In the comedy "Analyze This," Billy Crystal plays a therapist who is employed by a mafia boss (Robert DeNiro) to help him deal with his repressed anger. Crystal's patience with one his client's temper explosions prompts DeNiro to send him a gift. And what a gift it is — a huge stone fountain (it's so large that it almost is taller than Crystal's two storey middle class home and takes up much of his front yard)! You can imagine the dilemma — how can you accept such an overwhelming gift that might bring you under suspicion from others (why would a mafia boss be so happy with you?) and how can you afford to appear ungracious to a giver with such a violent history.
The apostle Paul finds himself in a similar situation (described in Philippians 4:10-20). The Philippians generously send such a large financial gift that Paul is prompted to say, "I'm now well supplied," and imply, "Please don't send any more!" The gift is awkward because it challenges his ministry principle of paying his own way as he preaches. He wants no one to be able to accuse him of profiting from his calling. But how can he turn down or even rebuke this amazing example of sacrificial giving? In this text, he walks a tightrope of businesslike detachment from the gift (at one point he states that he has received the gift using a Greek term that denotes "receipt" — giving the Philippians a businesslike "bread and butter note" acknowledging their gift formally and stiffly) and effusive praise (comparing the gift to the pleasing aroma of an acceptable sacrifice offered to God in the Israelite temple).
This is my text for my August 8 sermon. This was a fascinating text to consider with so many thoughts about gifting, receiving, community, and worship. If you study this text, I think you'll quickly see a broad understanding of gifting and receiving as acts of worship — that worship (a life posture of dependence on God) demands that we give sacrificially and receive with discernment and humility. The communal nature of worship and the spiritual life are also affirmed. Giving and receiving are essential acts of community (when done as Paul suggests they require community involvement). Hence, a strong link of community to worship is made in this text.
I found some other significant points of theology to consider from this text...
• The text touches on the mystery of God's response to our material needs. I don't understand why God doesn't alway intervene in legitimate material needs — Paul seems to affirm that the conditions of our lives (our finances, the quality of our lives and relationships) do not always seem to line up with the spiritual reality of our lives.
• Paul seems to emphasize the role of vision/values on our giving and a life of simplicity (living beyond our circumstances, enjoying a vibrant communion with God regardless of our life situations).
• Paul challenges us to live in a manner that fosters a dependent, organic union with God. This is the core principle to shape both our giving and receiving. This is also a sharp challenge to our tendencies to be dependent, entitled persons or to be radically independent persons.
For those of you who heard my sermon (and any others), I would be honored for you to use this space as a place for public dialogue about gifting and receiving and a place for sharing your own narratives on this subject (for first-timers there's reply box at the bottom).
I have written a few times in this space on related issues (July 7 and July 8). I know that a significant portion of my journey involves an essential challenge to my strong tendency toward independence which can make me awkward in gifting and receiving. My path to worship seems to run through these challenges.