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2018.09.23:According to Your Means: A Fair Balance Between Abundance and Need

Preached at First Presbyterian Church, East Aurora, NY, September 23, 2018, by Langdon “Buddy” Hubbard

 

According to Your Means:

A Fair Balance Between Abundance and Need

Mark 12:41-44; Psalm 112:1-10

2 Corinthians 8:10-15 (16-24)

 

            As we saw last Sunday we have been given a wealth of blessings from God, that we can’t keep just to ourselves but need to be shared.  Gratitude for all God has done is our prime motivation for giving.  Grateful people share and give.

 

            Paul has written his letter to the Corinthian Christians, who started so well in their commitment to give of their money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem.  But they never followed through.  He tries to encourage them to give like the Macedonian Christians who were poor themselves, like the Jerusalem Christians, but gave way beyond their means to help their fellow Christians.  Paul is hoping the Corinthians will be reenergized and complete what they started a year earlier: now finish it.

 

            But Paul seems to detect a possible reason why they haven’t completed their undertaking.  It comes out in these words: “now finish doing it so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.”  Maybe their problem is that they bit off more than they could chew.  They heard about the needs of the poor people and they eagerly wanted to do something to help.  And so they made a huge commitment only to find that once they started, they couldn’t complete it because they just didn’t have the resources after all.

 

            I understand that.  It has happened to me.  Several years ago I filled out my pledge card to support the church with what I believed I could give.  And then my daughter went to college.  And all of a sudden I didn’t have as much money as I thought I would have.  I had to adjust my pledge down from what I thought I could do.  Eventually I was able to give more again.  But not at that time, not without hurting my family.

 

            Paul seems to intuit that they couldn’t give what they had intended to give, so instead of giving what they could, they just didn’t give at all.  He realizes he has to reduce their burden, in order to free them to give again.  And so he offers a wonderful principle of stewardship, what is known as “proportional giving.”  It goes like this according to Paul: “For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has – not according to what one does not have.”  In other words, you give in proportion to what you are able to give.

 

            Years ago I was preaching on this in my first church, and I told people that we often lift up the tithe, or giving 10% of our income for the ministry of the church.  The truth is, 10% of some people’s income would break their bank and send them into poverty.  But for some others 10% might not be enough.  Jan’s cousin once was able to give 50% of her income to the church and to mission and didn’t miss it.   As Paul says, give in accordance with what you have, not according to what you do not have.  Give proportionally.

 

            A younger woman came up to me joyfully after that sermon, thanking me for setting her free from her guilt.  She just couldn’t give 10% at that time without hurting herself.  Giving proportionally for her meant the ability to give what she was able to give and not feel guilty about not being able to give more.  Thereafter she gave joyfully what she could and with deep gratitude.

 

            The tithe is a normal biblical starting point for giving.  But Paul and Jesus don’t see it as a legalistic matter, but rather a guide.  The true biblical principle for giving is to give proportional to what you have.  In other words, a tithe can be a burden, or could limit our giving.  Proportional giving frees us to give all that we can. 

 

            Paul is concerned that Christian giving be a joyful response to our gratitude to God, not a burden that sucks the life and joy out of you.  And so he adds another dimension to proportional giving.  He says, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.”

 

            Paul recognizes that sometimes we have an abundance and so we can share more, and sometimes we are in need and we just can’t.  Life has its ups and downs, and so we are to be there for each other.  When I have an abundance I can help you in your time of need and when you have an abundance you can help me in my time of need.  And so there will be fairness and equality.  As Christians we share what we can so that everyone’s needs may be met, with no one with a superabundance that they really don’t need while others are suffering because they do not have enough.

 

            And by the way, this applies way beyond the personal and church.  We as a nation can care for more refugees and immigrants and we morally need to.  We have an abundance to share.

 

            I have experienced this balancing of fairness and equity in my own life.  When Jan and I started out in life together I had a job as a minister and she was unemployed.  We were fine financially, but she wanted to work.  She was a school teacher but there were no jobs available. 

 

            On a camping trip with two of our friends, a married couple, to Creation, a Christian music festival, Jan and I discovered that they were in financial distress.  As they shared their story, in the background a singer was singing, “Am I my brother’s keeper?  Do I really care?”  We wanted to help them but we couldn’t. We had just barely enough money for ourselves.  And so we prayed that God would open up a job for Jan and if God did we would give half of her salary to our friends. 

 

            When we returned from the camping trip we were invited to a block party hosted by our neighbor Nancy Randall, whom we had never met.  As she welcomed us, she asked what we did for a living.  Jan told her she was a teacher but couldn’t find a job.  Nancy’s eyes lit up.  She said, “I’m the principal at Sand Hills Middle School and I need a teacher.  I like you and would love for you to be my new teacher.”  She sent Jan to the Superintendents’ office on Monday morning.  As she sat waiting, she heard the secretary say to caller after caller, “I’m sorry.  We have a waiting list of over 60 people.  I’m afraid there just aren’t enough jobs available.”  Jan left that day with a job. And we knew exactly what we had to do:  give our friends half of Jan’s salary.  And we did.  Our abundance provided for their need.

 

            Several years later Jan and I had moved to NJ with our baby Bethany and we simply couldn’t make ends meet.  We were not prepared for the increased cost of living and a salary that was just fine in NC, but not in NJ.  We didn’t know what to do.  So I called my Aunt Leila, who had basically put me through college when my parents were not able, and asked if she could help.  She said she’d need to think about it.  A few days later I got a letter in the mail with a check.  She said, “Thank you so much for asking me to help you in your time of need.  At my age I don’t always feel like my life counts for much.  But your need of me gave me meaning and purpose again.  Thank you for asking me to give to you.  I will continue sending you a monthly check as long as you need it.”  This time her abundance met our need.  It all equaled out to a fair balance between abundance and need.

 

            In both cases everyone had what they needed.  As Paul says in conclusion:  “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little…thanks be to God…”   

 

            In my first church, our youth group was so energized by our first mission trip that they came back to our community, recognizing for the first time all of the people who were in need.   They wanted to do something about it so they called together others who wanted to make a difference, including adults in the church of all ages.  They called their group, “Christians for Community Sharing.”  Together they would organize our community to care for each other and share what we had to meet each other’s needs, not only financially but spiritually and emotionally, as well as time and talents.  They created an “Abundance Fund,” that was collected every communion Sunday, along with jars of peanut butter for hungry people: project peanut butter.  Whenever there was a need, they took care of it, using the Abundance Fund.  I will never forget the older woman, who’s well collapsed and we had raised enough money to pay for a new one.  I’ve rarely seen so much gratitude, than I did in her eyes. And I’ve rarely seen so much joy than I did in all those who gave and shared out of their abundance to help others in their time of need.  We were there for each other.  We got at least a glimpse of the promise of the early church when it says, “there were no needy people among them,” because everyone gave what they had.

 

            Sometimes an incredibly generous person comes along, like the widow in Jesus’ story, who gives everything they have down to the last penny.  That’s amazing and wonderful, and a beautiful example of sacrificial giving.  But God doesn’t always ask that much of us.  Only that we give as we are able, so that our abundance meets the needs of others, knowing that someday their abundance will meet our need.  And there will be fairness and equality amongst us.  And there will be joy and gratitude which only leads to more giving.