Sunday, August 23, 2020
Intern Teleen Saunders
2 Corinthians 9:6-15 NRSV
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
These words start the letter Paul and Timothy write to the church in Corinth. Now if you read the entire book of Second Corinthians straight through you may notice that there are some inconsistencies. In fact, many Biblical scholars believe this book is actually a medley of letters published as one correspondence. Our reading today should actually include chapters eight and nine as one whole cohesive section but Pastor Aune has reminded me enough this year to “keep it short” and so I will. I’ve boiled our scripture reading down to five verses. Five verses that convey not only what was in Paul and Timothy’s heart in the middle of the first century but what is in my heart today as well. Chapters eight and nine are about grace and generosity in this love letter to a dear church whose mission was to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is about a people who have been called to sow seeds of faith and the blessings that come from such work… that’s you Augustana. And so, let these words now speak as my love letter as I prepare to leave my call as your intern pastor. A position that has been a sheer blessing as I have gotten to know so many of you over this past crazy year.
The concern for Paul and Timothy in this section of the letter was for the Jewish Christ followers in Jerusalem, a city in great turmoil and in need of help. Now, the city of Corinth sat on a strip of land connecting northern and southern Greece making it ideally situated for commerce, shipping, and industry. It was an economically and socially diverse city attracting people from many cultures and backgrounds. And somehow, Paul and Timothy had to unite these two distinct cities into one unified body if the newly forming Christian church was to ever have a chance. Now to be clear, Paul never took credit for his accomplishments but gave all glory and honor to God alone. But the church needed help and so Paul, along with Timothy, set to work. And in doing so, the true identity of the Christian church starts to emerge. Christianity is about grace and generosity. The gentiles in Corinth are giving benevolently to the Jews in Jerusalem. People separated by heritage, ritual, culture, language, and region. They are not giving for any earthly or heavenly reward or out coercion. They are giving out of selfless love. They are giving because they have first received.
In the chapter leading up to our reading today, the letter says, “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” (2 Corinthians 8:9). This is the classic example of pay it forward starting with our Triune God. Our God of creation, redemption, and guidance. The Christian church, and indeed our very Christian identity is not based on doing good deeds alone. We are not just a social service agency or a non-profit company. Paul is explicit on this point. We are Christians because of what God has done for us. God has sent the son to hold our sin, our pain, our suffering, in exchange for his glory, his inheritance so that we may have eternal life as children of God. The spirit has called us and claimed us through the gift of baptism. This is grace. This is love. And this is our identity. Do you hear me? Do you believe me?
It’s been a while since we have gathered together around the altar for the Lord’s Supper where we celebrate this gift of grace. And as Lutherans we are rather shy about needing to accept a personal relationship with Jesus as we confess Christ died for all. But I believe that if only one person in the history of the world was in need of salvation, and if that one person was you, Jesus would give up his life in a heartbeat. That’s love.
We have a member here at Augustana who surprises me every time I give her communion. After the words “The body of Christ given for you” or “The blood of Christ shed for you” she stops and says, “For me?”
“Yes”, I affirm. “For you.” This generous gift of love calls us to the altar and binds us together as one church, one people. Everything else comes from this.
2020 has been a strange year, one filled with the COVID pandemic and the pain of racism, heightened political divisiveness and an uncertain future for our economy and schools. We have all felt it. And so, if I can just leave you with one reminder it’s that God who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food provides for you too. As Paul encourages the Corinthians to care for Jerusalem, he characterizes their contributions as a gift, an act of generosity, partnership, and love. The Greek word for “grace” (χάρις) is used ten times in these two chapters although masked by various English synonyms. This letter of generosity makes a clear connection with the events of the cross. God’s grace and generosity go hand in hand. I want to make this message clear because you are such a generous church and it’s ok to go back to God for more, especially in these difficult times. We need God’s grace and generosity in abundance. So that, as stated in scripture, by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
I have been embarrassingly blessed this year by your grace and your generosity. Just as Paul and Timothy appealed to the people in Corinth so Luther Seminary has appealed to you … for a decade! And I’m sure it hasn’t always been easy. Even Paul writes, “through the testing of this ministry you glorify God.” Augustana, you have tolerated my singing, my occasional rambling sermon (I’m almost done), and the please be seated… or not… when I got all mixed up. It’s quite a learning curve. The worst part is that just when the interns are proficient enough to lead worship, we leave and you start all over again. You sow the seeds and give away the harvest year after year after year. Grace and generosity. Yet, as our reading reminds us “this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” And so now when I am the one who asks, “For me”? I hear you answer, “yes, for you.” It’s really quite overwhelming, this love you have shared. This generosity that you pay forward. My prayer is for the harvest you have entrusted to me to be fruitful indeed. I thank God for this past year of blessings. I thank God for his indescribable gift!
 Matthew L. Skinner, A Companion to the New Testament (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2018), 81.