Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, November 6, 2016
Scripture Reference: I Timothy 6:6-11, 17-19
Sermon: Committed to Christ: Financial Giving
This week we continue in our series, Committed to Christ. It is a series that I know has challenged me personally to take my commitment to Christ seriously, not just take it for granted. It has pushed me to really think about and see that there are things I can be doing to grow in my relationship with Jesus. Today is no different.
Of course the truth is that in every commitment we make there are parts that are harder than others to live into, or that we just would rather not deal with or do. They are the moments or aspects that drive us to ask ourselves how important is this commitment to me, really? This fall when Hannah was choosing to join the swim club Joe and I knew we could get her to the practices and most meets; financially we could shift funds from her swimming lessons to the club, but what gave us pause was the additional fundraising and volunteering. Before we could literally sign on we had to really ask ourselves if this was something we were willing to do. In many marriages there come those moments of “testing,” when someone has done the unthinkable, when tensions rise that we have to ask ourselves what is my commitment to this marriage? What more am I willing to give or do? I think in our relationship to Christ it is our financial giving that challenges the depth of our commitment, and leaves us feeling uncomfortable. I think it is the reason I am often asked why we talk about financial giving and not about giving our time or service. I imagine it is why people often refuse to make financial pledges or commitments, saying it is personal; it is between God and me, or why we struggle to grow in our giving. It is not that any one commitment or vow we make is more important than another. Rather this is the commitment or change in our lives that is the hardest to make.
We certainly aren’t alone in this true either. It is why Crossman says Jesus spoke more about money and how to use it than he did about prayer, heaven, or hell. It is why 27 out of the 43 parables Jesus told were about money and possessions, or why in the Bible there are 500 verses on prayer, 500 on faith, and more than 2,000 on money and what money buys. It’s why in the Gospel of Luke we hear the rich young man talking about all the things he has done, all the ways he has lived out his commitment to God, but then walks away when Jesus asks him to give up his riches. IT is why we hear years later Paul writing to Timothy, “Some have been so eager to have [money] they have wandered away from the faith and have broken their hearts with many sorrows. Command those who are rich in the things of this life not to be proud, but to place their hope, not in such an uncertain thing as riches, but in God. . .” (I Timothy 4:11a, 17)
Jesus said, “Where your money is, there will be your heart.” In other words, our spending patterns become a reflection of our priorities. Truthfully this is not something most of us want to hear or acknowledge. We don’t want to hear our love for Christ being questioned based on our giving. It does not seem to be a fair assessment.
Only there are different readings, different times of reflection that open my eyes and heart to see the truth in what Jesus said. One of those more recently was Clif Christopher’s reflection in Committed to Christ. He writes. . .
The other day I was visiting with a young man who told me about his father, who lived in a city not too far away. He said that his dad faithfully sent a check for child support and would buy birthday and Christmas presents, but rarely expressed a desire to be with him. As the young man spoke, I could see the pain in his eyes and on his face. He said that even in the summer when he went to see his father, the father was often busy and would send him off to a cousin or family friend. It was great to get the money and gifts, but more than anything the young man wanted love. He wanted a relationship that his father obviously could not or would not provide.
Not long after that, I found myself talking with a woman who was angry with her ex-husband, who, though he talked on the phone with their child and visited him, would not pay child support or purchase school supplies. The woman said, “He thinks withholding money is just hurting me and not his son, but it is hurting his son. I can’t buy my son all the things he needs to wear to school and to dress properly. The attention is nice, but it is hollow without money to back it up.”
All of this got me thinking about how I feel about tithing. I have been a long-time tither, giving God at least ten percent of my earnings, and on occasion I have lapsed into thinking that now that I have tithed, I can do exactly as I please. On the other hand, some may want to “trade” tithing for giving their time, assuming that God has some sort of point system, and they can gain enough points in one area to make up for another.
I found myself remembering Matthew 23:23, where Jesus said (to paraphrase), “You tithe but. . .” Jesus was not saying that giving the tithe was bad, not at all. He was saying that only giving the tithe and not loving God or loving our neighbor misses the point. In other words, it’s not our money that Jesus is after but a relationship. God wants us to be in a loving relationship with him more than anything else, and tithing is and should be one part of that expression of love. I should want to tithe, but not so I will get something in return. I should want to at least tithe because of the simple fact that I love God and I’m so grateful for all he has done for me.
A father who says he wants to have a relationship with a child but refuses to share a portion of his wealth with him or her is not a father who truly loves his child. And a father who only sends his child money, no matter how much, but does not desire to spend time with him, is not a father who truly loves his child. Both cases reveal a person who is too much in love with himself or herself, a person who values money or time more than a loving relationship.
I am on a journey in my life and I trust that you are too, of choosing to have a loving relationship with Christ in my life, rather than more money. As Paul says in today’s reading, “None of this stuff can go with us, but our love for Christ, our relationship with Christ, that is eternal.” In talking with someone about their finances and future retirement he said, “I have what I need. My kids are doing fine. I want to invest in God’s Kingdom.”
He is not alone. For me that has become one of the powerful ways in which the saints of the church have been a witness to me. As a pastor I will hear stories of the great matriarchs and patriarchs of the church. I will hear how they sang in the choir, how they worked tirelessly for church dinners or teaching Sunday School; how they donated land and helped to build the church. I will hear how they gave themselves to help share the Gospel, and then I receive a gift on behalf of the church. Even in their dying they were invested in God’s Kingdom, thinking and planning for years before how they can share in the message of good news, how they can bless Christ’s church.
Their witness challenges me to think about my own spending and investments. What changes would I make if there was a family need, and am I willing to do that, even some of that, for the family of God?
In my wrestling this week this Table becomes a powerful witness to me. I have the witness of many others before me who made sacrifices, who gave what they had to the church so that you and I would have a place to come and worship, to learn about God and the relationship I can have with God. In the bread and cup we find the assurance that God will provide. Here at this Table we all find an open invitation to come and be in relationship with Christ. The question remains, “How hungry are we to be in a deep and loving relationship with God?”