Share and share alike


Photo by Klara Kulikova on Unsplash

2 Corinthians 8.7-end

If you’ve been a parent you’ll have experienced it: It’s not fair!

And I’m sure many of you can remember saying that as a child. I certainly can! And I can remember my mother’s response: Life’s not fair. Get used to it!

Interesting how children have such an innate sense of fairness. And yet how many of us lose that when we grow up. It’s been said: Sharing is fun – unless it’s your own stuff that’s being shared.

In our first reading today we heard Saint Paul talking about  richness and poverty, and in particular about the need for those to whom he is writing in Corinth to give financially. It’s about sharing and fairness.

And in order to understand what Saint Paul is talking about, we need a bit of context. There is a famine in Jerusalem – it’s been going on for some time – and the Christians in the Jerusalem Church are in need of help. So Saint Paul is asking the Christians in Corinth to respond generously, just as we might be asked to respond to a famine by Christian Aid or Tearfund.

But that doesn’t seem to be clear in our reading. And the problem we have is that this is one of those readings where we really need the verses that come beforehand. And if our reading had started at the beginning of the chapter we would have heard Saint Paul say to the Corinthian Church how generous the Churches of Macedonia have already been:

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 …

Talk about moral blackmail! Everyone in the Macedonians has given a lot so you ought to as well!

And he goes on to remind the Corinthians of the importance of making a gift for those in distress, talking about the importance of a fair balance between those who have an abundance and those who are in need. And he finishes by referring to the way God had fed the Israelites in the wilderness with manna from heaven, quoting from the book of Exodus:

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.

Burdens, Paul is saying, should be shared equitably. It seems, though, that the Corinthians had started collecting for the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem the previous year, but had given up. Some commentators think that they had basically thought: why should we help other people with their burdens: One commentary puts their objections this way: As if we had no financial problems of our own, Paul is imposing fresh burdens on us so that others can become free of burdens. It’s not fair!

Or perhaps Paul is simply anticipating that’s what they will think. At any rate, to allay their fears he says: I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance …

Paul’s view of Christian giving, he insists, does not aim at one group accepting financial hardship in order to make everything fine for another group. Giving away what you simply cannot afford to, what you do not have, is not what he wants. Christian giving, he explains, is about an equal sharing, and an equal supply of the necessities of life.

C  S Lewis, the great Christian writer and best known by many as the author of the Narnia Chronicles, wrote a lot about how to live as a Christian. He said this in response to that question that Christians so often struggle with – how much should I give? 

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little … There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.

Like Paul, C S Lewis highlights the point that what we have that is over and above what we actually need to live then our first call as Christians must be to share the extra with those who are in need and who cannot live without our help. And that means accepting that there will be luxuries, enjoyments, that we have to forego.

Now at this point I want you to start thinking. What is it that you have an abundance of that you could share with others in need?

Before you answer that question it’s important for us to note what exactly Paul says about sharing. We’ve seen how Paul  tells us that we should share out of our abundance with those who do not have enough. If we have more of something than we need – use it to help someone else. However, he also makes it clear that it is about fairness, about balance. He doesn’t want people to be giving more than they can afford. He says the gift is acceptable according to what one has – not according to what one does not have. But he does wants them to give what they don’t need themselves because others do need it.

So back to that question that I gave you a moment ago. I wanted you to think about: What is it that you have an abundance of that you could share with others in need?

What do you have an abundance of?

It may well be money – but for many it won’t be. But there are  other things that we may have an abundance of and that can be shared:

You may have an abundance of time – and be in a position to help someone out who’s struggling to do a full-time job and raise a family. Or time to go and have coffee and a chat with someone who lives on their own and can’t get out.

You may have particular skills or gifts that you could share – I remember hearing about one church where a guy in the congregation was only too happy to go and put together flat-pack furniture that others struggled with.

And this sharing can be two way. In a previous church I knew a woman who could no longer look after her garden. A guy who had no garden but who loved gardening used to come and look after her garden for her. And in return for giving her a garden she could relax in and enjoy, she gave him a portion at the bottom of the garden so he could grow fruit and vegetables for his family.

I could go on! Don’t worry, I won’t! But you get the idea. There are things we have in abundance that we can share with those who have a lack. And they, in their turn, can share their abundance with us. It’s a question, says Paul, of a fair balance so that just as God ensured when he fed the Israelites with manna from heaven:

            ‘The one who had much did not have too much,
            and the one who had little did not have too little.’

So – I hope you have been thinking about the question I asked: What is it that you have an abundance of that you could share with others in need? Identify ONE THING you can do to share the abundance you have been given, whatever that abundance may be – money, time, skills …

Lodge that one thing in your mind. Determine to do something about it. Don’t go home and forget. Think about how to share your abundance, and with whom. And together as a church we can live up to those words from Paul:

            ‘The one who had much did not have too much,
            and the one who had little did not have too little.’

PRAYER

Giver of all good gifts, 
we thank you for all the blessings we have received from you. 
May we not hold on to what we have received,
but share out of our abundance with those in need,  
to the mutual benefit of all your people; 
through Jesus Christ, 
who gave all he had and has received all that is, 
our brother and our Lord.  Amen.