Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 1, 2012
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (Common English Bible)
Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.
Saint Paul writes:
“It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties,
but it’s a matter of equality. At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit.”
It’s not that we want you to have financial difficulties, BUT …
There’s always a but.
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul asks the Christians in Corinth
to continue their commitment to financially support the church in Jerusalem,
which is poor and struggling.
The Church at Corinth, located in a bustling city that was a commercial and cultural crossroads,
was better off than their sisters and brothers in Jerusalem,
and so Paul asks those with more to support those with less.
“It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties …”
Yes, you can hear it in his voice.
Paul knows that what he is asking could put some pressure on the church and its people,
that the Christians in Corinth have had some of their own problems to deal with,
including a congregation that itself was careless in its divisions between rich and poor
(Just read 1 Corinthians to see how Paul blasts the church there
for having some come to the Thanksgiving Meal and eat and drink
until they are full and drunk, while others leave hungry).
Nonetheless, Paul doesn’t let the challenges that the Corinthians face
get in the way of his asking for and expecting
their continued generosity toward those less fortunate.
Paul knows the Corinthians can do more.
And he knows that the Christians in Jerusalem are in such a dire situation.
After all, Paul says,
“it’s a matter of equality. At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit.”
A matter of equality between one’s surplus, one’s abundance,
and another’s deficit, another’s need. Equality.
In our country we have a commitment to individual liberty and personal freedom,
to self-reliance and independence,
a libertarian streak that runs strongly through our American blood,
and which fuels, I believe, so much of the innovation that our country is known for.
Yet, frankly, what Saint Paul writes in today’s reading stands somewhat in contrast
to that independent, self-reliant streak we’re so known for in our country.
For Paul writes not of a self-reliant Jerusalem church that can pull itself up by its bootstraps,
or of a self-reliant Corinthian church that keeps what it has to itself,
but instead he writes of the interconnected relationship between the two.
In other words, Paul writes, “You need each other.”
All who are in Christ are of one body, he writes elsewhere,
and if one part of the body hurts, the whole body suffers.
Any of you who have ever had a bad ankle, or a bad back, know this.
A hurt in one part of the body makes the rest feel pretty miserable.
And so, Paul here is drawing attention to the fact that
there is a part of the body, over in Jerusalem, that is suffering right now.
The present surplus of the Corinthians, he writes, can alleviate the present deficit of others.
The other day I was talking with a homeless woman,
and she asked why God let all this happen to her – losing her job,
losing her house, medical problems, and so forth.
I responded simply that God is not doing this to her,
but like Christ on the cross, God is suffering alongside of her,
and that it is human sin that has created a situation in which she finds herself.
Because, let’s be honest friends, there is plenty of abundance in this world right now,
here, there, and down the street,
there’s abundance that can alleviate the needs of others.
If the people of Saint Paul, the people of Ramsey County, of Minnesota, of this country,
if we all wanted more homeless shelter beds,
or if we wanted more affordable housing, we could do it.
We found half a billion dollars for a 65,000 seat football stadium,
but we can’t find money for additional homeless shelter beds?
It’s because we don’t want to.
In 2005, former Senators Bob Dole and George McGovern wrote a book together called,
Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith.
In this book these two former Senators – a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat –
said that we don’t have a food shortage in the world.
We don’t have a food problem at all. Instead, what we have is a distribution problem.
Yet the truth is, we don’t have a distribution problem, either.
You can purchase a Coca-Cola in nearly every corner of the world.
We’ve got distribution down just fine.
So what we really have is a problem of the will. We just don’t want to do it.
Because making sure that food was available for all people in the world
might make certain costs rise, might cut into the profits of some merchants
or into the tariff-protected markets of some industry groups,
and might make things more difficult for those of us who live in relative abundance.
“It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties,” Paul writes,
“but … but it’s a matter of equality..”
We have the resources in the wealthiest darn country in the world.
We have the abundance. We have the surplus.
But do we have the will to seek, to create, some sort of greater equality?
Paul the Apostle calls us, in faith, to find the will to seek such an equality.
Shifting from Paul the Apostle to Paul the Pastor, for a moment,
let me say this: few people in my life have I known
who are as committed to the needs of others,
who are as committed to this sense of quality, as is Pastor Paul Hesterberg.
In my first year here at Grace, I have seen him work tirelessly with and for those who have so little.
From making sure that we have food and gas cards to distribute,
to driving people to doctor’s appointments and court hearings,
to sharing articles with me and with others about matters of concern
for the poor and hungry, to helping folks out in many different ways,
Pastor Paul is committed to this equality about which Saint Paul writes,
to sharing some of his own abundance with those in need.
Pastor Paul has been a role model for us, a caregiver,
a living commitment to those things to which our Lord himself is committed –
feeding the hungry, healing the sick, raising up the lowly, caring for the lonely.
His commitment is one that leaves a legacy among us,
a legacy that we will do well to carry on through existing efforts of care –
such as the food collection for Merrick Food Shelf
that the Social Ministry Committee is coordinating –
and even the creation of new ministries of care and love and outreach
that will help us live into Saint Paul’s calling for us to work for a greater equality
between our abundance and our neighbor’s need.
Dear friends, as we celebrate Independence Day this week,
let us not revel in our own individual liberty,
for soldiers didn’t die at Lexington and Concord,
at Brandywine or Germantown, or in the cold winter at Valley Forge,
they didn’t die for individual liberty …
but they died for a nation, for a people to live in freedom, together.
They died to create “a more perfect union.”
Freedom is not just personal or political,
but rightfully – and faithfully – understood,
freedom includes not just freedom from overseas royal tyrants,
but freedom from want, freedom from suffering, freedom from abject poverty,
and freedom for the chance to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.
Together we live into this freedom. Together we share in the abundance of this land and,
as Christians, together we live into the freedom we have in Christ Jesus,
free to give of ourselves as Christ himself gave,
free to give out of what we have, to provide for the needs of our sisters and brothers,
so that there might be greater equality, and greater freedom, for all.