Committed to Christ: Financial Giving; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; October 10, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
Scott and I have begun the process of packing—okay, I admit he’s done more than I have—and as he has pulled things out of the storage room downstairs, on more than one occasion, I’ve said—oh, so that’s where that’s been.
There are some boxes he’s taken to Fort Wayne and put on shelves in the garage there that somehow were never opened after we moved here 5 ½ years ago. I don’t know where they’ve been. I do know some of those things I’ve missed and replaced because I needed them and didn’t know what happened to them, but there are other things that I’ve gotten along just fine without.
I have more than I need and so I have been intentional in NOT going to the places where I enjoy shopping because it’s too easy to rationalize that I could use that sweater (it’s so cute!) or that home décor item, even though I really do want to downsize. Certain stores are diligent in their efforts to sabotage my intentions by sending me frequent catalogues, to which I admit I’ve been known to succomb. Still, I don’t want to put my kids in the position of figuring out what to do with an abundance of stuff someday that nobody really wants or needs.
Today we’re talking about finances as a part of our Committed to Christ series, as we continue our conversation about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I know there are some of us in this room who think that talking about money in the church is a bad thing to do; that it’s a personal conversation and nobody’s business but your own about how you spend your money and what you choose to give to the church. I’ve heard folks complain over the years that “all the church talks about is money,” but honestly, that isn’t true. We don’t talk about it that much. And maybe that ends up being a dis-service for all of us, because the way we give and our comfort level in giving is a spiritual matter, more than it is a money matter. It’s just as much a part of our spiritual health and growth as is prayer, scripture reading, worshipping, witnessing, and serving (which we’ll be talking about next week). The way we use our resources is an important piece of the conversation as we talk about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
As we’ve said pretty much each week about the various spiritual disciplines we’ve been talking about in this series, our conversation today isn’t meant to guilt you or to pressure you to be in a place where you don’t want to be. But it is a time to honestly reflect on where you are, and if your giving to Christ and to the church is something that feels good and blesses you, or if it doesn’t. It’s a time to think about how and where you’re spending your money, and how you’re making your investments (I’m talking less about the stock market and more about your investment in eternal kinds of things), and if what you do reflects who you are and who you want to be in your walk with Jesus. It’s a time to consider—if you’re not already tithing—if now’s the time to begin, or the time to step closer to a tithe, giving an additional 1 or 2% more of your income to God each year until you reach that goal.
What are you going to do?
What feels good and right?
What appropriately reflects your faith and commitment to the Body of Christ?
In the survey we completed in August and early September, with 47 respondents, 4 stated they don’t give, 12 chose not to share an amount or weren’t quite sure, and 20 give from $20 to $249/week. Others noted monthly or annual giving without specifying an amount. Sixteen people marked amounts they’re giving to the building fund weekly, monthly or annually. There are others who have already completed their pledge to that fund, so if you’ve wondered—our giving to the next chapter remains strong even though we’re still not certain exactly what’s ahead.
Those who placed a percentage on what they thought they were giving to God in total estimated anywhere from 5 to 20% of their income, with 5 individuals or families giving 10% of their income, 3 less than 10% and 4 more than 10%.
It’s probably worth noting at this point that it was shared at our last Church Council meeting a couple of weeks ago that there’s a rumor going around that we’re going to disband as a church, that the Conference most likely won’t be appointing a new pastor; that a “4 Sale” sign will be placed in our front yard on North Michigan. That’s absolutely untrue—only a rumor. Churches of our size, with your commitment, your mission and your giving don’t fold and aren’t abandoned by the greater church. Have faith, stand strong: God has something good in store.
In the longer version survey that I didn’t distribute, here are some comments I think are worth considering. Answering them for yourself may be helpful to have in mind as we talk about giving this morning. These comments include:
- I probably waste more money each week than I give.
- I give if I happen to have a $1 or $5 bill in my wallet.
- I give financially but I’m not sure why.
- I give, but not much.
- I am growing closer to God through my giving.
- If I miss a Sunday, I give twice as much the next week.
- I am moving closer to tithing (10%) each year.
- The church check is the first one I write each month.
- Giving is the greatest joy in my life.
As I compiled all the results of the survey, it was interesting to see the vagueness in some of the responses, even though the survey was anonymous. I have no idea who completed the survey except for those who handed them to me, and when that happened, I just tucked them in with all the others and still have no idea who said what. I don’t know anyone’s handwriting except for Kathy Smitha’s because she and I are pretty much the only ones who communicate with hand-written notes. Other written communication are mostly emails, and so I’m not familiar you’re your handwriting. Still, despite anonymity, more financial questions were left blank or incompletely answered than any other part of the survey.
We really don’t like to talk about money. And yet Jesus talked about it a lot. He told 43 parables in the New Testament, and 27 of them have to do with money and possessions. Herb Miller, a UM pastor who wrote a stewardship series (“New Consecration Sunday”) that many churches have used over the years actually sat down and counted: in the Bible there are 500 verses on prayer, 500 on faith and more than 2000 on money and what money buys. So I guess we ought talk about it now and then, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
There’s a little story in Luke 21, where Jesus and his disciples are in the temple courts, near the treasury where people are giving their offerings. Jesus is standing at the offering box, watching the amount each person puts in. A poor widow puts in a small amount, in contrast to others putting in large sums of money, and are apparently making a show of their generosity.
Jesus celebrates the widow’s gift, pointing it out to his disciples. According to Jesus’ math, the widow gave more than the others, because she gave what she had, while the wealthy gave only a small portion of their excess money.
Later, in 2nd Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9, Paul is urging the Gentile church of Corinth to be generous, as they had said they would be, in their offering to the saints/to the poor in Jerusalem. The Corinthians had been eager to be a part of that offering/that ministry to begin with, but now Paul fears their enthusiasm has faded, and so he is sending Titus as an advance team to urge them on. In chapter 8 he tells them about the offering from the Macedonian church and how their giving has blessed them, and how their generosity overflowed even though they had endured times of great trial. In Chapter 9, Paul speaks of sowing and reaping, and how God’s grace can do a good work within us, as God provides us with what we need.
So that we know what God asks from us, the Bible talks in a number of places about giving a tithe. If that concept is unfamiliar to you, a tithe is 10% of what we’ve earned or what we’ve been given, however you’d like to describe it. It’s really helpful, and revolutionary is some ways, because no matter how much or how little we have, giving 10% isn’t equal giving but it is equal sacrifice, as I’ve heard it said: or perhaps a better way to describe it is as an equal blessing or opportunity. Bottom line: we’re all challenged to give our best because of what God has given to us.
Sometimes we get things turned around. The Psalmist reminds us (24:1) that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. We too often forget that everything we have is a result of God’s generosity. We forget that what we have is really God’s first, and it will still be God’s when we’re long gone. You and I have been entrusted as stewards; our task it to care for God’s creation, to work diligently as God’s representatives.
We have what we have to use for a while, not just for ourselves, but to bless others. The Bible says that a portion of the harvest is to be given to the poor (Deut. 14:28-29). Every 50th year the economic order was turned upside down during the Jubilee as all debts were forgiven. This land is mine, says God. So, the house we live in is God’s house, the car we drive is God’s car, and the garden we plant is God’s garden.
Richard Foster, who wrote a number of books on spirituality that many of us have found helpful over the years, wrote in Money, Sex and Power: The Challenge of the Disciplined Life, that perhaps the question we ought be asking ourselves isn’t how much money should I give to God, but instead, how much of God’s money should I keep for myself?
When we put things into perspective, when we start out with the recognition of God’s generosity toward us, it has tremendous implications on the way we use our finances!
This week we’re going to follow a little different pattern than what we have over the past 4: I want you to take the commitment cards home with you that you’ve received today. Spend some time thinking and praying about your plan for giving. We’ll be sending out a letter and commitment card to everyone in the church, so we can all be contemplating what God might do through us in 2022 through our giving.
Here’s a challenge to consider as you do this: many of you are familiar with this and are living by it, but it’s worth repeating for those who haven’t heard it or who thought you’d like to work in this direction but have gotten off track. Consider first, giving 10% to God. Then, put 10% in your savings. Use the final 80% for whatever else you might need or want. For some of us, to use “only” 80% of our income, we might need to do some re-thinking of needs and wants, while others of us might be in a place where we realize we really don’t need that much to live on, so we can give more to God and use less for ourselves. I’ve already noted from the surveys that some of you are already doing that. If we all were, or were working toward that goal—honestly, I believe our lives would be fuller and richer. We’d have what we need and the church would be doing fine, too. I don’t know, maybe the whole economy would be better.
I think of those boxes Scott found that I never opened. The stuff I forgot I have. What we need, what we want, what God asks.
We give, not because the church needs it, but because we need to give, in response to what we’ve been given. As we seek to grow as disciples, to trust/to have faith in God’s ability to care for us, to serve Jesus with all we have and all we are: we pray, we read scripture, we worship, we share, we give and we serve.
May these things bring us joy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.