord works all things together for our good. We have eternal riches. That is grace in action. You might say, “Me rich?” You might think, “We get by, but we’re certainly not the 1%.” But we are rich, because Christ became poor. If you question yourself becoming rich, ask God, “How much did your salvation cost?”
Martin Luther reminded us that our salvation was not bought with gold or silver but with the innocent suffering & death of Jesus. That you & I belong to Jesus means that we are rich. We have been bought by Him, with His own blood. Christ chose us so that we could live lives worthy of the Gospel – doing His will instead of ours, seeking His kingdom instead of ours.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:15: “And He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him Who for their sake died & was raised.” How much of every day do you live for God? You see friends, we can live every day for God by remembering that we are stewards. We all are stewards by our recreation in Baptism.
As God’s stewards we are not owners, but managers. Who is the owner? It’s the One who died to rescue His own Creation. We just confessed a few moments ago that we believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven & earth. But friends, He is not only the maker of heaven & earth; He is the owner because He died to erase every last effect of sin in all creation.
Being stewards means that we’ve been entrusted with life & it’s resources. We’ve been given the privilege of responsibly & joyfully managing them for God. We can do that because we are stewards who have been transformed by His grace. We have been changed in heart & mind & soul. We are no longer the same person we once were. Paul says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. He tells us in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good & acceptable & perfect.”
Being transformed begins with thinking of things differently – having a different mindset & attitude. It results in behavior pleasing to God & in accordance with His will – we become givers, not just takers. Giving becomes a privilege rather than a burden or obligation. Our saintly nature does give willingly & cheerfully.
The Christians in Macedonia begged to be part of the offering for the church in Jerusalem. Maybe some of us here have room for growth in our giving. Wouldn’t it be great if, as I announced the offering, the congregation would applaud? During the offering we are given an opportunity to give back to God what He has given to us.
We give back not because we have to, but because we want to give. As we give, we give of our very selves. As St. Paul wrote, “…they gave themselves 1st to the Lord & then by the will of God to us.” (2 Corinthians 8:5 ESV)
A pastor once told of a time his church received a $1,000 check from a member who never attended church. The secretary reported that the man considered the gift as his dues. A year later another check for $1,000 was received from the same man. The pastor went to meet with the man & returned his $1,000 check: “God doesn’t want your money; He wants you.”
Friends, God doesn’t want our money either. He wants us. When we refuse to give ourselves, we are withholding what belongs to God. When we do give ourselves, we give our time. Time gives us the opportunity to serve God by serving our fellow man. Haven’t you wondered why God allowed you to keep on living after He had saved you? We are still here because God has a purpose for us; things for us to do. Many people don’t know their purpose in life. As a giver, we give our treasures. The Bible says, “They gave according to their means.” If the readiness to give is there, the gift is like a pleasant aroma to God. Not all are blessed in the same way, but the gift is acceptable if it is given according to how God has blessed us.
In writing to the Church at Corinth, Paul referenced the example of the Macedonians who gave so generously to the needy Christians in Jerusalem. (2 Corinthians 8:1-9) Because of God’s grace & generosity to them, they were empowered to give even though they lived in poverty. The members gave generously & sacrificially. Paul refers to their giving as an “act of grace.”
In their extreme poverty, by grace, the Macedonians gave “beyond their means.” (v. 3) So eager to give, they pleaded for the privilege of sharing with the needy in Jerusalem. Their giving, while in such a difficult economic position, gave witness to God’s grace in their lives. God’s grace makes it possible for people to have very little & yet want to give generously.
Friends, the word generosity comes from the root word that means “single.” The basic idea is single-mindedness of purpose. It points to the attitude of the giver rather than the amount given. The ultimate source of the single-minded generous spirit is the grace of God that has been given to all whose sins He has washed away.
Generous givers aren’t born that way. That kind of attitude is the result of being reborn, of being changed & transformed. The grace, of God’s unmerited love, that brings salvation to the sinner also inspires a new life of service that includes unselfish, generous giving. To give cheerfully & generously is a gift of God’s grace.
“…though He was rich, yet for your sake [Jesus] became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV) People the world over are looking for a transformational event to make their lives better. Jesus offers that to us by His grace. Amen.
If Your beloved Son, O God, had not to earth descended & in our mortal flesh & blood had not sin’s power ended, then this poor wretched soul of mine in hell eternally would pine because of my transgression. I trust in Him with all my heart; now all my sorrow ceases. His Words abiding peace impart; His blood from guilt releases. Free grace through Him I now obtain; He washes me from every stain, & pure I stand before Him. My guilt, O Father, You have laid on Christ, Your Son, my Savior. Lord Jesus, You my debt have paid & gained for me God’s favor. O Holy Spirit, Fount of grace, the good in me to You I trace; in faith & hope preserve me. Amen. LSB 568:1, 3, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet