By Pastor Krista Givens
October 15, 2017
Today we are going to address the most taboo subject in the church. Please don’t be offended or scandalized. Please don’t leave before I finish. Please don’t walk out in protest. Hear me out, and we can discuss it later, if you so wish. I am talking of course about MONEY.
It is a difficult subject matter because of our cultural and individual attitudes about Money and the important value we associate with money – we measure our personal value in Euros, in Pounds, in Rand, in Dollars. We measure our success and our status in life by our take home pay and our disposable income. We feel very strongly about what should be done with OUR MONEY. And because we’ve had numerous examples of institutions – banks, financial markets, governments, even churches – who have misused our funds and destroyed our trust, it is difficult for a pastor to stand in a pulpit and discuss what WE should do with our money.
But alas. Because money – and what we do with our money and why we do it – is not only a practical matter, but a spiritual matter; because Jesus himself spoke about wealth and power, poverty and riches more often than any other subject in the New Testament; because how we use or refrain from using or money impacts our spiritual well-being… our church will deal with MONEY – not once, but TWICE this season! I know you’re excited! Today we will talk about the WHY of giving and in November, we’ll discuss the HOW of giving. Today is a discussion of the theological reasons we give and in November we’ll take on the practical reasons.
So, why is it that after the sermon, we collect money each week? Why do we give to the church and to the work of the church? (Take answers.)
- As a response to the preaching.
- As a “Thank you” to God.
- Because the church needs it.
- It’s tradition.
Do we give from a place of Obligation, Abundance or Need?
Now GIVING – to a certain extent – is GIVING. The gift does good for those who need it; the gift is appreciated no matter the motivation for giving…. But our motivation for giving, impacts our feeling about the gift – when we give out of a sense of guilt, or obligation, if we give reluctantly… it impacts our heart and our future giving.
So, today I will share three stories with you that demonstrate the motivations for giving. We’ll start with A Story about Giving from a sense of Need:
In 2003, I made a life-changing trip to Nigeria, representing my home conference in California. Our team of eight people travelled to the villages in Eastern Nigeria, around the city of Jalingo, the Methodist centre of Nigeria. My assignment was to visit the big church in Zing, where I was treated like a queen – parades in my honour, gifts and celebrations for the visiting American. On Sunday morning I had the honour of preaching at the church in Zing and the small chapel was packed full of United Methodist Women, choir, youth and children, women nursing their babies and men drumming their praises to God! After my sermon, the pastor of the church announced in Hausa that we would be collecting the offering. And suddenly, the music started and the people danced their offering up the aisle and deposited it into the collection box. It was a joyful act, each person celebrated what they had to give. And then the pastor stood and said to the people “I think we can do better than this – there is not enough money in the box. You have more than that. Hasn’t God done a lot for you, you could do a lot more than that for him?” and the people danced up once again and put a second amount in the box. Afterward, the pastor stood up and talked about the church budget and the church needs – we need this amount for the choir, we need to buy new instruments for the band, we need new bibles… and then they took a third offering.
Now, this is the way they collect offering in Zing and it works. It probably wouldn’t work in our context, but I think it is interesting that it moved from giving from a sense of abundance to giving from a sense of need. (The church needs your money, so give! NOW!)
Our story from the book of Exodus (A Story about Giving from a Sense of Obligation) today tells us about our ancestors and their approach to worship, their failures and their motivation for giving.
After the Giving of the Law, after the big revelation of the Ten Commandments, Moses goes up the mountain to be in communion with God for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:15-18). Apparently, he took too long and the people became impatient.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’
In asking Aaron to do this, the people deny that it was the Lord who led them out of Egypt, with Moses as God’s servant. They have conflated the servant of the Lord with the presence of the Lord himself. Moreover, in speaking about ‘this Moses’ they distance themselves from him and thus from God. It seems that when the servant is out of sight, they seek a more tangible sign of divine presence. (1)
And Aaron does it!
2Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ 3So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4He took the gold from them, formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’
5When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’ 6They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
In this story, we see the people worshipping God after Moses gives the Commandments, but once their leader is out of sight, they want something easy, something visible, they want gods they can smell, see and touch. They giving offerings to this golden calf, not because they are grateful for what they have, but out of a sense of obligation – a sense of “If we don’t do this, we are going to be punished!” – a sense of if we give the most, the best, the first fruits, the biggest and most value offering, we will gain favour in the eyes of the gods.
This is giving out of a sense of obligation.
The third story is A Story about Giving from a Sense of Abundance: In our church, as in many churches, we create a budget for the upcoming year based on the previous years income and expenditures. The Church Council looks at what we’ve spent in the past year and brainstorms what we will need in the next year and makes a budget to reflect that. In the Tongan church – the process is different. For a year, the church members save up their money, each keeping track of their own saved amount and then on one Sunday, they come together for a celebration. And each member –or family unit – presents their offering to the church and that offering is the amount they will spend in the next year. One year a small Tongan congregation connected with our Hawaiian Methodist Church collected over $100,000 dollars! And that is what they spent in the next year!
It was as if – after that offering – they said, “Look at our gifts! We are so blessed! How shall we spend this bounty?” They were living out Jesus’ call to live lives of abundance when he explained in John 10:10:
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Now as I said, in a very real way, Giving is giving. Giving helps others, but our motivation for giving can be nurturing for us or it can feed our guilt, our sense of obligation, and our desire to “make a name for ourselves.” Instead of helping others, our giving has the possibly of hurting us.
So, how do we give? Do we give from a sense of guilt? Obligation? Abundance? Gratitude? Do we hold back our best gifts –financial or otherwise – for those people and groups we feel are more deserving? More worth-while? More needy? In what ways do we share our abundance?
You will notice that in your bulletin, there is a pie chart. It is an opportunity for your to think about how you would spend our abundance – where you would place our priorities. If you feel so inclined, you can fill that out – put your name on it – and place it in the offering plate. (If I get enough feedback, I may be able to collect some data and use it for my sermon in November!)
I also wanted to let you know about a project our Youth Group will be working on in two weeks. For two weeks, this box will be present in the chapel and you are invited to put a special offering in it. On the 23rd, the youth will count that offering and decide how to spend it – we’ll discuss our needs, our obligations, our priorities and how to use our abundance.
GIVING is not only about MONEY… it’s about US – how do we use what we have to embody to gospel of Jesus Christ.
Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone was one of seven children, born in the 12th century to a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi, Italy. As he grew, Francesco wore bright clothes, loved the pleasures of the world and enjoyed the company of his rich friends. One day, he was selling cloth and velvet in the marketplace for his father. While he was conducting these transactions, displaying and promoting his cloth to wealthy customers, a beggar approached the young man and asked him for alms. Francesco turned him away initially, but he became so guilty, so convicted with compassion for the poor man, that Francesco ran after the beggar and gave him the contents of his pockets. For this he was ridiculed by his friends and scolded by his father. After this experience, young Francesco grew up, joined the military, was held captive as a prisoner of war, had an amazing vision of Christ that changed his life and that young man became a saint – St. Francis of Assisi. The wealthy son of a successful cloth merchant became a monk who embraced poverty and renounced all possessions to follow Christ.
In his life, St. Francis attempted to show his compassion to others through his actions – through the way he used what he had – his gifts, his talents, his abilities – to embody the work of God. I will close with his prayer, a prayer that asks us to reflect on the HOW of giving. How do we use our gifts to sow peace, to sow pardon, to sow faith? How do we use our selves to embody the light and hope and joy God offers to each of us? How do we share our abundance with those in need? And how are we to be honest stewards of all that belongs to God? May God grant us wisdom as we enjoy the bounty of this world and May God guide us to be his hands and feet in this hurting world.
Let us pray:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.