In 1789, British physician Michael Underwood was the first to describe a disease that was, what he called ‘debilitating to the lower extremities’. The first medical report on this disease was written by Dr Jakob Heine. And the first long-term study was done by Dr Karl Oscar Medin in 1890 and the disease became known as the Heine-Medin Disease.
The first major outbreak of Heine-Medin Disease happened in America in 1894 in Vermont, with 132 cases. Finally, in 1908, after studying this mystery disease, 2 physicians identified the virus and the disease got its official name, Polio.
By the 1940’s and 1950’s, Polio cases were on the rise in the U.S. Then in 1952, the polio epidemic hit its high point. People were panicked, especially when it became know that our president, Franklin D. Roosevelt had it.
Three years later in 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk became a national hero when he developed the first safe and effective polio vaccine with the support of the March of Dimes. There is no known cure for Polio; the best we can do is prevent it with a vaccine. Since then, we have found that Polio is transmitted through contaminated water and food or contact with an infected person. Polio destroys nerve cells in the spinal cord, causing muscle wasting or weakness.
There are folks in our congregation who had it as a child and they are still dealing with the long term effects. I have seen what it can do because my father had it as a child. Many of us never had to worry about polio, thanks to Jonas Salk.
But here is what I want you to remember, Jonas Salk was set to be a billionaire from his discovery of the vaccine for polio. He refused to patent his invention and forfeited all that money – in order to save as many lives as possible.
The Polio vaccine was and I believe still is, one of the cheapest and easiest vaccines to get – because of Salk’s extravagant generosity and great compassion for the sick. In 1994, the United States was officially declared polio free.
Jonas Salk was a faithful Jew, who believed in a loving God. While he was far from perfect, he knew what it meant to give from the heart.
The truth is, money can be a blessing or a curse. It is a blessing if we use it well – and a curse on others, if we do not. generosity is the virtue of giving good things to others freely, lovingly and abundantly.
In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, just before his closing remarks, in Chapter 16:1-3 he wrote these words, “Now, about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come ‘no collections will have to be made’. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve – and send them with ‘your gift’ to Jerusalem.”
Jesus encouraged his followers to give and it was a vital part of Paul’s ministry. The collection was in part a symbolic effort meant to demonstrate unity among the different churches – but it also addressed a genuine need in the Jerusalem community.
The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were being severely persecuted and they suffered from a drought that limited their sources of food. Paul believed the offering would help bridge the differences between the Jews and non-Jews and create a stronger spiritual body of believers.
Paul got this trait honestly, you see, Jesus had an awful lot to say about money. 16 of his 38 parables are about money. In fact, Jesus talked more about money ‘than both faith and prayer combined’! It is clear that money and giving were deeply spiritual matters to Jesus.
Matthew 6:24 reads, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one – and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Don’t get me wrong, money it is a great tool. That is, until it divides us from God and one another. Money can create class differences and be used to insolate us from the world around us. That is why the Bible often reminds us ‘to look at and help the poor, orphans and widows’. We are called to ‘See all the People’. (That is our United Methodist slogan this year)
It appears, after the Corinthians wavered in their devotion to Paul – that they also slacked off in their giving. So in this later letter, Paul is re-visiting the issue.
In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 Paul writes, “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know ‘about the grace that God has given’ the Macedonian churches. In the midst of ‘a very severe trial’, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify, that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.”
Now, you must understand, these Macedonian Christians were dirt poor. Their land had been decimated by ongoing wars. They were also being persecuted by others – and dealing with the same famine that was hurting Jerusalem.
These Churches in Macedonia were most likely the churches at Thessalonica, Philippi and Berea. Yet when Paul asked them to give, they gave above and beyond, exhibiting great joy in being able to do so. Paul writes, “On their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing.”
It reminds me of Exodus 36, when Moses wanted to build a sanctuary. He took free-will offerings ‘morning after morning’ to build the building and this is what happened. Verses 6-7 reads, “Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was ‘more than enough’ to do all the work.”
Moses had to say, “Stop giving.” They wanted, so badly to honor God and to create a safe sanctuary, that they were overjoyed in giving.
Now, back to Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church; the key words, at least for me, come at the end of verse 5, “They gave themselves ‘first of all to the Lord’, and then by the will of God also to us.”
People need a reason to give. We love to give to programs and projects where we get to see the results and feel good about it. That is why the United States is the most generous nation on earth. Both religious and non-religious people see the logic in that.
Over the last 50 years, overall giving has begun to shift. Fewer people give ‘just because it is a learned and expected value’. Many givers now, expect something in return. They expect a letter of thanks, a special gift in the mail or a visit from the school, business or pastor. Anonymous giving is fading away, or at least less accepted.
I get that and I am ok with it. Like I said, people need a reason to give. Here is why the churches in Macedonia gave, ‘because they were so grateful for being introduced to Jesus, they just wanted to be a part of the bigger mission’. They wanted more people to be helped and to hear the Good News.
First, they gave their Hearts to God – and then the idea of giving-back overwhelmed them to give joyfully. I think about that a lot, to be honest. I also love giving to projects. But in the grander scheme of things, everything here fades away. It is a short term satisfaction.
The real reason I tithe ‘and give above that to the church’ is this; I want to see lives transformed for Jesus Christ. If every penny I gave saved just one person and sent them on the road to heaven, it would be worth it for me. The truth is, I want to see more people in heaven, not less. I want to see more folks reading the Bible, serving and praying.
In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 Paul writes, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided ‘in your heart to give’, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Comedian, singer and actor Bob Hope once remarked, “If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”
Many years ago, a hospital visitor saw Mother Teresa tending to the sores of a leprosy patient, and said, “I’d never do that for a million dollars!” Mother Teresa answered, “Neither would I. But I do it for Jesus for nothing.”
Later she said, “Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God the rest will be given.”
To give like that and to give like the Macedonian Churches requires us to shift our thinking and have a different mindset. They trusted Paul and his disciples to do God’s work; to help the needy and spread the gospel.
Their greatest gift was that they gave themselves first to God. They trusted him above all else, knowing that with God in charge, like Romans 8:28 reminds us, “And we know that ‘in all things’ God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
If you are still not sure, try tithing and remember Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who trusts in him.
Back in 1731, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church decided to maintain his standard of living ‘at the same level’ and give away everything above that threshold.
Later John Wesley became known for his saying: “What should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living, but his standard of giving.”
I want to end with this true story; in early December of 2014, one of the red kettles that the Salvation Army set up in Boston over the holidays got a surprise. A widow had deposited a $1,850 engagement ring and wedding band along with a note.
The note read (according to the newspapers):
“I’ve dropped my wedding ring in your Red Kettle knowing that the money from its sale will buy toys for needy children. In all seasons, my husband was a giver. I especially remember his joy in giving at Christmastime, especially to those in need.
“To honor his memory, I donate this ring. I’m hoping there’s someone out there who made lots of money this year and will buy the ring for 10 times its worth. After all, there’s no price on love or the sentimental value of this ring. But money will help the kids. May everyone have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!”
The donation inspired another Massachusetts widower to donate $21,000 to the Salvation Army in hopes that the ring set could be returned to the original owner. But a Boston newspaper reported that the owner did not come forward.
And why would she? It would take away her joy of giving. You see, it was never about the money; it was a matter of heart. That is why we give.
Your assignment is…Examine your heart and find your reason for giving.
Is it for God’s Kingdom? Do you give joyfully? Pray about it and follow God’s calling.
You will be blessed if you do.