II Corinthians 8:7-15   

Now as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you –so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of 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.  And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something– now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has–not according to what one does not have.  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.  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.”  And repeating a key verse on more time:  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.

TIME WITH CHILDREN      “Let’s Make a Deal!”

So let me give some examples of a trade.  And you tell me if it is a good trade or a bad trade.

  • You give me a vanilla ice cream cone, and I give you a slice of chocolate cake.
  • You give me your brand new bike, and I will give you a pair of dirty old socks.
  • You give me a red rose and I give you a purple lily.
  • You give me your favorite book , and I will give you a bucket of dead dandelions.
  • Today we watch your favorite TV program, and tomorrow we watch my favorite program.
  • You do all of my hard chores, and I will take a nap in your hammock.
  • My grass needs to be cut. You have a lawn mower.  I pay you thirty dollars to cut my lawn.

MESSAGE       “The Trade”       Rev. James Renfrew

What would you have done?  My dad offered me a deal.  I didn’t think it was such a good deal, or, more accurately, it was a good deal for him, and not so good a deal for me.

Here are the details:  I was in high school at the time, heading into summer, and I didn’t have a summer job yet.  So my dad approached me and asked me if I would like to paint our family’s house.  Well, that sounded pretty good, it would take me several weeks to finish the job and I started thinking about all the money he would pay for me to do it, hundreds of dollars, I figured, which was a lot for a teenager back then.

But what he said next killed the deal, as far as I was concerned.  He wanted me to paint the house for free.  Free?  At least several weeks of hard labor and I wouldn’t even get a dime for it.  How was I going to buy a car with no money?

See what I mean, a good deal for him, and not such a good deal for me! A good deal should have been that I would paint the house and he would give me money.  A fair deal would be each party needing something of equal value from the other, so an even-up trade would have worked for me and for my dad.  But this wasn’t an even trade.  I would do all of the work and earn nothing.  So, as I said, a good deal for my dad and a bad deal for me.  No deal. No trade. No way!

Now, my dad could have chosen to make me feel guilty about my refusal to accept his trade offer by saying, “Hey, I give you a place to live in for free, food for free, and clothing for free, and you won’t paint the house that you live in as a gesture of appreciation?”  He could have even escalated the situation:  “either paint our house or start sleeping in the back yard, you sponging parasite”.  That might have been a valid point, but that’s not something my father would have done.

Later, my dad explained his reasoning for offering what he did. He thought he was offering me an excellent trade. He was offering me the chance to paint our house so that I could learn how to become a house painter, and then with that first experience behind me I could make bids for well-paying paint jobs around the neighborhood.  And he would have also let me borrow all of his painting equipment, paint sprayer, ladder, brushes, buckets, drop cloths, and other tools.  He was trying to set me up to be successful, but I was too short-sighted to see it.  What I rejected as a bad deal was actually a pretty good deal, and I missed it.

Don’t worry, I eventually did become a house painter and worked my way through seminary paying the bills by painting houses.  Every summer I would return to Rochester from Union Theological Seminary in New York City to paint.  It worked out well for me, and for three years of expensive graduate level tuition I only had to borrow $2,000.  But instead of scooping ice cream and washing pots and pans in restaurants I could have earned a lot more money during high school and college if I had accepted my dad’s deal and would have had that car that I wanted a lot sooner.   So my story was about turning down a trade that didn’t look fair, but in the end realizing that what my dad offered was more than fair.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians describes a deal that was offered to Jesus, what looks like a bad deal, a bad trade that we all might turn down, a bad trade that he might have turned down.  But, amazingly, Jesus accepted the trade.  What would you have done in his place?  Taken it or rejected it?  It was a trade in which he was required to give up everything he had and it appeared that he would get nothing in return.

By now I think you are already anticipating what I’m going to say next.  What looked like a bad deal for Jesus was actually a very good trade, but it takes some time for us to understand it to the full.  Yes, Jesus gave up his life, but he gained eternity, and not just for himself, but for everyone.  It turns out to be the best deal ever offered.  Some of us, maybe most of us, maybe all of us, are beginning to see more clearly what kind of trade Jesus took on, because ultimately all of us benefit from it.  The cross in trade for eternity, the cross in trade for love, the cross in trade for peace, the cross in trade for justice, the cross in trade for you.  It looked like the trade would cost him everything, including his life, but he took the trade anyway because he saw how much more there was to it.

It turns out that the trade Jesus made has had a huge impact on us.  We are not just observers of the trade he made, we are the beneficiaries.  We could be self-centered, selfish, greedy people, looking out only for ourselves, always calculating our advantages over others.  But because Jesus made the trade that he did, it has changed us, reprogrammed us, reoriented us, redefined us, redirected us.  No longer so self-centered, no longer so greedy, no longer so concerned just with ourselves, but now with an attitude of generous love, and not just for ourselves, but for others, and not just for the people like ourselves, but people nothing like ourselves.

     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.