Scriptures: I Corinthians 16:1-4; Acts 11:27-30
You may not realize this, but the scripture we just heard is the first recorded instance of Presbyterian disaster assistance. You may not have heard the word “Presbyterian” in that scripture, but it was there in verse 30. After hearing about a famine among people in Jerusalem, the Christians in Antioch sent relief via the elders, which in Greek is the word presbuteros—Presbyterian. They sent relief via the Presbyterians.
This offering also had special significance to the Apostle Paul. He discusses it at length in both his letters to the Corinthians as well as in Romans and Galatians. He wanted all the Gentile churches around the Mediterranean to participate in this offering, not just for practical reasons but for theological reasons. For Paul this offering was symbolic. It represented a predominantly Gentile church in Greece sending aid to a predominantly Jewish church in Jerusalem. Jews and Gentiles had an uneasy relationship in the early church. So this was significant: a Gentile church in Greece sending aid to a Jewish church in Jerusalem. It would be like liberal leaning church in Seattle collecting an offering and sending it to Trump supporters in Texas who were flooded out of their homes. In a famine there is neither Jew nor Greek, in a flood there is neither liberal nor conservative, only people who live by the grace of God.
Which brings me to our second scripture reading. These are Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians for how to participate in this offering: I Corinthians 16:1-4.
[Read I Corinthians 16:1-4]
I think there are three lessons to be learned from Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians about this offering: [Slide 1]
First, Giving should be planned. Paul wants, not a one-time emotional response, but a planned discipline of giving over time. On the first day of each week, he says, put something aside so that we don’t have to take a collection when I come. Giving is not just a one-time emotional response to a need, but an on-going grateful response to God’s blessing.
Here is something else you may not realize. You have already given to the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance response to Hurricane Harvey. You gave to it last spring when we had the One Great Hour of Sharing offering during Lent. Every year when we give to the One Great Hour of Sharing, we are giving to next year’s disasters. Even though they have not yet happened, we know they will. So thanks to your giving last spring, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has already used some of your money for sending teams of people to assist local churches and communities in Texas. Furthermore, the Presbyterian response won’t evaporate by New Years. The ongoing money we give to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance will be used for years to come in the rebuilding process, even after the news media has moved on to other things.
How many of you here this morning participated in one of the mission trips to Mississippi or Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina? Southminster’s first mission trip to help the victims of Katrina was in the spring of 2007. That was two years after the hurricane. The media had gone on to other things, but Presbyterian Disaster Assistance was still there, working with mission teams from churches like ours to find the neediest people, organize groups to help them, and arrange housing and meals for the mission teams. They did this for years after Hurricane Katrina, and they are planning to do it for years after Hurricane Harvey, counting on the ongoing support year after year of Presbyterians giving to the One Great Hour of Sharing. Presbyterians, like the apostle Paul, believe in planned giving.
Second, Giving should be proportional. In our scripture reading Paul says to the Corinthians, “Each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn.” This, unfortunately, is not the best translation of Paul’s idea. In Greek he says literally, “Store up whatever you prosper.” In other words, give according to the blessings that God has given you.
The same point is made in our first scripture reading. Acts 11, verse 29: “The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea.” Giving is meant to be proportional to what God has given us. We do not charge a membership fee where everyone pays the same amount to be a member of our church. Membership in Christ’s body is free. Giving is not the payment of our dues but an offering of gratitude, which is why the Bible talks about tithing, giving 10% of the crop to God. In the Bible giving is meant to be proportional to what God has given us.
Finally, and sometimes this point has not gotten enough attention, Giving should be accountable. Notice how Paul addresses this in the scripture reading. He says in verse 3, “And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem.” Paul is not going to take the gift by himself. Why? To avoid any possibility or even appearance of misappropriation of funds.
Giving should be properly handled and accounted for. This is not just an accounting principle; it is a Christian principle. We always have two different people count the offering every Sunday. They sign the deposit slip with the amount, so that the deposit matches the bank record. When any money is spent it needs at least two signatures, and when anyone in the church is reimbursed for expenses, they are asked to produce receipts. And every year the whole thing is audited. Giving should always be properly handled and accounted for. [Slide 2: Blank]
A final story. This is from the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. Miller tells about an unusual friend of his named Curt. Curt was not a church-going sort of guy. He came once in a while, when there was a special reason, but he said he did not really care for church. Donald Miller writes,
[Curt] used to keep a huge jar on his dresser that was full of money, and when he deposited his paychecks he would pull out 10 percent from the bank. Cold, hard cash. He would take the money home and put it in that jar. The thing must have had a couple thousand dollars in it. I was over one night watching [TV], and Curt was griping because the cabinet shop didn’t pay him enough so that he could get the motorcycle he wanted.
“Well,” I told him, “you must have thousands of dollars in that stinking jar. Use that.”
“Can’t,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Isn’t mine,” he smiled, sort of embarrassed. “It’s God’s.”
“God’s?” I shouted.
“Yeah, that’s my tithe.”
I was a little shocked. … He didn’t seem like the tithing type. … [But he explained that every so often he took the jar down to the church and dumped the contents on the desk of the church financial secretary. Then he said,]
“You tithe, Don?”
I just looked at him. I couldn’t believe it. I was about to get a lecture on tithing from a guy who probably subscribed to Bikes and Babes magazine.
“Well, Curt, I guess I don’t.” After I said this, Curt shook his head in disappointment. “It’s a shame, Don,” Curt tilted back a bottle as he spoke, punctuating the sentence with a post-swig burb. “You are missing out. I’ve been tithing since I was a kid.” …
Curt went down about two weeks later and turned all his money into the church secretary. More than three thousand dollars. I started feeling so guilty I couldn’t sleep (pp. 194-195).
Giving is not meant to be about guilt. It is meant to be about gratitude—daily, weekly, and yearly gratitude. It is not a one-time emotional response to a disaster. Not that you shouldn’t give to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. But that is not all there is to Christian giving. Giving, as the Bible talks about it, is an on-going, planned, and properly accounted for response to what God has given us. That’s how we try to do giving here at Southminster.