by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
Today is Stewardship Sunday: our annual foray into the world of fundraising to support the Church… and I’ll tell you a secret about pastors – many of us do not like that role. Many of us are conflicted about how to approach this topic (money in the church) with integrity, with honesty, with a realization that not all of us are in the same financial state… And so I will begin by telling you about the sermons I WILL NOT give you today:
I WILL NOT preach a sermon comparing the amount of money we spend on Starbucks each week with the amount we spend on church each week. (Although I’ve heard that one and it is pretty effective as a tool to examine how much I spend on “extra” things and how little I spend on “essential” things…)
I WILL NOT preach a sermon using guilt to remind you of everything God has done for you, making your giving a “repayment” for those blessings. (God gives to us freely, giving grace and blessings without price….)
I WILL NOT preach a sermon telling you that whatever you give, will come back to you tenfold, promising that your giving will make you richer than you are now. (I know that sometimes giving is a sacrifice and there is no guaranteed rate of return.)
And I WILL NOT preach a sermon using a chart that shows how many people in our church give at a low level and how many give at a much higher level, placing our giving on a graph of those who are blessed and those who are MORE blessed.
The sermon I will preach involves you: Frankly, I wanted to know – why do people give to the church – in these hard economic times, with no guaranteed rate of return, with no obvious recognition of their gift, – so I asked you. Last week, I gave some people a slip of paper in church asking a question, and I posted it on my Facebook page and the question was this: Why do you give to the church?
And this is what you said:
Why do I give? I give because I have been given so much. I give because I want to give back. I want to be a part of something bigger than myself. Because I trust God can do big things with even a little. Because my pastor needs to be paid. Because I don’t need more stuff! I give because I want to teach my daughter how to be generous. I give.
Why do I give? I give because …Our Lord gave his life so that I may live! and it is my duty to give back and spread the word of God! It is important to financially give to the church so that we can continue to spread the word of God in our community.
Why do I give? I give because I believe and I feel his love in all we do. I give because he gives so abundantly and continues to bless our church with joy and fellowship.
Why do I give? I give because… It is a very real, tangible way to express our commitment to God and His church.
Why do I give? I give because… It’s a part of me. The church is my family. I’d do anything and everything for my loved ones. I share its beliefs; I try hard to practice them in my life, and to assist wherever and however I can. The Church supports me and I support it.
Why do I give? I give because of what Jesus says in John 21:16-17…
‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.
Because I have been given much. I too must give, to show my love and gratitude for all that my Lord and Savior has done for me, I will give….
First and foremost, giving is a personal spiritual practice. It is something between you and God, between me and God. It is something personal and individual – Giving comes from our own desire to show our gratitude to God; it is a response to deep love and joy in our relationship with God.
And the church just happens to be the beneficiary.
But the spiritual discipline of giving, the personal gift of ourselves and our resources is RUINED, maybe not ruined but CORRUPTED, without humility.
Let’s take a look at our scripture from Luke 18:9-14 – Luke begins with a topic sentence: here is what the point of the parable will be:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” 13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Now, when we look at the prayer of the Pharisee, we read it with the eyes of Jesus… we’ve heard this story, we know what Jesus thinks, (this man needs an attitude adjustment)…. but this was not an unusual prayer for the Pharisees of their time.
Listen to one ancient Pharisaic prayer, that may offend some:
“Rabbi Judah said: One must utter three praises everyday: Praised (be the Lord) that He did not make me a heathen, for all the heathen are as nothing before Him (Is 40:17); praised be He, that He did not make me a woman, for woman is not under obligation to fulfill the law; praised by He that He did not make me … an uneducated man, for the uneducated man is not cautious to avoid sins.” (1)
This was the type of prayer of thanksgiving common to the Ancient Rabbis, a thanksgiving to God to express one’s gratitude for the ability to study the Torah: Thank you God, that I am not a heathen or a woman or uneducated, because then I would not be able to study the Law of Moses.
The Pharisee Jesus described was the model of piety, both by what he did do (fasting and tithing — which were both beyond what the law required); and by what he didn’t do — acting like swindlers, evil people, adulterers, and tax collectors. (2) And in his prayer, he made sure to point out these facts to God.
The Tax collector in the parable, in contrast, prays with the actions of mourning or despair. He beats his breast and does not even look toward heaven. And then he asked God to do something. “Have mercy on me. Forgive me,” he cries and then he calls himself a sinner.
The tax collector sees himself clearly and he is honest before God, both in his self-identification and in his need. “I need help,” he says. “Have mercy on me.” While the Pharisee’s prayer almost says, “I don’t need your mercy, Lord. I fast and pray and give a tenth of my income. And I am blessed not to be this poor tax-collector.” The Pharisee has no need of God’s mercy – in his prayer he tells God so. But the tax collector sees himself not in reaction to others, but as himself. And this attitude in prayer is the example Jesus uplifts.
One common human tendency is to define ourselves by defining others. We compare ourselves to others who are doing better or worse than we are; we put ourselves on the chart of givers and say, “well, I am doing better than so and so, but that guy is doing much better than me.” We compare ourselves to others who have more or have less than we do; others who are successful or others who are failures. Instead of grappling with our own identity or looking at ourselves (as the tax collector did) we focus on what makes us better than others. Such a stance means that to respect ourselves we need to ‘beat’ others, run them down. (3)
As you may know, I travel to India at least once a year …. typical meager lunch served to the hundreds of children. They all sat on the ground and were served some rice and daal and they sat and ate with their hands and were grateful for a hot meal. But as we fortunate-foreigners observed the simple needs of those Indian children, we might have prayed like the Pharisee: “O Lord, I thank you, that you have given me MY life, not a life like these children: poor, hungry, desperate and longing for your blessing.” This kind of prayer, this kind of pity, says more about us – the pray-er – than it does about those we pray about. It displays what’s in our hearts. And if we give to help them as a sign of pity or as a way to make ourselves look good…. then that is not a spiritual discipline.
So why do you give? WHY we give is more important than how much we give. WHY we give is more important how OFTEN we give. I invite you to consider giving – of your time and resources, your talents and energy – to benefit others. And if we give as a community we can do amazing things together for the building of the Kingdom.
And may God bless our giving, our living and our hearts. Amen.
1. T. Ber. 7.18; “Jesus and the Parables” by Eta Lindemann, page 59 quoted by Brian Stoffregen, found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke18x9.htm
3. William Loader found on http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkPentecost22.htm