2 Corinthians 8:1-7 • November 4, 2018
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
This is the second week in our worship series “Abundant Joy. Overflowing Generosity.” Our theme this week is “Giving God our Worship.”
As many of you may, or may not know, my vocation in the church began in 2002 when I was hired to serve on Good Shepherd’s lay staff as Music & Worship Minister. Many years later…and a little blood, sweat, and tears through the candidacy process… I am now blessed to be ordained and serve as one of your called pastors. My roles may have changed over the years, but at the heart of everything I do as a child of God, worship remains central. In fact, I believe more strongly now than ever, that a Christian cannot exist without worship as an active and regular part of their faith journey.
I worry a bit that we have departed from that truth in recent years as followers of Jesus. Worship is important if we can fit it into the hundreds of other things clogging up our schedule. Worship is important as long as I like the music or liturgy being used and the preaching is not too long. Worship is important if it doesn’t take too much of my energy and time.
Thirty years ago, the average church member attended worship 1 out of every 2 weeks. Today, that average is once out of every 6 weeks.
I also worry that our lack of commitment to worship in communities of faith is having a negative impact on how we live out our faith. Don’t get me wrong, we still worship.
Unfortunately, the things we worship often don’t resemble much of the God we receive in Christ Jesus.
I was visiting recently with a local politician who is on the ballot this coming Tuesday. They were out knocking on neighborhood doors early one Sunday afternoon, meeting constituents. As the candidate was walking away from the doorstep of one house, the owner of the home drove into the driveway.
A friendly hello was shared and the homeowner made a joke that they had already given in the church offering. The candidate said that was good to hear since they had done the same. And even though this homeowner had yard signs of the candidate’s opponent, this particular candidate still wanted to meet some of their would be constituents.
The tone of the conversation quickly turned from friendly hellos. The homeowner said that he wishes he could line up a bunch of these candidates in his backyard – meaning candidates in the other political party – and just get rid of them. To actually cause physical harm to political candidates in the opposite party of the one he supports.
As shocking as that story is, not only because it happened just a few weeks ago. It happened in our own community too. Remember – both the political candidate and the homeowner claimed to have been in worship at their local church just a few hours earlier in the day. A few hours before that threatening statement was offered to another child of God.
How quickly we forget whom we worship. How quickly you and I can move into worshiping something or someone else that has no resemblance of the God we know through Jesus Christ. As a called and ordained pastor in the church of Jesus Christ, if you ever hear me say that it is ok to harm another child of God or destroy part of God’s good creation, please pull me aside and rebuke me of that sin.
The Apostle Paul is encouraging the church in Corinth and the church of Good Shepherd today to give God our worship. To give God our worship in ways that look much different than the shocking story I just shared.
Paul proclaims, “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.”
Paul doesn’t say that we should excel whenever we have time to make it to church; or when we think we have a few spare minutes to say a prayer for someone we love; or when we are around people who think and look the same as we do ideologically or politically or theologically; or when we feel like giving God the few extra dollars left over in our pocket.
Paul says that because of all that God has done and is doing for us through the savior of the world Jesus Christ, we are to excel in everything. Everything. Faith, speech, knowledge, eagerness, love. It’s a generous undertaking.
Since God has called us into this work, why wouldn’t we want to excel in it? I believe that is something followers of Jesus have wrestled with since Paul first offered this challenge to the church nearly 2,000 years ago.
Paul, in all truth, seems to be saying that since you and I excel in so many things, why not be generous? Be generous in everything and excel in them. By doing that, we are able to live in this world fully as the people who God is calling us to be – servants of Jesus and stewards of God’s creation.
Gathered together in worship at all times and in all places, focused entirely on the living God, we are reminded why God created us in the first place – to be in relationship with God and to be in relationship with each other. To be intentional as we live together in Christian community giving God our worship and praise – not just when we attend a church service, but in every second of every day.
Brothers and sisters, we are constantly being sent into a world in need of God’s healing touch and unconditional love. Sent as a people with a generous undertaking. A generous undertaking that is in opposition to much of what the world expects life to be. Sent because all of our life, as people who claim to be followers of Jesus, is an act of giving God our worship.
This weekend, we also celebrate All Saint’s Day. We remember and give thanks to the saints in our own congregation who have died in the faith. We also remember and give thanks for how God is calling us to be saints as we live in this world right now, giving God our worship.
Pastor, author and theologian Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a reflection called “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” several years ago. I believe it speaks beautifully to giving God our worship as we excel in everything on this festival day of all saints.
“What makes a saint?” Taylor writes,
Excessive love, flagrant mercy, radical affection,
exorbitant charity, immoderate faith, intemperate hope,
None of which is an achievement, a badge to be earned or a trophy to be sought;
all are secondary by products of the one thing that truly makes a saint,
which is the love of God,
which is membership in the body of Christ,
which is what all of us, living and dead, remembered and forgotten, great souls and small,
have in common.
Some of us may do more with that love than others
and may find ourselves able to reflect it in a way
that causes others to call us saints,
but the title is one that has been given to us all by virtue of our baptisms.
The moment we rose dripping from the holy water
we joined the communion of saints,
and we cannot go back
any more than we can give back our names or the blood in our veins.
(The great cloud of witnesses includes us all)
Clan made kin by Christ’s blood.
There are heroes and scoundrels at the party, beloved aunts and estranged cousins,
relatives we adore and those who plainly baffle us.
They are all ours, and we are all included.
…we worship amidst a great fluttering of wings,
with the whole host of heaven crowding the air above our heads.
Call their names and hear them answer “present.”
…they belong to us and we to them,
And as their ranks swell so do the possibilities that open up in our own lives.
Because of them
and because of one another
and because of the God who binds us all together
we can do more than any of us had dreamed to do alone.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us never forget to give God our worship always. God is the only one we worship. That’s what the children of God are called to do and to do it with abundant joy and overflowing generosity. Thanks be to God. Amen.