Transformed by Grace

November 5, 2017

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Transformed by Grace, Faith and Love

All Saints Sunday

Transformed by Grace

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

          Today, we begin our stewardship messages “Transformed by Grace, Faith, and Love.” For this week, our focus is on stewards transformed by grace. In our Second Corinthians text today, I want to focus on verse 9 which reads, 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.

It had been a hard winter in the Rockies. The snow piled deeper and deeper. The temperature dropped below zero and 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 in a helicopter 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, and medicine. Because of the trees they had to set down about a mile from the cabin. They put their heavy emergency equipment on their backs, trudged through waist-deep snow, and reached the cabin exhausted, panting, and perspiring. They pounded on the door and 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, and then she said, “It’s been a hard, long winter, Sonny, I just don’t think we can give anything this year!”

We have become accustomed to people’s 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, and the Girl Scouts selling cookies outside of Walmart and Kroger are all out to get our money. We brace ourselves to say “no.” When somebody approaches claiming to want to help us, we become suspicious. There must be an ulterior motive. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

The Apostle Paul was traveling all over the world taking up a collection for the poor, distressed Christians in Jerusalem. They were in need of help. Usually the mother church supports the mission churches, but there was a famine in Judea, so the economy was suffering and the mother church at Jerusalem needed help. On top of that, Christians were being persecuted, and many of them had lost their jobs. As a result, many of them 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.

Paul said, “Just as you excel in everything…see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

Friends, whenever we talk about grace and giving, we have to talk about God. Grace begins with God. Grace is the gift he gives to us undeservedly. It is unmerited on our part. But you know God is not only gracious, he is giving. In fact, he is the greatest giver ever. John 3:16 tells us, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever should believe in him shall have ever lasting life.” God gave his Son and that is an expression of his love. When he wanted to tell us how much he loved us, he didn’t send us a letter, an email, or put something on Facebook. He sent his only Son. His Son who was rich became poor.

Paul said, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yes, this was something they already knew, but something they needed to keep on hearing. To describe the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul used the terms rich and poor. He applied these words to Jesus. He was rich, Paul reminded them. He was referring to the eternal riches that were Jesus’ as the Son of God for all eternity. There was and is nothing that does not belong to him. But for your sake he became poor. Paul’s reminding the Macedonian churches that he is referring to what Christians today call Christ’s state of humility.

Writing to the Philippians, Paul put it this way, “Christ made himself nothing.” Literally, Christ emptied himself. The Macedonian Christians had very little. The very little they had they gave. Jesus had absolutely everything. He was Lord of the universe, and he gave it all. As Paul told the Corinthians, he died so that they may become rich. Jesus, the God-man, swapped places with us sinners. He underwent the agony, desolation, and the deserved punishment of fallen humankind. In return, we sinners receive a share in his Sonship and 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. Scripture tells us we are spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. There is no goodness of our own. There is no one good – not even one, we are told in Romans. There is no way for us to gain acceptance with God. All of our efforts fall short, but in Christ we have become incredibly rich. We have forgiveness of sins. The slate is wiped clean. We have all things working for our good. We have eternal riches.

Friends, that is grace in action. We are rich. We may say, “Me rich?” We might say, “We get by, but we’re certainly not rich.” But we are rich, because Christ became poor. If you question yourself becoming rich, just ask God, “How much did our salvation cost?” Martin Luther reminded us that our salvation was not bought with gold or silver but with his innocent suffering and death.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are rich and to be rich means that we belong to Jesus. We have been chosen by him. We have been bought by him, by his own blood. To be rich is to live for him. Doing his will instead of ours. Seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness. 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 and 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 are all stewards by creation and our re-creation in Baptism. As God’s stewards, we are managers not owners. God is the owner. We confess that we believe in God the Father, almighty maker of heaven and earth. But friends, he is not only the maker of heaven and earth; he is the owner because he has never given up ownership.

Being stewards means that we’ve been entrusted with life and life’s resources. We’ve been given the privilege of responsibly and joyfully managing them for him. We can do that because we are stewards who have been transformed by God’s grace. We have been changed. It’s an internal change. We’ve been changed in heart and mind. We are no longer the same person we once were. Paul says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.

Romans 12:2 tells us, “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 and acceptable and perfect.” Being transformed or changed starts with thinking of things differently. Having a different mindset and different attitude. And it results in behavior that is pleasing to God and in accordance with God’s will. In accordance with God’s will, we are givers not just takers. Giving now becomes a privilege rather than a problem or obligation. We want to give willingly and cheerfully.

In our text, we learned that Christians in Macedonia begged to be part of the offering. How often have the people at our church applauded when we collect the offering? Wouldn’t it be great if, when I, as the pastor, announced the offering, the congregation would applaud? Because through our giving we are given an opportunity to give back to God what he has given to us. We give back not because we have to give but because we want to give. As we give, we give of ourselves. In verse five of our text it says, “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”

A pastor tells the story about a time when his church received a $1,000 check from a member who never attended church. The pastor’s secretary said that the man considered his gift as his dues. A year later another check for $1,000 was received from the same man. The pastor later met with the man and returned his $1,000 check. The pastor told the gentleman that “God doesn’t want your money; he wants you.” Friends, God doesn’t want our money; he wants us. When we refuse to give ourselves, we are withholding what belongs to God.

When we give ourselves, we give our time. Time gives us the opportunity to serve God by serving our fellow people. Have you ever 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. God has things for us to do. Many people don’t know their purpose in the world. As a giver, we give our treasures. Our text says, “They gave according to their means.”  If the readiness is there, the gift is acceptable to what a person has, not what he doesn’t have. We have not all been blessed the same way, but the gift is acceptable if it is given according to how God has blessed us.

In writing to the Church in Corinth, Paul referenced the example of the Macedonians who gave so generously to the needy Christians in Jerusalem. They were empowered to give because of God’s grace and generosity to them. Even though they lived in poverty, the Macedonians gave generously and sacrificially. Paul referred to their giving as an “act of grace.” By grace, the Macedonians in their extreme poverty gave “beyond their means.” They were so eager to give that they pleaded for the privilege of sharing with the needy in Jerusalem. Their giving, while they were 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 and yet want to give generously.

Friends, the word generosity comes from the root word that means “single.” The basic idea is of single-mindedness of purpose. It points more 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 the churches of Macedonia. Generous givers aren’t born that way. That kind of attitude is the result of being reborn or being changed or being transformed.

The grace of unmerited love of God that brings salvation to the sinner also inspires a new life of service that includes unselfish, generous giving. To be able to give cheerfully and generously is a gift of grace. The grace of giving means, “For 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.”

In a sermon on generosity, Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, a noted preacher, said, “I’m not afraid to talk about money because all that we have belongs to God including our salvation being bought through the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Folks, to that we say, “This is most certainly true.”

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