Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
A certain man died and went to heaven, and when he arrived God asked him what his I.Q. was. “160” the man said, and God responded “Oh that’s great. We’ll get together and talk about quantum physics and macro economics.” A second man was asked the IQ question by God, and he said his was 140. “Wonderful!” God replied, “We’ll have great conversations about renaissance art and music.” The third man was asked his IQ and he answered “75.” God thought and thought and thought, and then finally said “How ‘bout them Packers!”
You have to be careful where you say certain things. People are sensitive. We live in an age of political correctness. It’s okay to tell that joke when there are no Wisconsin people in the vicinity, but if there are, you simply change it to ‘The Bears.’ Similarly, we have learned that you don’t talk about religion or politics at a party. You don’t brag about your BMW when you are a volunteer at a feeding ministry for homeless persons. And you don’t talk about the recent school levy in a roomful of teachers. It’s just not appropriate.
For some people, it is inappropriate for the church to ever speak about money. And ironically, those who have issues with the Christian Church, and especially those who only attend worship occasionally, often believe that the Church only talks about money. Every time they come to church, they seem to hear a sermon about money, and they have come to resent it. And while it is true that some preachers do preach about money at every turn, that is not the case here at Our Savior’s. In fact, in this church, we try to remove any barrier – including the barrier of money – that would prevent people from hearing the good news of God’s absolutely free gift of grace. We have had people join our congregation because when they came to church on Christmas Eve, we didn’t take an offering and it blew them away. We have had people tell us that the thing they appreciate most about Our Savior’s is that there is a level playing field here; that everyone is valued and not just those who are big hitters in the offering plate.
But that being said, there are times that we simply must speak of the issue of money in church. Why? Is it because there is a business side of the church, or because it takes money to operate a ministry, or because everybody ought to pay their fair share? No. It is because money and possessions are an important part of our lives, and if we ignore speaking about money, we ignore a significant issue that we talk about and think about and worry about on a daily basis. Money.
Did you know that Jesus spoke about money more than anything else? He mentions money more than love, and more than prayer, and more than righteousness. Is Jesus obsessed with money? Of course not. But he knows that we can be; he correctly announces “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.” You will hear more about that next week in Pastor Keith’s sermon. But today, I want to tell you about the day that Jesus eliminated the rule about how much money we are required to give to the church.
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In the Old Testament, there was such a rule; a Law, really, about what Jewish families were expected to give to the Temple. The law was 10%. Jews were required to give 10% of their crops, and 10% of their income, and 10% of their wealth. That was called “the tithe.” Of course, they could give more if they wanted to; that additional amount was called “the offering.” So whenever you hear the phrase “tithes and offerings” you know that it was a common phrase during the time of Jesus.
But then one day, Jesus and his disciples were sitting across from the temple treasury and they witnessed an amazing thing. Men of means, wealthy men, were walking past the treasury and dropping in their tithes and offerings, and probably making a spectacle of themselves as they did so. But then a widowed woman quietly walked up to the treasury and dropped in two small coins, which amounted to a fraction of a penny. Jesus called attention to her and said “she put in more than all the others combined” and the disciples were puzzled. The math doesn’t work! If some are putting in hundreds of dollars, and she is putting in two pennies, there is no way that her gift exceeds even one of those wealthy ones, let alone all of them combined. But Jesus went on to say “The others were giving out of their excess, but she was giving out of her poverty. They had plenty left to live on, but she gave everything she owned.”
In one sweeping moment, Jesus had erased the requirement of the tithe. It was a Law no more. Because Jesus knew that, for some people, 10% is too much, and for others 10% isn’t enough. His new design on giving has nothing to do a law, and it has everything to do with love. The widow gave because she loved god. We give, not because we are required to, and not because we are trying to earn God’s favor; we already have God’s favor. We give because we love Jesus Christ. We give because we are grateful for this church, for the way it nurtures our faith, for the way it cares for our children, for the way it reaches out to those who are in need. We give because we love. And I would go on record as saying that if you give for any other reason than love, you can keep your money in your billfold. If you give out of guilt, or out of pressure, or out of obligation, you don’t need to do that anymore. Not in this church. But if you give out of love, if you give out of gratitude for the blessings that you have received, then I want to share just a two more words with you.
The first is a confession. For the longest time in our marriage, Marsha and I didn’t give much. Now it’s true that we couldn’t afford much, but even the choices we made caused us to give less than we could afford. When I became a pastor, our giving really didn’t change. I felt like a hypocrite, standing in the pulpit and encouraging members to give generously when I knew that I, myself, was not giving generously. And yet that was not a good reason to increase our giving. Remember? Giving out of guilt or pressure or even hypocrisy is a dead end. But then one day, Marsha and I took inventory of our lives. We both an education, we had two healthy children, we lived in an adequate house, we had cars that ran most of the time, and we never missed a meal. We were blessed! So we started giving more. When we discovered how good that felt, we started giving even more. It didn’t happen all at once; it was a gradual thing. But last winter when I did my taxes, I found out that we were giving 10%. We were giving a tithe, not because it was a rule or a law, not because I have to practice what I preach, but because we love God and we love this church.
You might be putting $2 per week in the offering plate, and if you feel good about that, then it is an appropriate amount for you. On the other hand, you might be giving $100 per week to church, and $10 per week to the United Way, and $40 per month to Compassion International, and $300 a year to the Salvation Army, but you want to do more. The point is, the decision is between you and God and no one else. The only advice I would offer is that you give until you feel good about it.
The second thing I want to add has to do with the budget of this church. It’s growing. You already knew that. In the coming year, we will have a full time associate pastor. In the coming year, we hope to hire an assistant for Children’s Ministry. We hope to provide enough curriculum for our Sunday School children, we hope to safely get teenagers to and from their mission trips, we hope to pay Xcel Energy and the U.S. Post Office, and Bayport Bank the necessary amounts. And we plan to increase the gifts we give to other ministries, both locally and around the world. There is really only one way we can do all that. It’s not by making you feel guilty. It’s not by begging you to pay up! It is simply by asking you to take inventory of the blessings of your lives. To you who love Jesus and love this church; if you simply give until you feel good, there is no question that your gifts will be more than enough. Next week is “Celebration Sunday” and we will lay our gifts upon this altar. When you walk back to your seat from that processional, I hope you feel good. When I think of you gracious and generous people, I want to say “Thanks be to God!” Amen.