Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
25 September 2011
(Malachi 3:10-12 Psalm 25 Philippians 2:1-13 Matthew 21:23-32)
Imagining a Tithing Church!
Video: Make It Simple, “The Ten Percent Thing.” http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Discipleship/Stewardship/Make-it-Simple/Make-it-Simple-Program.aspx
I would like you to imagine with me a church enormously filled with passionate people!
I would like you to imagine with me a church utterly overflowing with loving people!
I would like you to imagine with me a church bursting at the seams with outrageous givers!
I would like you to imagine such a church to be this church.
Recent studies show that 3% of regular church-going Christians give a tithe, that is, one tenth of their income.
That means 97% do not! I often wonder what that really means?
Does that mean 97% of those people don’t love their church?
Does that mean 97% of those people don’t love God?
Does that mean that 97% of those people don’t love Jesus?
Does that mean 97% of those people are greedy? Are swallowed up in consumerism?
Unfortunately, sermons about money and giving too often imply that sort of judgmental thinking! And I’m sure, I’ve preached a few of those sermons.
Yet, for every day I am an ordained pastor, I realize that simply is not the case.
It’s not that families are greedy, or don’t care, or don’t love Jesus. It is that most families are struggling or broke, or close to it. And many of those families and individuals sit here and worship each week.
We are told that more than 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
I know many of you are born, bred and raised Germans (even if you were not, it may have seeped into your DNA just by living here),people who don’t like and don’t want to talk about money and giving and pledging and tithing, and certainly not in church and most certainly not by a pastor. So, there you go, I’m breaking all the rules in one sermon on one weekend!
In our home growing us, money was our best-kept family secret. We never heard anything related to finances and expenses. So for me, even to preach this sermon this weekend is a major challenge to my own personally-entrenched boundaries and taboos.
There are more than 800 scripture texts that speak about money. There are 34 references to tithing. Talking about money was very important to Jesus.
But I’m not going to focus on any of those texts.
In today’s Gospel text Jesus once again, as so often happens in Matthew, is talking about Kingdom-living, using the stunning parable of the two sons! How do the people of God live the Kingdom of God each day? Live it, not just talk it!
Paul, in writing to the Philippians, gives us a beautiful image of Kingdom living, when he writes:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
But emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…. (Philippians 2:6-7).
Jesus took the form of a slave by becoming one of us so that in Jesus all humanity can be exalted, lifted up, made free by God’s abundant love. For a people for whom it is so easy to become enslaved, Jesus gives us a different vision—that we need not be controlled by what we lack, by what we do not have, but rather, we can live in gratitude of God’s blessings.
Even when we are on a fixed income, when we lose our job, or lose health benefits, or even if we are earning $150,000 a year—what we are invited to is a new look at discipleship. We are invited to a discipleship that is freeing rather than a lifestyle that is enslaving.
I was nearly age 40 and beginning a new life, and I was in debt and scared and broke. And I will admit that it took my wife, Lois and me, several years after we were married to have a serious conversation about how much money we would give to the church. That conversation began a seven-year journey to reaching a tithe of 10%.
Make It Simple really is about not being a slave to anything but God’s goodness and grace, and out of such as vision, if you have not already done so, to begin a conversation with your spouse, partner, or if by yourself, to consider beginning the journey toward sharing a tithe. That’s the invitation today! Begin a conversation. Begin the journey.
Originally, I was going to conclude this sermon by looking at the video of one woman telling her story of her family’s journey toward tithing. But, since we’ve seen that already, instead, I will ask you to imagine one more thing:
I would like you to imagine with me a church, pews overflowing with passionate, outrageous members who tithe. Imagine that church to be this church– St. James. Now let’s stop imagining and begin believing. It can be us! It can be this church, but it’s not an easy journey. Let’s begin the conversation. Amen.