May 1, 2011 II Corinthians 9:6-15 Heartland Presbyterian Church D. Mark Davis Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth give us a glimpse into at least one way that the early church talked about money. It seems that the church in Jerusalem was suffering considerably. We do not know the exact cause of their suffering, but we do read in the book of Acts that the church in Jerusalem took heroic measures themselves to ensure that those who had plenty contributed to those who had little, so that everyone had enough. And part of the Apostle Paul’s mission was to convince people, like the church in Corinth, that they were intimately connected to the church in Jerusalem, over 800 miles away. Now, it gets interesting. Initially, the church in Corinth responded marvelously. As Paul describes them, not many of them were rich, not many of them were powerful, or held in high esteem in the Roman Class System that structured life in Corinth. But, Corinth was a fairly prosperous city in the middle of the first century, and when the Corinthian church heard about the needs of the church in Jerusalem, they responded. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul simply speaks to the church about the process: He encourages them to set money aside each week, and to save whatever extra they earn, so that they won’t have to try to collect it all when Paul or one of his messengers arrived to accept it. By the second letter, we learn that the church in Corinth had undertaken this work with a lot of zeal – at least at the level of setting a goal. And Paul has been telling other churches about them, making them something of the example. It was quite effective, because now Paul tells the church in Corinth about how the Greek churches have responded very generously, saying, “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.” Now, however, Paul seems a bit nervous. He is on his way to collect the Corinthians’ gift. He’s been telling churches all over about their generosity, and those churches have responded marvelously. Now, he’s really, really hoping that the folks in Corinth come through. The church has had some issues. There are factions among them, which seem to put them at odds with one another. There are questions about some of their lifestyles and whether they are conforming too much to the world around them. Some people have even stooped to the lowest form of church life by speaking badly of the preacher! And Paul has been dealing with these issues in letters and by sending one person or another to encourage or chastise them. And now he is coming. With him are some of his chief helpers, as well as some folks from the churches in Greece. They are coming to see their inspiration, the generous Corinthian church that inspired them to give so heroically. And Paul wonders, “Will they be ready?” “Will they make us proud?” “Will they even be on speaking terms?” Paul seems nervous about it. In these letters, we get glimpses of Paul, in the awkward position as a fundraiser, and the churches that are trying to understand generosity, even as they deal with all manner of churchy sorts of differences. In other words, what we read in these letters is the invention of the Capital Campaign. It’s about money; and it’s about pretty much everything except money. It the subject that gets a teeny bit of time and attention; and it’s the subject that everyone thinks is “all we ever talk about.” It is the topic that everyone knows has to be addressed; and it’s the topic that makes everyone nervous. It’s the process that brings out the very best, the most sacrificial, the most heroic of people’s actions; and it’s the process that shows just how petty we can be at times. It’s the most public of undertakings; dealing with the most private of considerations. Just about every emotion that churches have today when undergoing a common campaign together is present in Corinth. And Paul tries to find the right way to put it all and keep it all in its right perspective. So, how does Paul do it? How does Paul speak to this church in order to let their unity fulfill their better desires, instead of letting their differences reduce them to petty squabbles? Paul does it by misquoting the Bible. It’s true. Right there in I Corinthians 9:9, Paul misquotes the Bible. He begins, “As it is written,” which is the standard formula for quoting the Hebrew Bible. And then he misquotes, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.” The quote is from the 112th Psalm (V.9). The Psalm is not about God; it is about those who follow God and delight in God’s commandments. In the 112th Psalm, it is not God, not “he,” but “they” – the ones who follow God and delight in God’s commandments – who scatter abroad and give to the poor and whose righteousness endures forever. So, Paul misquotes a psalm about righteous people who give generously in order to say that God gives generously. So, we wonder, was Paul simply wrong? Was he assuming that the Corinthians did not know the Scriptures, so he could pull a fast one on them and get away with it? Or, is Paul misquoting this psalm deliberately, in order to make a point? Ah! Now, that’s an idea. If Paul is misquoting the psalm deliberately, then what he is saying is that when those who follow God and delight in God’s commandments show generosity and provide for the poor, it is the same thing as God showing generosity and providing for the poor. Or, to turn it around a bit: When God shows generosity and provides for the poor, it is by means of people who follow God and delight in God’s commandments showing generosity. What Paul’s misquote suggests, is that our generosity and God’s provision are one and the same. When we speak about what God provides, we are speaking about what we are called to do; and when we speak about our capital campaigns, we are speaking about how God provides. Either Paul was wrong or God’s provision and our generosity are one and the same. I love Paul’s misquote of the 112th psalm. It makes everything else in our reading clearer. Now we know why God loves a cheerful giver – because God’s way of providing is through our generosity. Now we know why Paul makes so many audacious claims about how God blesses us with every abundance. It is not because God wants a small cadre of people to live in excess and leisure. It is because God’s great thrill is to provide and God’s way of providing is through our generosity. And that is pretty much the invention of the Capital Campaign. It is nothing more than a joint effort by people who follow God and delight in God’s ways, taking the generosity that God has shown them and showing that same kind of generosity toward their ministry to the world. And it is nothing less than people who follow God and delight in God’s ways actually participating in what God is doing in the world, because God’s way of providing is through our generosity. Thanks be to God. Amen.