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Sunday Sermon

Worship Series: Tithes and Offerings
I Chronicles 29:1-18 & II Corinthians 9:5-15

II Corinthians 9:5-15- So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

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. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

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After Christianity was legalized and began to spread throughout the Roman Empire, an interesting custom developed among Roman soldiers as they would come forward to be baptized. They would renounce their sins, pledge themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and step into the river to be raised to newness of life. But as the priest would lean them back into the waters of life, the soldiers would hold their right arm out of the water so that their entire bodies were baptized, except for their right arm. They did this because their right arm was the one that held the sword, the one they fought with. It was a way of saying that they would submit to everything that this new life required of them, except when it came to their marching orders- this was a part of their lives they thought Christianity should have no authority over. When the church turns to a discussion about tithes and offering, many people shut their ears and stop paying attention because they believe God should have no authority in how they spend their money. We may willingly offer the rest of our lives to God- our time, our worship, our prayers- but when it comes to our spending, some of us prefer to be baptized holding our right arms out of the water, clutching our wallets.

I don’t think most Christians are so calloused as to say “I’m not going to let God or the church tell me how to spend my money,” but most Christians don’t make tithing- giving regularly to their church- a priority so the money gets spent on others things. Instead of giving to God first, we give to God out of our leftovers. Most of the time we don’t make God a part of the conversation at all, especially when it comes to making budgets. Taking up an offering every week is where rubber meets the road- where the things we say and believe in worship, like loving God and neighbor, actually gets put into action. Like in our Old Testament passage today, we too are building a temple. It is not a literal temple that facilitates a program of sacrifices, but it is the temple of the body of Christ on earth, the kingdom of God among us. We give financially to the church because God moves in the hearts of his people and uses those tithes and offerings to do his work.

It has always been this way. From the very beginning, God has called on his people to give generously for his work. The practice of taking up a collection during worship never originated because church authorities wanted to raise some money. Giving was a movement that grew out of the congregation. It started with communion. Every Sunday when the church gathered they celebrated communion so every Sunday the people brought bread and wine from their own homes to contribute to the sacrament. But, they always brought more than they personally needed because they knew that what wasn’t used during the service would be given to the poor. And they brought alms, money for the poor, knowing too that the deacons would distribute these with the bread and wine to any who were in need.

One of the things I found fascinating in my research is that the practice of people begging at the doors of the church as people were coming and going for worship usually stopped after a city adopted the Reformation because hospice houses and hospitals were established that cared for the sick and the elderly as well as the orphan and widow. Eventually these were funded by the state, but they continued to be run by church deacons. In Geneva, one of the places where Calvin led the way in reform, there was a French Refugee Fund set up that helped provide housing, furniture, fees for apprenticeships, tools of the trade and even dowries, all for those fleeing religious persecution. Some historians have said that the lasting and most impressive aspect of Reformation was its concern and care for the poor. The church understood that the bread and wine it was blessed to receive should be shared with the world. In most Reformation churches, a giant chest was placed at the door where people placed alms, quote, “because they believed their meeting with Christ at the Table was to be continued in the world where Christ awaited discovery in the guise of the neighbor in need.”

That is the primary reason we give, because there is need. Christ longs to meet the needs of the world. Christ met the physical needs of people during his ministry on earth. He fed the hungry and healed the sick, he didn’t just wish people well and send them on their way. Meeting the physical and spiritual needs of others takes resources. It is impossible to love others without spending some amount of money on them. If you go for a visit, you have to pay for the gas to get there, even if you simply call someone up on the phone to give them some encouragement, you still have to pay for the phone bill at the end of the day. Loving and serving others will always require that we give of something of ourselves. But this is where some of us may need to change our thinking because many of us see giving to others or giving to the church as a subtraction that produces a deficit in us. This is not how the Bible looks as giving.

Tithes and offerings in the Bible are never given out of a place of fear. They are never given with the sense that there may not be enough left for me. They are always given out of a recognition of all that God has done and the tithe is a way of saying thank you. But it goes even further than that because it acknowledges that the only reason we have anything to be able to give is because God has provided it. Listen to I Chronicles again: “Blessed are you, O Lord…for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours…Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all… For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you…all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.” Friends, everything you have in this life, even your very breath, was given to you by God. It is the temptation of our culture particularly, to think that all the goods that we have, we have earned through our own hard work or shrewd strategies; but if you stop and think about it no single person has ever been able to be self-sufficient. Your station in life, your education, your job, your retirement, were all given to you. God doesn’t bless with that kind of abundance so we can hoard it all for ourselves. The book of Acts says that the early church “gave to any who had need.” In our Corinthians passage today, Paul says “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” Giving our tithes and offerings every week is done in trust: trusting that God is good and that God always provides enough.

My mother had a rule in our house whenever my brother and I had to share something like a piece of cake. It was called “I cut, you choose” and I remember very vividly the day she created it. She was busy and so she handed me a knife to cut a piece of something and go eat it at the table. When I asked how big a piece I could have she responded that I was splitting it and had to cut half for me and half for him. But wielding the power of the knife, the wheels started turning. If I cut just a sliver bigger on my half, would she notice? Then I got greedy, I imagined cutting a ¾ quarters size piece for me and running to the table to gobble it up before my brother ever saw how puny his piece was in comparison. When my mother asked about my hesitation, I mistakenly blurted out, what’s to keep me from cutting myself a bigger piece? And that’s when she came up with the rule- you get to cut it, but then your brother will get to choose which half he wants to eat first. And never in the history of children, did you see someone so carefully cut something in half to be shared with a sibling. It’s funny, looking back, how quickly I became possessive of a gift given by my mother that was always intended to be shared. I knew she wanted us both to enjoy what she offered, but I quickly infused the gift with a sense of jealousy and wanted to claim as much of it for myself as I could. What if instead of viewing God’s gifts as mine- as in my very own, personal, private, for keeps- we viewed them instead as ours- blessings to be shared, the way God intended it.

It is easy to excuse ourselves from tithing when we only see it for what it costs us; but the truth is we all benefit from an act of giving. “Those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly, and those who sow bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Our passage is clear that giving reaps benefits. We are given more seed to sow for the kingdom, we “are enriched in every way,” we become more obedient children, giving produces thankfulness in the people who benefit, who in turn pray for us, it meets the needs of the saints and overflows in thanksgiving to God, the provider of every good and indescribable gift. But that’s not why we give. We give- we bless others because God first blessed us- and God desires to give to others as well. This is part of our ministry as the body of Christ. God provides each of us with an abundance of seed and how much we have to give away all depends on how we look at it- where it came from and what it’s for. John Wesley, the Father of the Methodist church had a saying “earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” We don’t amass money and blessings for ourselves alone, but for the purpose of sharing them, so that we can move from the fear of “mine” to the reality of the kingdom which declares all of God’s blessings as “ours.”

 

Pastor Lindsay