Sermon by Pastor Bill Chadwick | November 17, 2019
II Corinthians 9:6-8
In my long and varied experience, I have heard of only two Presbyterian congregations that do not hold an annual financial stewardship program. Those two are Calvary in McGrath and Wahkon Presbyterian Church. I knew from my previous time here that you didn’t hold such an annual event, but last month at our session meeting I asked if perhaps we should this year. The response was no. Folks are generous and faithful, and we are doing fine financially. Which is terrific! A cause for celebration. Then I asked, “May I preach about simply the theology of giving, sharing, discipleship, without any kind of a pledge drive?” And they said sure. So that’s what I’m doing today. It’s very freeing to talk about the theology of money without a blank pledge card in the future. Because in the church, we are not raising money.
Let me explain. Years ago, I was the interim pastor of a small congregation that was struggling financially. One of the elders said, “We just need to lay it out for folks. We need X amount of dollars to stay in business.” A few years ago I was the treasurer of the saddle club and we were in dire circumstances, so I laid it out, “Look, folks, we get $2000 tonight or we close the doors. And we got it!”
Well, that approach is fine for the saddle club, or any other organization that is not the Church of Jesus Christ. Because for the Church, our money is more than money. It is a symbol of something greater than keeping the organization running. It’s a sign of discipleship. I’d like to address eight questions and I’ve asked people to stand up and ask them. Eight questions about money.
Question #1. Jesus didn’t ever specifically talk about money, did he?
Indeed he did. It was his second favorite topic behind the Kingdom of God.
Question #2. Why did Jesus talk so much about money?
Because money represents our very lives. My friend Herb Brokering noted that “Offerings used to wiggle.” They were alive. They baaed or mooed or at least coocooed. The thinking was that an offering had to be a blood sacrifice. Another life offered to God on behalf of our lives. Today we give our time and talents and our treasure to represent our lives. Bruce Larson put it best, in words to this effect, how money represents our lives: “When I work to earn money, I am trading some part of my life, using up some part of my allotted time on earth. I am diminished. So, when I give that money I am literally giving my life.”
He makes another powerful point: “In addition, money can go where I do not have time to go, where I do not have health to go, where I do not have a passport to go. Money is literally the hands and feet of Jesus to bless people that I cannot physically reach.”
Question #3. We often hear the word “stewardship” in church. We hardly ever hear it outside the church. What does the word “stewardship” mean?
Wikipedia defines “stewardship” as “an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources.” A steward is a caretaker who manages and takes care of that which belongs to someone else, like a caretaker of an apartment building. In the first chapter of Genesis, at the conclusion of Creation, God gives the human beings a charge to have “dominion over” what God has created, the earth and waters and animals. “Dominion over” does not mean we have the right to pillage the earth and pollute the waters. It means we have the responsibility to take care of this amazing Creation that belongs to God.
Our lives are given to us by God, yes? We are to use them for God’s purposes. Because God has given us our lives, our health, and our abilities to earn money, all of “our” money really belongs to God. We are just stewards of it.
In Deuteronomy 8 is a warning to God’s people before they enter into the Promised Land. The warning is that they will experience prosperity, but then “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is God who gives you the power to get wealthy” (vss. 17-18)
Here’s a one-line definition of stewardship: “Stewardship is everything I do after I say, ‘I believe.’” (Clarence Stoughton)
Question #4. Why is it impolite to ask someone how much money they have or how much they earn?
James Hudnut-Beumler writes, “Wherever they are taboos, one can be reasonably sure that idols are nearby.” Idols, those things we worship in the place of God. Richard Foster goes even further in his wonderfully titled book, Money, Sex and Power. He calls money not just an idol, but a “power,” in the sense of “principalities and powers” that the Apostle Paul warns about. Foster contends that money has an intrinsic, yea, supernatural power to be used for good or evil.
For some Christians, it appears that money is the one area that they refuse to put under the lordship of Jesus Christ. When Charlemagne became a Christian, he ordered all his soldiers to be baptized as well. The story is told that as they went into the lake to be baptized by immersion, a number of them held their arm up out of the waters, so they could say, “This arm has never been baptized, so I can still swing my battle-ax with it.” Have some of us held our wallets up out of the baptismal waters?
Question #5. What portion of our charitable giving should come to the church?
How much “should” come to the church? Well, it’s not my intention to “should” all over you. I want to inspire you. Kris and I give the majority of our charitable giving to the Church, because not all charitable organizations are created equal. First, we are talking about the CHURCH, THE BODY OF CHRIST. It’s not equal with other organizations. It represents the ultimate allegiance of our lives. Second, lots of people support the American Cancer Society, the Humane Society, the Heart Association. Only the 82 members of Wahkon Presbyterian Church support the work of Wahkon Presbyterian Church.
Question #6. What about the tithe, the biblical injunction to give 10% back to God through the church?
That’s a very good question. The tithe is a value that runs throughout the Old Testament and it is affirmed by Jesus in the New Testament, but it’s not a core teaching of his. Now the church talks about “tithes and offerings,” right? For years I presumed that the “tithes” referred to the gifts of those who are giving 10% and the “offerings” referred to the gifts of those giving at a lesser amount. But then I read that biblically, it was expected that everyone was tithing. The offerings were gifts above that ten per cent. In fact, when one totals all the offerings listed in the Old Testament that faithful people were expected to give, it comes to 31%, not 10 %!
Back to the tithe. (Bill rolled out a roll of 100 one-dollar bills taped together, counted off ten and placed the ten in the offering basket.) You see that after giving ten % there is still a lot left. Some of you have such long rolls that you can give 15% (Bill puts five more in the basket) or even more.
My mentor Dave Kachel first showed me that example. He also quoted a long ago Sunday School teacher, “I have never known an unhappy tither and I’ve never known one who quit.”
So, the tithe is an appropriate amount for most of us middle class folks. The old adage, give 10%; save 10% is really good advice. Some of us can give much more. Some of us are in challenging financial situations. So I have a phrase that I much prefer to tithing. It is this. “Faithful and proportionate.” Say it with me: “Faithful” and “Proportionate.”
Faithful: “If you’ve given your heart, you don’t need to hang your head.” Proportionate: “According to your means and your needs.” For example, take two people, each with a $70,000 annual income. The person with a mortgage and two kids at home is in a very different position that the person whose kids are grown and the mortgage is paid off. “Proportionate” to our means and our needs.
Let me ask a related series of questions. Now, last week I warned that the preacher’s task is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Here comes: Do we spend more of God’s money which has been entrusted to us on entertainment than on the Church of Jesus Christ? Do we spend more of God’s money which has been entrusted to us on our pets than we do on the Church of Jesus Christ? On travel? On our second home?
Our spending records, be they checkbook registers or Excel spreadsheets, our spending records are theological documents. They show us what we truly worship.
Question #7. Why did Jesus say, “Where your money is, there will your heart be also”? That seems backwards.
It is a psychological fact. Actions affect feelings. Once we give money to something we are not just financially invested, we are psychologically invested. I used to go pheasant hunting every fall. I remember two consecutive years that I couldn’t get out for the opener or even any time in the first two weeks of the season. But my attitude was totally different the second year from the first. What was the difference? The first year I had already bought my license. So each day I didn’t get out, it drove me crazy. The second year I hadn’t yet bought my license so I wasn’t that invested. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Actions affect feelings. So if you want to get more excited about the Church and your personal spiritual life, make a significant financial investment.
In fact, every year in my stewardship preaching I have challenged folks to make a significant leap in their giving. It might be to the tithe, it might be a different amount. Whatever you define as “a significant leap.” Try it for three months, say January through March. If at the end of March, you decide that you don’t like it, you can’t afford it, or it’s not helping your spiritual life, just let me know. I will instruct the treasurer to give you your (well, really God’s) money back and I will pay you 10% annual interest out of my own pocket. You can’t get 10% anywhere else! So, it’s an entirely risk-free proposition for you.
Question #8. What did the Apostle Paul say about money?
In the second letter to the Corinthians Paul writes: Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. That word translated “cheerful” is in the Greek the word “hilaron,” from which we get the word “hilarious.” “God loves a hilarious giver.” And, of course, Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Isn’t that true? It’s fun to receive, but it’s more fun to give.
I love to give to support the church, environmental groups, Clearwater Forest (our church camp), a girls’ school in Pakistan and other organizations that express my values.
Giving is an expression of aliveness, of power! I believe that the joy of giving is one of the key ways we are made in God’s image. We are created to be givers! So, friends, don’t give until it hurts. Give until it feels good!
And remember, God doesn’t want just X% or our money. God wants 100% of our lives!