Mark 5:21-43

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

I have to confess that I’m a public radio junkie, so today’s sermon begins with a segment from The Splendid Table. The segment is “Stump the Cook,” when host Lynne Rosetto Kasper takes five ingredients from a listener’s refrigerator and comes up with a dish (preferably an edible one) including those ingredients and just a few others. Give the March 24, 2007 segment a listen (stream or download it – “Stump the Cook” starts at about 27:00), then hold it in your mind. We’ll come back to it.

What happened there is something similar to what Paul says to the Corinthians in today’s reading. He’s writing to encourage them to follow through with an offering they’ve promised to take for the Jerusalem church. Paul doesn’t question the Corinthians’ commitment to giving money for the Jerusalem church – he knows the commitment is there. He also knows that the gift got hung up somewhere, that apparently the church members had trouble pulling the funds together. They had trouble coming up with “enough,” and they probably worried that what they could come up with wouldn’t quite do it.

I think that worry is a lot of why I’m not supposed to talk about money in church. Sure, we have any number of other reasons to object. We’d prefer to keep money matters private, we want to reserve church for “spiritual” topics, and heaven knows we don’t have any appetite for another “sales pitch.” That all may be true, but I think the deeper reason we object to talking about money in church is that we worry about being judged. We worry that what we come up with won’t be good enough. We know that the earth and all in it belong to God, so we worry that we haven’t given enough until we’ve given everything we have. And that’s hard to do, considering that most of us have mortgages, dental bills, and transportation needs to fund.

But notice how Paul approaches money here. There’s no question of whether people have given enough, just the invitation to give what you can. He makes no challenge to the church’s faith; instead he cites faith, knowledge, and eagerness to help as the church’s riches. He doesn’t attempt to convince the Corinthians that they should want to give – they do, and they have for a long time. As Paul points out, even the resources to share are already there, and if they eagerly give what they have, God will bless it.

That’s an approach churches don’t take often enough. God doesn’t ask us to do what we can’t, She doesn’t weigh us against each other, She simply receives what we can give. God takes what we offer with just as much enthusiasm as we put into it, and transforms it into something beyond itself.

So go back to the audio clip I asked you to think about. Lynne takes five ingredients the caller chooses, plus three more she asks for, and creates a completely unexpected dish. She almost never does what I would have done with those five things, but she almost always comes up with something I’d at least try and probably enjoy.

The beauty of the segment is in its improvisation. It lets us in the audience listen to a very smart cook think aloud. We can hear as she sees possibilities, tries out combinations, and occasionally changes her mind. This is similar to what happens in many of our kitchens on the night before grocery-shopping day after we’ve opened the fridge to see just what’s actually in there. The abundance is sparked by the constraint of few ingredients, but constraint is not the point. It’s not about what we lack. Working in this tight spot invites us to think about things differently, until something comes out that we never expected.

Something new comes out because we don’t look at what’s not there. We look at what we have, and we imagine that it’s plenty. That’s how Paul wanted the Corinthians to look at their Jerusalem relief fund and know that it was plenty. It was plenty – it is plenty – because God is with us. The same God who looked at the chaotic void and decided that it could become a universe is with us.

God has this miraculous way of taking what looks like little and making it full beyond our ability to see. He only needs what we have, not what we don’t. God doesn’t want to burden us, but to use our riches for more. And one of the things God will do with our riches is to show them to us, to let us see just how blessed we are. Our abundance may be measured in dollars, or hours, or dozens of eggs, but it will be revealed because God found it plenty.

That’s where we find our real riches: when we find five random ingredients in the fridge and imagining a gourmet dinner. When we wait for God’s creativity to rearrange what we have in our bank to make something new. We find our riches by looking at what’s there, at how much we have, not at how much we don’t have. God knows, and I know, that we already want to share with others. The trick is finding our abundance, because with that, we’re all rich.