Monday, April 27, 2009

Don't Waste a Crisis!

Opening Word
Northwestern Minnesota Synod
Stewardship Events
April 19-20, 2009

“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 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…” II Cor. 8:1-5

How many crises are staring us in the face this evening? Let’s see now…
· We’re in the midst of a global financial crisis.
· Many believe we’re facing an unprecedented environmental crisis, marked by manmade climate change.
· And, just for good measure, here in the upper Midwest we’re recovering from our second “500-year flood” in just the last 12 years!

And those are just the BIG world-spanning, history-turning crises. How about the individual crises you and I may be facing as well: health crises, work crises, family crises—whatever?

Sounds like a good time to pull back, hedge our bets, and play it safe--right? If we soberly assess all these crises, that seems like the reasonable thing to do.

And yet, voices--some rather surprising voices--urge us to do anything BUT “hunker down.”

Last November, as he was preparing to assume his new position, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel made a bold statement that’s been quoted time and again, ever since: “You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste; it’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid.”[1]

How does that strike us as followers of Jesus Christ?

Whether or not he intended to, Rahm Emanuel echoes the biblical witness in uncanny ways.

The God of the Bible is forever redeeming crises, taking disasters and using them to open up a fresh future. This Easter season is the best example of that: out of the dark crisis of Good Friday God has worked the future-opening miracle of Easter Sunday….out of the dire disaster of Jesus’ death, God has brought the splendor of New Life, in the power of the resurrection.

And that amazing pattern, that astounding template, keeps getting repeated throughout the pages of the New Testament and—indeed—in the pages of our own lives.

All of this speaks powerfully to the issue that has brought us together this evening—the issue of generosity, the issue of how we live out our stewardship of all God’s good gifts.

Stewardship! This might seem like a terrible time to be talking about that: our care-taking, our giving, our generosity. This might seem like the last thing we should be considering during a global recession.

But, in truth, this may well be the best time, the opportune moment, a critical-turning-point for reconsidering and re-imagining just what it means to belong to a God of grace and abundance, whose generosity washes over our lives so lavishly that it spills over, through us, into the whole world.

Ponder, for example, this amazing story in II Corinthians, chapter 8.

It’s impossible to piece together exactly what happened, but here’s our best guess: the early church, which was first established in Jerusalem, endured horrific persecution and impoverishment in the first few decades of its existence.

This extreme crisis experienced by the Jerusalem believers became known throughout the fledgling Christian churches scattered around the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
And through preachers like St. Paul, an appeal went out—not unlike the email alerts some of us receive whenever some disaster or human crisis cries out for our help.

In response to this appeal, one of the least-likely churches insisted on helping out. Christians in Macedonia, who were themselves hungry and persecuted, insisted--absolutely insisted!--on making an eye-popping donation, far in excess of what they seemed to be capable of.

There simply were no “deep pockets” in Macedonia…no “low-hanging fruit” just waiting to be plucked. The Macedonian Christians were dirt poor, wretchedly persecuted, utterly impoverished.

But that would not stop them from giving far more than they could afford to give.

It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, I have had to encourage a Christian to be cautious in his or her generosity. Every once in a great while I have encountered someone who wanted to give more than they could really afford to give, someone whose generosity was so overflowing that she could end up impoverishing herself.

When I have done that, I have always wondered deep down inside myself, whether it’s any of my business to offer such advice. And all the while this story of the Macedonian believers, has stuck in my craw!

What if, just what if, one of the most breath-taking ways God cares for the world, what if one of the greatest ways God pursues his mission in the world is by using the poorest of the poor to grab our attention, put all our middle-class “poor-talk” into proper perspective and simply “goose” us into generosity?

What if God still uses modern-day Macedonians to wake us up, to stir us from our crisis-induced stupor and say to us: “I am still in charge here. I am still the God of Good Friday and Easter. I remain the God who knows only one way of giving: abundantly, over-flowingly, never stingily. And I call you, my dear and precious people, to throw caution to the wind and spend yourselves utterly, in witness and service and generosity, all for the sake of my crucified and risen Son, ….who ‘though he was rich, yet for your sakes…became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’”? II Cor. 8:9.

Let us pray: God of abundance, you have poured out a large measure of earthly blessings: our table is richly furnished, our cup overflows, and we live in safety and security. Teach us to set our hearts on you and not these material blessings. Keep us from becoming either paralyzed by crises or captivated by prosperity, and grant us wisdom to use your blessings to your glory and to the service of humankind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Based on a prayer for “the proper use of wealth,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 80.

[1] (accessed on 4/18/09)

No comments:

Post a Comment