Proper 8, Year B, Grace Chapel, Rossview, June 30, 2024

As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little’”(2 Cor. 8:15).

St. Paul was an evangelist and preacher, a leader of the Church in its early days. When we read his letters in the New Testament, we get a sense of the wide extent of his ministry: in Corinth, in Ephesus, in Thessalonica; to the Churches of Galatia and the Churches in Rome and elsewhere. The Book of Acts gives us details of his ministry. He was on the go, taking up residence in a particular place for a while and then moving on. He was always setting his sights on the next place, seeking to expand the horizon of the Church’s ministry. And along with everything else, in the midst of great difficulties and life-threatening dangers as he preached the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, St. Paul was also taking up a collection.

Not because his mission needed funding, though it certainly did. Paul writes on a couple of occasions that he did not mean to be a burden to the local Christians (2 Cor. 12:16; 1 Thess. 2:9). He practiced his trade as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3), as we read in Acts, supporting himself along the way. St. Paul took up a collection, not because he needed to pay his own bills, but in order that his fellow Christians might share with others the good things that God had given them.

Generosity is at the heart of the Gospel. God has been generous to us, St. Paul writes in our second reading today, so we ought to be generous to others. “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 Cor. 8:9). Paul writes elsewhere about how Christ “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7) for our sake, giving himself for us. Paul’s point here in our reading is that Jesus has spent himself for us so that we might be enriched, sharing himself with us so that we might be raised to glory.

Paul collected for the Church in Jerusalem because of the poverty of its members. If you read his letters you will find he keeps coming back to the theme over and over again (1 Cor 16:2; Rom 15:25-26). He wanted the Churches scattered throughout the Roman Empire to share their wealth with their brothers and sisters back in Judea. Christians were in need, and St. Paul wanted his readers to share what they had. Not, as he says, to the point of being in need themselves: “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need…” (2 Cor. 8:13-14). A fair balance, so that everyone had enough.

At the end of our reading, Paul returns to Holy Scripture to make his case for generosity: to the Exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the wilderness. In that journey from slavery to freedom, God provided manna, a mysterious substance that the People of Israel gathered each morning to satisfy their hunger. The funny thing about the manna was that there was always enough for everybody. If you tried to save it up for the next day, so that you would have more than other people, the manna would spoil. God supplied everything that the People needed.

St. Paul extends this and calls upon the Christians in Corinth to do the same thing: make sure that everyone has enough. “As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little’” (2 Cor. 8:15). Not too much and not too little: Christians reflecting the generosity of God. Making provision for the needs of others; giving generously for the sake of the Gospel.

The collection that St. Paul took up was a powerful sign that the early Christian Churches scattered through the Empire were not self-sufficient, but part of a single whole: one Church, present in many places, interconnected and mutually accountable. The presence of the bishop in any congregation is always a reminder of the same truth: that the Church extends throughout time and space. We are not members simply of a local congregation, but part of a great multitude of the Body of Christ that cannot be numbered.

The election of our new Presiding Bishop this week is a similar reminder. No diocese stands on its own, just as no congregation stands on its own. The ministry of the Presiding Bishop is, in part, to remind us, not that we are self-sufficient, but that the Episcopal Church is part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. This Church is present throughout the world, with its roots in the distant past and its branches stretched out to the future. The Church as a whole comes together and lives a common life. Grace Church, Rossville, is just the local outpost of a much greater whole! We’re not on our own. God has called us to a common life, and called us to be generous to each other.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee