July 4, 2021

Rev. Mark F. Bartels



Old Testament Lesson; Lamentations 3:22-33

Psalm of the Day; Psalm 30

Gospel Lesson; Mark 5:21-24a

                          Mark 5:35-43                              

Sermon Text; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9

                       2 Corinthians 8:13-14


Our sermon text is taken from 2nd Corinthians, chapter eight.  This is the assigned reading for the sixth Sunday of Pentecost.


Now brothers, we want you to know about the grace of God that was given in the churches of Macedonia:  In a severe test of trouble, their overflowing joy and their deep poverty overflowed into an abundance of their generosity.  I testify that of their own free will they gave according to their ability, and even beyond their ability, pleading with us with an urgent request for the gracious privilege of joining in this service to the saints.  And they did this not as we had expected, but in keeping with God's Will they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us.  As a result we urged Titus, since he had already made a beginning, to bring to completion this gracious gift on your part.  But just as you overflow in every way – in faith, in word, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us – see that you also overflow in this gracious gift.  I do not say this as a command, but to test how genuine your love is, by comparing it with the eagerness of others.  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich.

Certainly, our goal is not that others take it easy, while you are burdened, but that there may be equality.  At the present time, your abundance will provide what they lack, in order that their abundance will also provide what you lack – in this way there will be equality.


These are your words, Heavenly Father.  Lead us in the way of truth.  Your Word is truth.



I want to tell you a really cool part of our Bethany Lutheran College history.  A few of you may be aware of this, but I am guessing the vast majority of you do not know this.

In the early 1920's, mid 1920's, Bethany Lutheran College was not owned by our synod.  It was a girls' college, called Bethany.  It was on the verge of bankruptcy.  They decided they were going to sell the college. They offered the college to our little synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  They said we could have it, if we could take up the mortgage payments, and pay the operating costs.

Now, at that time our synod was really tiny, as it was only seven years old.  We only had five thousand members in our synod.

But, to be offered a college, that was like a little, pauper girl being offered a ten carat, diamond ring.  That would have been awesome to have our own college, where we could train our young people, where a Christian world view could be taught.   Our synod desperately wanted to purchase the college.  They met and decided, “We cannot afford it”.  So, they said no.  Bethany College slipped out of the hands of our synod. 

That group then turned to the Wisconsin Synod, and offered Bethany to the Wisconsin Synod  to purchase.  The Wisconsin Synod was a lot bigger than the ELS, a lot bigger.  However, the Wisconsin Synod also said, “We cannot afford it”.  So, they passed.

Then, something really stunning happened.  About a hundred ELS members, (about a hundred pastors, farmers, and laypeople) were so convicted in their hearts - “We need a college for our synod.”  “We need a place where our young people can be trained, where they can be taught a Christian World View, as they go out to live their vocations.”  “We need something that can bring our synod together.”  They were so convicted, that one hundred of them bought Bethany Lutheran College!  One hundred people.  They risked their own mortgages, their own farms, their own retirements.  They were so convicted that we needed this, that they bought it.  One hundred of them.

They told our synod, “We will pay the mortgage for the college.  And, we will pay the operating costs, until the ELS some day is able to take over the college.”

The next year there was a synod convention.  The topic came up, “Can the synod afford to purchase Bethany College from these one hundred people?” 

A man went up to the microphone.  His name was G. A. Gullixson.  (He is related to Lila Gullixson.)  He walked up to the microphone, and said, “I move that the synod take over the college.”

There was a vote, and the synod took control of Bethany Lutheran College, because they were emboldened by the brave, generous act of those hundred people.  They were encouraged by their act of generosity.  And, they were encouraged, themselves.  And so, the synod threw itself into owning, and operating this college.

That was an example of extreme generosity that motivated and encouraged a bunch of other people.

That is what is going on in today's scripture reading.  Here is what had happened.  Christianity had started to spread.  It was about 50 AD, and it had spread up the Mediterranean Coast.  It had gone up to Asia Minor.  It had gone over to Greece.  It had gone up above Greece in to a region called Macedonia. 

So, there were a bunch of Christian congregations that were formed.  One of these Christian congregations got into some severe financial difficulties.  It was a congregation in Jerusalem.  We find out from the book of Acts there was a severe famine.  And, it was affecting these congregation members in Jerusalem.  They needed help, desperate help.  And so, a collection was organized.  All these other congregations that had begun the collection said, “Let's collect money together, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  And, let's get together to help these brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, who are in a time of need.”
Paul was writing a letter to the Corinthian congregation, encouraging them to take part in this collection to help others.  What he does is he uses the little congregations up in Macedonia (Macedonia was a territory) to spur on this Corinthian congregation to be generous givers.  It is kind of like if somebody came into a big church like Holy Cross, and said, “Hey, you know that little congregation down the road?  You can't believe what they are giving to this certain cause.  If they can do that, what could you do?”
So anyway, here is what Paul tells the Corinthians about  Macedonia, and how they were giving.  First of all, he says this.  He says they were in extreme poverty.  And, really the Greek word is they were 'dig dirt poor'.  They were dirt poor people, and yet these Macedonians wanted to be involved in giving away what they had to help people in need.  In fact, Paul uses words like generosity, like gift, like gracious, they considered it a gift to actually be able to give to somebody else, even though they were really poor. 

So, you know, it is more blessed to give than to receive.  That is what these poverty stricken Macedonians believed.  In fact, it says they pleaded with us.  They pleaded with us for the opportunity to give to the churches in need, in Jerusalem.  So, these poor people are begging Paul, “Let us give.  We want to give.”

Wow!  They pleaded for that opportunity.  Now, why would they plead for that type of opportunity, when they did not have much themselves.  It even says they gave what they were able, and it says,

“Even beyond their abilities.” 

That is kind of like the widow, who Jesus was watching.  Do you remember she gave two coins that were less than a penny?  And then Jesus said,

“She gave more than everybody else,

because she gave everything she had.”  

Talk about giving beyond your abilities.  These Macedonians were giving beyond their ability to help their brothers and sisters in need, some place else.  Why?  Paul tells the Corinthians this. 

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

that although He was rich,

yet for your sakes He became poor,

so that through His poverty

you might become rich.”

This is something the Macedonians understood.  They took it to heart.  This meant everything to them. 

Imagine your life is a 'spiritual bank account'.  When you look at your 'bank account' to look at what is in it, without Christ, what is there?  Nothing.  You have nothing good to give to Jesus, to the Lord.  You are 'spiritually bankrupt'.  In fact, in fact, every sin you commit puts you deeper, deeper, and deeper in debt, to the point that we ought to be thrown in to prison for eternity, in condemnation, in Hell.  That is what we are like spiritually.  The Macedonians understood that about themselves.  That was their 'spiritual bank account' also.

But, they also knew Jesus' 'spiritual bank account'.  He is God in the flesh, who lived an absolutely holy, perfect, spotless life.  He deserved everything good.  He deserved eternity forever, and ever, because of His perfect life.  Everything belonged to Him.  Heaven itself belongs to Him.  Everything is His.  And, the Macedonians knew that just sheerly out of nothing but grace, Jesus 'traded bank accounts'.  He 'traded bank accounts'!  And, the Macedonians knew, “Jesus took my worthless bank account, and what I am like before God, and the deep, deep debt I owe.  He paid, He paid the ultimate price.”

This was huge.  He paid the ultimate price.  When He was on the cross, He said, “Tetelestai”, which we translate it,

“It is finished”. 

Technically, it is a word you find on sale slips, back in Jesus' day that meant, “Paid in full”.  He paid the full debt we owe. 

In exchange, He gives us these riches beyond what we can possibly imagine. 

-He gives us the forgiveness of our sins.  That means you are right with God.  If you are right with God, God is your friend. 

-He gives us Heaven, itself.  Go home today, and just wrap your head around that.  We deserve Hell.  But, we are going to be in Heaven, someday, forever,  We don't have to fear death. 

So, our Catechism puts it this way.

I believe Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the virgin Mary.  And, that He is my Lord, who has redeemed me a lost, and condemned creature (there is my poverty).  Purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death.

That is what the Macedonians understood Jesus had done.  And why?  Our catechism goes on, and says:

He has done this in order that I might be His own, live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him.

Why do you buy something?  Why did you buy a car?  It was because you wanted to use it.  Why do you buy an Nintendo?  It is because you intend to use it.  Why do you buy a computer?  It is because you intend to use it.  Why did Jesus purchase you, and become poor so that you might become rich?  He intends to use you.  That is what the Macedonians understood.  They understood what Jesus had done for them, and their hearts were, “Jesus, use me”.  Paul says,

“...they gave themselves first to the Lord...”

They considered it a privilege, not an obligation, a privilege, a gift, to actually have the opportunity to be used by the Lord, to give what they had to people who were in need.  Paul tells the Corinthian congregation that's what was going on in Macedonia, to spur them on, to encourage them to generous giving.  In fact, he tells them,

“But just as you overflow in every way – in faith, in Word, in knowledge...”

“You excel.  You have the Word.  You have knowledge.”  God had really blessed them. 

He said,

“...see that you also overflow in this gracious gift (of giving).” 

It is a gift to be able to give to the Lord.

Now, I want to talk a little bit about Holy Cross.  Last year, at this time, it was a new fiscal year.  The fiscal year starts July 1st.  We (Pastor Tweit and I), were wondering how the year is going to go.  It was the middle of Covid.  People had lost jobs.  The economy was shut down.  We could not, the Early Learning Center, could not have as many kids in it, as we had hoped.  We had no idea how things were going to go financially at Holy Cross.  And, we were asking the congregation to give seven hundred, four thousand dollars, $704,000.00, in offerings, during the course of the last twelve months, in a time of trial, and trouble.

So, how did it go?  We just ended our fiscal year, this past week.  We had asked the congregation to give seven hundred and four thousand dollars, 704,000.00.  The congregation gave seven hundred, forty thousand dollars, $740,000.00.   That was beyond what we even thought was possible!  Thirty six thousand dollars, $36,000.00, more than what we had asked, in time of trouble. 

In fact, our elders were so courageous, that they came to the congregation in the middle of this year, and challenged our congregation to give above and beyond that seven hundred four thousand dollars that was budgeted, an additional twenty-five thousand dollars, un-budgeted, to our brothers and sisters in Peru, who needed help with a school, and in Chili, who needed help with internet, and also in India, who needed help with their seminary. 

And, what did our congregation do?  The congregation, (by the time it was all said and done), instead of giving twenty-five thousand dollars, $25,000.00, gave thirty-one thousand dollars, $31,000.00! 

God has blessed this congregation! 

This has been a blessed year for us in far as giving is concerned.  You know, the more somebody understands the grace of God, the more generous they are going to be.  Martin Luther was somebody who really understood God's grace.  He ate, slept, and drank it.  The story goes that his wife, Katie, used to have to hide money in the house, because if he found money, he was apt to give it to people in need.  He was such a generous guy, because of what the Lord had done for him. 

There was a guy by the name of Andreas Carlstadt.  He started out on Luther's side, but then he kind of turned against Luther, and became a theological enemy of Luther.  But then, Andreas Carlstadt fell into economic hard times.  Martin Luther was such a giving guy that he actually invited his theological enemy to come and live in his home, because this guy was destitute.  He just kind of gave him a place to sleep on his couch.  That is the heart of somebody who understands how gracious God is to us.

So, as scripture says, as St. Paul says, just as you excel in God's Word and in knowledge, see to it that you excel in the grace of giving.
In fact, I want to look at this Bible verse.  Look at verse thirteen.  It says,

“Certainly, our goal is not that others take it easy while you are burdened, but that there may be equality.  At the present time, your abundance will provide what they lack, in order that their abundance will also provide what you lack - in this way there will be equality.”
So, Paul is telling the Corinthians, “Look, I am not asking you to give to the people in Jerusalem, because I want there to be inequality, and I want you to be burdened, and them to have plenty.  This is the body of Christ.  We are here to take care of each other.  And right now, you have the opportunity to take care of your brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.  Someday, maybe they will take care of you in your need.”
You know what?  About one hundred years later, that is exactly what happened.  History tells us that in about 160AD, the congregation in Corinth had a terrible plague, a Small Pox Plague that went through.  They were in desperate need of financial help.  They had helped their brothers and sisters, and now one hundred years later, they were helped by their brothers and sisters in Christ.

I want you to think about what happened here at Holy Cross, about seven years ago.  About seven years ago, after we had decided to relocate as a congregation, because we thought that would be best for the growth of God's Kingdom, we needed help.  We went to our synod, and asked them if they would help us.  And, they kick started us with two hundred eighty thousand dollars, $280,000.00, to help us accomplish what we wanted to accomplish.  Now, that two hundred eighty thousand dollars, $280,000.00, was from, and belonged to, our brothers and sisters in Christ, in our synod.  So, that belonged to the farmer down in northern Iowa, to the factory worker in Illinois, to the retired person down in Florida, who are members of our synod.  They saw our time of need, and they jump started us with two hundred eighty thousand dollars, $280,000.00.  That is brothers and sisters in Christ helping brothers and sisters in Christ for the sake of the Kingdom!  Look at how God has blessed us, as we have built. 

Now, we are at this special time, when God has blessed us with also an abundance of giving.  We have been helped, and now our church council just this past month decided to give ten thousand dollars, $10,000.00 (which we have not budgeted), to Bethany Lutheran College, because Bethany is now in a time of need.  Look at what God gives us, by this opportunity, this gift of being able to give. 

-Number one, it is a tangible way to show our love, our love for Jesus, and our love for one another in Christ. 

-It is also such a tangible way to show we are part of the body of Christ.  We unite our offerings together, yours and mine.  They all mingle together.  We are part of the body.  It goes to help different parts of the body - our school, our pastors, our teachers.  And, we send some of it for missionaries.  We also send some of it to help build schools.  Together, what a display!  What a display that we have the opportunity to give, to show we love Jesus, and we love one another.  We are brothers and sisters.  And, we are here to help one another!

St. Paul says,

“See to it that you also excel in the gracious gift of giving.”



Now, may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts, and our minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.