Pastor Chris Royce
Sermon Text: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21
Sunday June 27, 2021

In 1992, Hank and Betty Rowan made a donation of $100 million dollars to a college in south New Jersey called Glassboro State University. At the time, it was the largest donation to a public university and in general, it goes down as one of the most significant gifts in the history of philanthropy and higher education. Now initially, you might say “people give big bucks to colleges all the time, why is this one such a big deal? Here’s why: First, it’s surprising that neither of them were alumni of this school. Normally we think of donating to institutions and causes that have directly impacted our lives – well that wasn’t the case here. Additionally, this gift was significant because of its impact. If that same amount of money was given to Harvard, Yale, MIT, Stanford – wealthy schools, it would’ve been a drop in the bucket. But $100 million dollars to a small state university – Glassboro State University – that’s transformational money. And that’s exactly what happened. Since that 1992 donation, enrollment has doubled. It went from a modest state school to a robust school, a school that’s on the national radar for its excellent engineering programs. It has not one, but two medical colleges. The ultimate transformation? Today it’s no longer called Glassboro State University. It’s called Rowan University, named in honor of the donors. This married couple gave an extravagant donation to a simple, small school – and it transformed this institution in radical ways.


I share this story because it’s a perfect reminder of how generosity can change people’s lives. Someone is burdened by a sudden tragedy in life, but then hundreds of people rally together on GoFundMe online to ease their burden. Every now and then you hear of a person who leaves an outrageous life changing tip money at a restaurant for the waiter or waitress. You hear a feel-good story on the news where someone’s life got turned around because other people chipped in to help. I’m sure if you stop and think about it, you can recall a time where someone did something generous for you and it really resonated with you. 


Generosity changes lives. That’s the point Paul makes in our lesson for today. Moved by the great grace of Christ, Paul encourages the church in Corinth to embrace a spirit of eager generosity as they give to help fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need. We want the same to be true of us as well. We also want to be generous givers. Now, it’s no secret that this can be a touchy subject in the church- giving, generosity, money. If there’s one topic that causes churchgoers to get frustrated and spectators of the church to grow annoyed – it’s the topic of money and giving. There are many people who have been permanently turned off from churches because of the impression that “all the church cares about is money”. Maybe you’ve been part of other churches before where you were specifically targeted and guilted over your giving habits. I’m confident that as long as sinful people make up churches, this topic will continue to bother and annoy people. 


But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if the topic of Christian giving and Christian generosity was something that would motivate and encourage us instead of annoy us and bother us? What if instead of rolling our eyes at this subject, we joyfully looked forward to the opportunity to support the work of the kingdom and help our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need? How can we talk about the topic of church, Christians, money, giving, and generosity without it getting on other peoples nerves?


Well, I like the approach Paul takes in chapter 8. He doesn’t yell at this church or make them feel bad. He doesn’t chastize them or tell them that they need to step their game up. Instead, he tells them some stories of how generosity changes lives. I told one story, one example of this earlier. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul gives us two stories of generosity changing lives. And as you know, stories are powerful. Some of the greatest movies and TV shows of all time are ones that are “based on a true story”. We love inspirational and motivational stories. Through the power of story, that’s how we’ll communicate here this morning. 


The first story Paul tells to the Corinthians is covered in verses 1-5. It’s a story of fellow human beings who did something incredible and inspirational. As we hear these verses again look closely at what happened here –And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.


Just north of Corinth were the cities of Thessalonica, Berea, and Philippi. Two of these three have their own books of the Bible – Philippians and Thessalonians. These churches did something remarkable. If movies were a thing back then, you can guarantee that this would be adapted to film. Honestly, this might be one of the most astonishing stories in all of Scripture. What amazes you the most about this story? You have no shortage of options. They were kicked in the teeth themselves going through hardship, yet they gave anyway. Not only were they going through a period of hardship, but their whole life was hardship! Extreme poverty, yet their joy level somehow was still off the charts. Not only did they give, but they gave generously – they went above and beyond. Not only did they go above and beyond, but they desperately wanted, they begged for the opportunity to help. Even though they were enduring a disaster and a half themselves, they regarded it as a privilege to give towards those who were also in need. I thought that that Rowan college story was a pretty incredible story of generosity, but these northern churches really outdid it. It’s one thing to give when you have billions to your name. But when you have nothing? And you’re ferociously eager to give what little you have away? Remarkable. 


Now why does Paul tell us this story? What’s his motive? Verse 8 – I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. Again, he’s not saying “Hey you guys, what’s the matter with you? Be more like them!” but he tells us this story to get us to peer into our own hearts and to ponder what our hearts are like when it comes to giving and generosity. Paul was speaking to a large audience, an entire church. And by and large, Paul was very pleased with the spiritual health of the Corinthians. In verse 7 he says But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. If we jump down a little bit and look at verses 10 and 11, more encouragement and compliments. He said that: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. Speaking as a whole to the church, Paul had much good to say. Now each weekend I get the privilege of standing up here and addressing our church on various topics. Speaking as a whole to Messiah Lutheran Church, I thank God for you and your attitudes towards giving and generosity – of your money, of your time and talents.. I really do. It has touched my heart in the short time here to see the love and support you have for one another, for your pastor, for the other ministries our ministry helps to support. It is evident to me that you care greatly about God’s work and God’s people. Just like Paul had complimentary things to say to them, I have complimentary things in this regard to share with you. 


On an individual, personal level I know that it’s good to be reminded of stories like this one. Because I know my heart and if your heart’s anything like mine, it doesn’t excel at generosity and giving, like the Macedonians displayed in our text. I give, but not always joyfully. Many times my giving of time and money is reluctant, many times I’m not chomping-at-the-bit eager to throw my time and talents at the feet of those who need it the most. Many times I use circumstances in my own life as a reason not to give help or aid. So often I put my needs before the needs of others. Do I excel at generosity like they do? Personally, no. But I want to. Would you agree with me? Do you want to excel at giving too?


I said earlier that Paul told two stories in this section. And believe it or not, the story about the Macedonian churches is the second most incredible story in 2nd Corinthians 8. The first story covered five verses. Paul needed just one to tell the most incredible story of generosity ever: 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 through his poverty might become rich. I thought the Rowan College philanthropy story was incredible. I thought the Macedonian church story was incredible. But friends, it doesn’t get any better or more incredible than this. Jesus is the King of Glory. He’s the Son of God, creator of the universe, ruler over all creation. Why would Jesus bother to even glance a sinner’s way, let alone arrive, live, die, rise and conquer sin on our behalf? Because in addition to his other titles, here’s Jesus’s best one – friend of sinners. Jesus loves you. If you want to summarize the entire Bible in three words, those are the three. Jesus loves you. He loves you so much that he traded heavenly glory for a mortal frame. Later on, Paul would write to the church in Philippi and say these words about our Savior: He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! He went from heavenly riches to earthly rags, so that you and I could go from earthly rags to heavenly riches. We come here on Sundays to hear the greatest story of generosity this world will ever know. And it’s a story that transforms the hearts of all who believe in it. Our motivation for Christian generosity is seen in the life and death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus, who did everything for us.


That’s really what separates us from the rest of the world. No one in the world would deny that giving and generosity is a good thing. But our motive is different from the rest. The reason we give, the reason we want to be known for our generosity is because he has given us everything. We do these things not for pats on our own backs, but to the praise of the one who has done it all for us. We freely give away – and by giving away we become rich. That’s how it works in God’s economy. I love how the Proverbs describe it. Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. In giving generously and freely to those around us, we’re really doing it for our Lord. He will certainly remember what is done by those who love him. How cool is that?!


I once heard of a Lutheran pastor in South Dakota who adopted this as his life’s mantra: “You can’t out-give God, but it’s fun to try.” Our prayer this morning is that God would kindle in our hearts a desire to excel in this grace of giving. May God, through our generosity, change the hearts of others just as his generosity changed ours in the most radical, beautiful way. May we see Jesus’s face in the eyes of those who are hurting the most, may God imprint his words on our minds and hearts – that whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me. Amen.