Living an Economy of Grace

If you were following closely, you likely caught St. Paul’s drift in our reading from his Second Letter to the Corinthians this morning. He’s asking for money. Not for himself mind you—Paul worked as a tent maker when he traveled to care for his own needs—but for the people of the church in Jerusalem who’ve hit on some hard times. We didn’t read it this morning, but Paul begins by telling the Corinthian church that the disciples up the road from Macedonia had already given even in the midst of their poverty. He tells the Corinthians that it was “a wealth of generosity” on the Macedonians’ part. He continues, “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.” The Macedonians wanted—neigh, they begged—to give back to the church where it all began in Jerusalem. To let them know that even though they were primarily Jewish believers, the Gentile Christians of Asia Minor saw them as their spiritual forebears. 

A sermon on 2 Cor 8:7-15.

Paul then goes on with a similar request for the Corinthians themselves. He begins by encouraging them to fully comprehend the “generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He writes, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” He wants them to see themselves as being rich. not only in financial ways, but in grace as well. Because of this, he desires them to complete their financial campaign and give generously to these saints in Jerusalem, not in a manner that the Corinthians would begin to experience hardship themselves, but in order to balance things out. He wants the ones who have more to share with the ones who have less financially. And in turn, these saints in Jerusalem who have an abundance in other things—Paul doesn’t articulate it, but I suspect it’s something akin to faith—would share these things with the Corinthians who might be lacking in that area allowing for a fair balance. Paul then invokes scripture, writing: “[For] the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

In short, Paul wants the Corinthian believers to embrace an economy of grace.

Now before you start worrying that I’m heading into a sermon about our annual stewardship campaign four months early, I’m not. (Although I will say to you that the stewardship of our lives is a year round endeavor.) These are not words on how you should be giving more to St. Mark’s. But I do want to speak of this economy of grace that Paul puts forth. Our translation describes the “generous undertaking” that Paul wants the Corinthians to take up, as well as the “generous act” of Jesus, and in both cases the word in Greek is simply “grace.” “We want you to excel in this grace,” Paul writes, “for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus.” This grace, this generous undertaking, it is one in which we allow ourselves to become more like Jesus himself. One in which we live in to an economy of grace.

Often when we hear the word “economy” we turn to things like the S&P 500 or the jobs market or the GDP or inflation. Our society centers the use of the word economy on financial matters. Frankly, that understanding is pretty anemic. If economy is only a matter of financial averages, and whether the 53% of people in the US who are able to invest in the stock market have their nest eggs moving up or down—whether David Brancaccio on NPR’s MarketPlace is playing “I’m in the money” or not when he gives his daily report—then that’s a pretty sad indicator of life. We know that money doesn’t buy us happiness. Or love. Or any number of intangible things. So if the economy only means that to us, well, then our lives would be pretty thin.

But an economy of grace? That is an economy centered the “life-giving power of God,” as one commentator defines it. Professor Jane Lancaster Patterson writes, grace means “bringing life to people who have been under the power of death. Grace is the power that is saving and reconciling the world, a power with its origins in God, its channel through communities of believers, and its goal in every place [to bring reconciliation] where brokenness, suffering, and destruction reign.” That economy desires grace for others, to sustain them and lift them up, to restore the places in their lives where they’ve encountered loss, and to offer healing and love. It’s an economy that encourages those who have an abundance to share it with those who might be needing it.

This year for my Doctor of Ministry program I’ve been studying the doctrine of creation, ecology, and the climate crisis. One of the themes that has emerged again and again in the midst of that reading is that the impact of climate change falls more heavily on those who are poor in our world. We know this, of course, both from our own country and also in the news wesee from around the globe. When Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, those living in less affluent neighborhoods suffered more. When drought comes, those who are poor don’t have the means to find other more expensive options for food or the ability to move away. When a global pandemic plagues us, we get access to vaccines more swiftly—some even choosing not to get it due to personal preference—while people in South America, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent experience a surge in cases and the need for vaccines. In our world, the rich can negotiate crises much more easily.

If we look specifically at food, we in the most prosperous nations consume—and sadly also waste—more than our fair share. In her recent book, The Story of More, geoscientist Hope Jahren writes, “The enormous consumption of food and fuel by just 10 percent of us is actively threatening Earth’s ability to produce the basics of life for the other 90 percent.” She adds, “Most of the want and suffering that we see in our world today originates not from Earth’s inability to provide but from our inability to share.” Let that sink in. “Most of the want and suffering that we see in our world today originates not from Earth’s inability to provide but from our inability to share.”

St. Paul implores, “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, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.”

Friends, as followers of the Risen One, we are called to adopt an economy of grace. We are encouraged to do with slightly less so that others might have enough. We—you and I—can embrace a life of greater simplicity to ensure that the majority of people in our world can simply live.

“It is really that easy?” you might ask. Dr. Jahren gives this analysis. In the US, those who examine the efficiency of supermarkets assert that one out of every seven truckloads of fresh foods delivered to grocery stores ends up being thrown away. 1/7th. Imagine, she invites her readers, just the amount of work it is for those grocery store employees to unload the trucks, stock shelves, and then to destock those same shelves, and throw out the waste just as another delivery truck arrives. It’s staggering, really. However, she wants to encourage us as well. She writes, “[T]he magnitude of our global waste is in many ways equal to our need. The amount of total grain that is wasted is close to the annual food supply of grain available in India. The amount of fruits and vegetables that is wasted each year exceeds the annul food supply of fruits and vegetables for the entire content of Africa.” We have more than enough to feed the world. And then she addresses her detractors: “We live in an age when we can order a pair of [sneakers] from a warehouse on the other side of the planet and have them shipped to a single address in less than twenty-four hours; don’t tell me that a global food redistribution is impossible.”

So, how do we live into an economy of grace, especially as it pertains to our food consumption? First, let’s purchase only what we will we need. 40% of the food we Americans put on our plates gets tossed out, about ⅔ a pound of food a day for every single one of us. Second, let’s adopt a plan of Meatless Monday, or the like. If the people who live in the world’s wealthiest nations did this—forgoing meat a single day each week—there would be “an extra 120 million tons of grain… available to feed the hungry this year [alone],” because the bulk of our grain production right now goes to feed livestock. Finally, let’s look for tangible ways to share. Let’s go through our pantries and share our excess with places like the Southborough Food Pantry before products reach the end of their shelf life. Let’s help those who face food insecurity, so that they might have their fair share too in order that they might live.

This is the economy of grace. An economy of sharing out of our abundance for others so that they might share out of their abundance for us. While we might excel in terms of resources, we might—like the Corinthians—lack when it comes to some of those non-tangible gifts. Let us embark on that way of generous grace—of living more simply—and follow the one who become poor for our sakes so that by his poverty we might truly be rich.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

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