November 2014

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ – …..

May grace and peace be yours in abundance (I Peter 1:2a). …..

In February I began a series of brief articles on the Marks of a Missional Congregation relying heavily on Stephen P. Bouman’s, The Mission Table: Renewing Congregation & Community (© 2013 Augsburg Fortress).

Each article includes Scripture, questions for reflection and discussion, and a prayer. Perhaps your church council, adult study, youth group, coffee group will use these monthly writings as a time to engage in learning, discernment and reflection together. Previous month’s articles are available on the synod website: www.albertasynod.ca
(Look under ‘About Us’ – Bishop’s Message – Bishop’s Letters)

A congregation in mission is clear about money and relationships.

“They gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us” (2 Corinthians 8:5).  This brief sentence depicting the offering of the Macedonian Christians gets to the heart of what is at stake in the financial support and stewardship of the church and each of its disciples.  Money and the offering of the Macedonian Christians are a referendum on relationships.  Priorities are clarified this is a spiritual issue.

By examining 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 more closely, we see that this is a text for a time such as ours.  Paul is in conflict with the church in Corinth.  In fact, relations had soured between Paul and the Corinthian church after his first letter to them.  He was accused of being too bold in his letters but too weak in person.  Things had deteriorated to the point where Paul decided to cancel a planned visit (so as not to stoke the controversy) and to send a letter instead.  In 2 Corinthians 2 Paul refers to this letter as one “with many tears” (vs. 4).

Painful visits.  Letters with  tears.  Conflict.  A lousy economy and the suffering poor.  Does this sound at all similar to our time?  Congregations that are experiencing declining membership and resources, including money, can become anxious.  This anxiety can lead to conflict.

And at a time like this, when the church in Corinth was in conflict and the churches in Jerusalem and Macedonia were experiencing extreme poverty and suffering, at exactly this auspicious time, Paul decided to take an offering!

“Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia.  On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come.  And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem” (I Corinthians 16:1-13).
Seeing clearly the context of Paul’s appeal, its spiritual framework, is very important.  The congregation is fighting, in conflict.  Paul is not shy about that.  But they are still ambassadors.  They still have the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to them.  The resurrection has changed everything.  And, likewise, because of our renewed relationships through forgiveness and repentance, we rejoice.  Our mutual patience and endurance in Christ give us completed confidence in one another by the grace of God.  Paul has confidence in the Corinthians.  God has confidence in us.  God’s confidence becomes our own.

And these relationships are solidified in our relationships with God, who joins us together and who provides the resources needed.

In 2 Corinthians 8, notice that when Paul describes the situation of the Macedonian Christians, he begins with the grace of God.  The grace of God is the only reason we talk about stewardship.  The Greek word for grace, charis, is used four times in this text.  The Macedonians’ opportunity to give and their willingness to give are described as charis, grace.

Read and Reflect: 2 Corinthians 8:1-5
Discuss and Reflect:
1.        What in this reading leads you to say, “I wonder about…?”, or, “I noticed…?”
2.        Share a time when you were grateful for some way God acted in your life or the life of a loved one.
3.        How did your gratitude give way to thanksgiving and sharing yourself and/or your resources with others in some way?
4.        Comment on the following: the grace of God is the only reason we talk about stewardship.

Pray together: Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, but always to your glory and the welfare of your people, through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.   Amen.   (Commitment, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 86)

The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

In Christ Jesus –
Shalom,

+Larry

The Rev. Dr. Larry Kochendorfer, Bishop
Synod of Alberta and the Territories
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada