BELONGING TO COMMUNITY
Belonging to the Broader Community – “Who Is My Neighbor?”
II Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:6-8
February 24, 2019
In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and throughout the letters of Paul,
we discover the foundations of our contemporary Christian practices.
We discover the source of the habits and traditions that we perhaps have taken for granted for
generations, habits like coming to the aid of a neighbor in need.
In several weeks, our high school youth will explore the Good Samaritan story during worship.
The Good Samaritan is the classic parable that Jesus told in order to answer the question:
Who is my neighbor?
The Good Samaritan showed mercy to the man he found near at hand,
the man he found beaten on the side of the road, and the Samaritan will serve forever
as the example of one who loved his neighbor as himself.
Today, we explore a very different text from the Bible. Today, we explore II Corinthians 8 and 9.
This story of loving one’s far away neighbor comes from the early church, later in the first century.
Paul tells here the story of the Macedonian congregations giving to the needs of the church in Jerusalem
in order to inspire the Corinthian congregation to do likewise. In this story,
we discover the foundation of the Christian practice of loving neighbors who are far away.
The Good Samaritan parable deals with the neighbor that we can see, literally within our sight;
the story of the fund for Jerusalem deals with the needs of neighbors faraway, needs we do not witness,
but only hear about from others.
II Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:6-8
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave (to the church in Jerusalem) according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 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. As it is written,
‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little….’
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
When there is an “ask” for personal resources for the sake of neighbors far away whom may never be seen,
we could focus primarily upon guilt – you have so much and they have so little –
but guilt is not our motivator.
Or the ask could focus upon duty – of course you should do this – but that can be argued.
Or the ask could focus upon the promise of recognition for one’s good performance –
as when gifts comes with corresponding prize or an appropriate naming opportunity –
but that’s not what motivates Christians.
Or the “ask” could focus upon the promise of earning points of favor with God,
kin to the pre-Reformation sale of indulgences that helped build St Peters Cathedral in Rome.
The foundation of Christian giving to those far away does not begin and end with guilt, or duty,
or the promise of recognition, or the promise of points in heaven.
Giving for the sake of neighbors far away begins and ends
with a serious heart condition and a related mindset.
The serious heart condition is that, because of the indescribable gift from God of Jesus Christ,
the gift of abundant grace that we have received, we are grateful,
and in gratitude, we respond by giving our very selves to God.
And when we give ourselves to God, the needs of neighbor are close at hand.
The related mindset is that – because all belongs to God, even our very lives –
we are to be faithful stewards of all that we have received.
When one “suffers” from this serious heart condition and related mindset,
it becomes very natural that one would give of themselves to their neighbors, near or far.
50 years ago a certain congregation heard about the need for a hospital in a faraway country.
This hospital, which would primarily treat orthopedic needs, was to be built in the middle of a leper
The church spread the word among its members and collected significant funds to build that hospital.
In 1968, that church, this church, Decatur Presbyterian Church, helped finance the Topple Hospital
in Suncheon, South Korea as an addition to the Wilson Leprosy Center.
DPC gave $130,000, quite a sum in 1968, to help fund construction of the hospital.
Mr. and Mrs. Searcy Slack went to Korea to oversee the laying of the foundations and sign all contracts.
David Scott, a young church member, spent several months overseeing electrical and plumbing work.
Dr. Davison Philips and his son, Jim, participated in the dedication of the hospital in June of 1968.
The Topple Hospital continues to thrive today as a destination for orthopedic and dermatological
This past fall, at a Wednesday night program, we enjoyed a wonderful 50th anniversary celebration
of the building of the Topple Hospital.
Members of the family of Dr. Stan Topple were with us for that special celebration.
It was a joyous occasion and an inspiring story of love for far away neighbors,
a story that needs to be shared again and again.
20 years ago, our friend Rev. Richard Hill, who worked with us last weekend on hurricane Michael relief,
came to speak to our mission Council about a dire need in India.
At the time, Richard was serving Roswell Presbyterian Church as their mission pastor.
Roswell Presbyterian Church had became involved with Witnessing Ministries of Christ,
a missionary group initiating congregations and human services
among the Dalit peoples of India, whom some called “the untouchables”.
This congregation joined in the effort for these neighbors far away
and committed over $100,000 over seven years to make the effort possible.
Today, because of this congregation and others, there are thriving congregations
and critical, life-saving human services provided every day among the Dalit people of India.
The worship of Jesus Christ is alive and well among the people that some had called “untouchable”,
and lives are saved from suffering every day.
When Paul gave the congregation in Corinth the example of the Macedonians –
the churches in Philippi, Thessaloniki, and Beroea –
he claimed that these churches gave themselves first to Christ, then to others,
even in the midst of challenging times.
The Macedonian churches were undergoing various trials, even persecutions.
In 1968, when this church helped found the Topple Hospital, Decatur was experiencing “white flight”,
and the membership of DPC had already begun to decrease.
In 1998, when this church committed to the churches in India,
downtown Decatur was just beginning to revive, and DPC was recovering from a difficult time of conflict.
Paul could well have used this congregation, Decatur Presbyterian Church,
as an example for the Corinthians, instead of the Macedonians.
The key to loving neighbor, near or far, is first to love Christ and to commit to his will,
regardless of external circumstances.
This past week, I had the good privilege of leading a group of pastors in a chapter study
from the book, Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero.
In the chapter on planning and decision-making that we discussed,
Scazzero introduced the spiritual discipline of holy indifference.
Holy indifference is the principle that, when faced with some decision,
whether some decision about planning or giving or one’s life direction even,
we seek to be indifferent to the outcome, to be objective instead of subjective.
Scazzero reminds us that we are attached to all kinds of secondary things –
titles, positions, honors, places, persons, security, material possessions,
not to mention the opinions of others.
When these attachments become excessive, they become disordered attachments, or disordered loves,
and they push God out of the center of our life and these other attachments become core to our identity.
The goal of the Christian is that what becomes more important than all our earthly concerns,
more important than our disordered loves, or fears, or attachments,
is choosing to love and to obey God, out of the love God offers us and the world.
Scazzero describes this holy indifference as spiritual freedom.
We freely place our life, our time, our resources in God’s hands and then we trust God for the outcome.
What we do, where we go, who we see, how we live are all determined, as best we can,
by God’s leadings, and not by our circumstances.
Of course, arriving at this place of interior indifference and trusting in God’s will –
no matter the outcome – is no small task. For Scazzero, it requires daily prayer. In his words:
“I pray for indifference so I can pray the prayer of indifference.
Every day, I pray for the grace to honestly say,
‘Father, I am indifferent to every outcome except your will…
and then I pray…I want nothing more or less than your desire for what I do.’
And Scazzero confesses the need to pray both of these daily.
If I fail to engage this necessary heart preparation, he writes – praying the prayer for indifference
and the prayer of indifference – then I run the risk of missing God’s voice (altogether).”
Letting go of own agendas, letting go of our own desires,
letting go of our own assumptions about our lives or our use of resources,
and allowing the will of Christ to reign in our hearts and minds is no simple task.
It requires a serious heart condition and a related mindset.
When our hearts are given to Jesus Christ,
then gifts of self and resources flow naturally to the needs of others.
The Macedonians, not rich in things themselves and undergoing significant trials,
literally begged Paul for privilege of giving to Jerusalem offering.
Their hearts belonged to Christ and they desired to give, even out of their poverty.
Their giving was grounded in the gift of Jesus Christ, Paul wrote,
the One who had emptied himself and became obedient even unto death, death on a cross.
We are familiar with the two great commandments – to love God and to love neighbor.
And we have come to realize that these two commandments are inseparable –
giving generously to others is a form of offering worship and love to God.
Giving to others brings glory to God.
Next week, we will have the opportunity to bring glory to God as we give concretely to neighbors far
Thanks to Allysen Schaaf, we will have the privilege of participating in the Rise Against Hunger effort.
Next Sunday, just after worship, you are invited to join our confirmation class in the fellowship hall
to help pack some 10,000 meals. These meals, as I understand it,
will primarily go to school children in faraway locations.
Why do Christians make such extraordinary efforts for people so far away?
Why do churches like ours send significant money to global missionaries on the other side of the world?
Why do we go in mission to Honduras or Nicaragua or north Florida?…
because giving is a form of worship, an expression of thanksgiving to God,
because giving is concrete discipleship, a tangible expression of loving neighbor as self,
because giving is a natural response to having received abundantly the grace of Jesus Christ.
Our giving is not limited to those near at hand, because all the world belongs to God
and all the world abides within the sphere of God’s love.
My former youth group member, Clay Thomas, now a Presbyterian pastor in Chattanooga,
put it this way when describing his motivation for going on mission trips.
The first time I went on a mission trip, he said, I was looking forward to having fun with my friends,
and I did! We had a grand time.
The second time, I returned on a mission trip because I had enjoyed the good feeling of helping others.
I truly felt like I had made some small difference for those in need.
The third time I signed up for a mission trip, I felt differently about it.
I knew that I was participating, in some small way, in building the kingdom of God.
Anyone who has experienced the grace of God cannot help but share that grace…
not under compulsion, not because this is something we “should” do, necessarily;
not out of a sense of duty or doing our “fair share”, as if that could be quantified;
not because we feel guilty that we have plenty and others do not.
But we give and go and act in mission on behalf of neighbors near and far because we love!
We have been loved and therefore we love! We love others with joy and cheerful willingness!
We Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ, have a serious heart condition –
our hearts belong to God – and we have a related mindset –
we are not our own, our resources are not our own.
In life and in death, we belong to God.
In II Corinthians 9:11-15, Paul continues:
You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God…
for the rendering of (your) ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints
but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of Jesus Christ!,
and thanks be to God for the privilege of every opportunity to participate in some small way
in building his coming kingdom. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church