Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Malachi 3: 6 – 12; Mark 12: 41 – 44

A man walked into his house panting and almost completely exhausted, “What happened, Honey?” inquired his wife. “It’s a great new idea I have to be a better steward of our resources,” he gasped, “I ran all the way home from the stewardship meeting behind the bus and saved $3.00. “That wasn’t very bright,” replied his wife, “Why didn’t you run behind a taxi and save $22?”

Today we’re looking again at the topic of stewardship. Last week focused on the truth that everything we have, belongs to God. God has entrusted us to care for all his treasures, including our faith community. How we treat one another is an act of faithful (or unfaithful) stewardship. Today, we’re going to look at the topic most people don’t want to hear about, and most ministers don’t want to talk about – money. Along with everything else we have our money belongs to God – no matter what illusions Revenue Canada might have. Because of the popular myths that “Churches are always asking for money” or that “money is all the Church cares about”, money is a kind of taboo subject in many congregations. Yet, the allure of money deeply affects our spirits. In a survey in the USA, people were asked what they would do in exchange for 1 million dollars: 25% would abandon their family; 25% would abandon their church; 23% would become a prostitute for a week; 16% would give up their citizenship; 16% would leave their spouse; 13% would put their children up for adoption. What’s even more revealing is that 2/3 of Americans would agree to one or more of those options for if offered 10 million. In light of that, it’s no surprise that Scripture speaks of money about 2000 times and Jesus speaks about money in 1/6 of the verses in the first 3 gospels. Money and spirituality are closely linked. So close in fact that when God was frustrated by the disobedience of the Israelites he told them, “I am God—yes, I Am. I haven’t changed. And because I haven’t changed, you haven’t been destroyed.” Then he pleads – and we can hear his pain and desperation, “Return to me so I can return to you.” The Israelites don’t have a clue as to how they’d return to God. So, God tells them, “Begin by being honest. Do honest people rob God? But you rob me day after day. You ask, ‘How have we robbed you?’ “The tithe and the offering—that’s how! And now you’re under a curse—the whole lot of you—because you’re robbing me. Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple” (Malachi 3: 8 – 11). Now, does the God of the universe need money? I don’t think so. Yet he homes in on the act of giving, because what we do with “our” money is a reflection of our spirits. Giving our tithes and offerings are acts of submission. They acknowledge God’s ownership and authority over all. Giving back to God shows we trust him to provide for us. By returning to God what is his in the first place, we also return to God in our hearts. It is one avenue, a key avenue, through which we re-ignite our relationship with God.

What are you doing with your money? While travelling, a wealthy businessman discovered a talking bird that had been trained to speak five languages and even more incredibly, could sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” while standing on one foot. His dad was a Texan and the man decided to get the bird as a gift for his birthday. The talented bird cost him ten thousand dollars, but he felt it was worth every penny. This would be a gift his dad would love. About a week after the bird was delivered, the man called his father to get his reaction. His father effused, “Great bird, son. You have to tell me where you found it. It was delicious!” As with everything else our money belongs to God. If you earn $300, how much of it belongs to God? If you said 10% or $30, you understand the Biblical principle of tithing. However, the correct answer is $300. All our money belongs to God. After hearing a sermon on the subject of “God’s Ownership” a certain rich member of the church was furious. He went home, took all his money and placed the neat bundles in stacks of twenty on the dining room table, the kitchen counters, the piano and all the furniture in the living. Then he called the minister and asked him to come over. The minister walked through the door and was stunned by this insane display of money. The wealthy man smiled and said “So, Pastor, are you going to tell me, that all this money does not belong to me?” The preacher thought for a moment and said, “Ask me that same question in 100 years.” Our money is not our own. BTW, if someone showed me that much money, I’d be having a chat about tithing.

So, let’s do that. What is tithing? The word “tithe” means 1/10th. Tithing is a Biblical injunction: “All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the Lord’s; they are holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30). To tithe is to give God 10% of our income before we budget for anything else. It’s an act of trust. 1/10th sounds like a lot of money, doesn’t it? To some degree, money is a matter of perspective. A College student had the following message on his dorm answering machine: “Hi! This is Gord. If it’s the phone company, I sent the money. If it’s Mom or Dad, please send money. If it’s the bank, you didn’t loan me enough money. If it’s my girlfriend, don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of money.” Just as a pound of feathers and a pound of rocks weigh the same, 10% of $12,000 and 10% of $120,000 are both 10%. No matter how much or little you earn, 10% is always 10%. God’s way of giving is equal dedication, not equal amounts. However, I remember a season in my life when I couldn’t pay the bills and was getting into debt. Feeding and housing the children God gave me were also matters of stewardship. I gave the church less during that time. Jesus also knows that eking out a living on $120K is easier than doing it on $12K. As he watched the people dropping their donations into the temple treasury, he saw many wealthy people give substantial donations – perhaps 15 or 20%. But when a poverty-stricken widow tossed two coins in the box, Jesus commented, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. The others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all” (Mark 12: 44). On the other hand, sometimes we simply live beyond our means, giving God our leftovers. Needing a new church treasurer, the Session asked the local grain elevator manager to take the position. He agreed under two conditions: no treasurer’s report would be given during the first year and no questions would be asked. The Elders thought this odd, but he was a trusted member of the church and being a farming community, they all did business with him, so they agreed. At the end of the year the treasurer gave his report: *The church’s debt of 228,000 was paid off. *The minister’s salary increased by 8%. *Presbyterian’s Sharing received 200% of what they’d pledged. *There were no outstanding bills. *And there was a cash balance of $11,800! The shocked congregation asked, “How did you do it? Where did the money come from?” He quietly answered: “Throughout the year when you brought your grain to my elevator, I simply withheld ten percent on your behalf and gave it to the church in your name!”. How much we give – whether a technical tithe or an offering, isn’t a matter of legalism so much as it’s a matter of devotion. Is giving to God first and foremost in our thinking and lifestyle? Are we living more extravagantly than necessary? Are we being responsible stewards of all God has entrusted to us – including the money we don’t drop on the donation plate? Do we trust God will provide for us? Do we put our desires before God’s kingdom? In the big picture, are we giving “our all” to God? These are personal questions which each of us needs to sort out with our heavenly Father.

Max Lucado, put it this way, “You don’t give for God’s sake. You give for your sake. The purpose of tithing is to teach you to always put God first in your lives. How does tithing teach? Consider the simple act of writing a cheque for the offering. First you enter the date. Already you remember you’re a time bound creature and every possession you have will rust or rot. Best to give it while you can. Then you enter the name of the one to whom you are giving the money. If the bank would cash it, you’d write God. But they won’t, so you write the name of the church that’s earned your trust. Next comes the amount – the moment of truth. Now, you’re more than a person with a cheque-book. You’re David, placing a stone in the sling. You’re Peter with one foot on the lake. You’re a little boy in a big crowd, with a picnic lunch. What will you do? Sling the stone? Take the step? Give the fish and loaves? Careful now, don’t move too quickly. You aren’t just entering an amount, you’re making a confession. A confession that God owns it all anyway. Then the line in the lower left-hand corner on which you write what the cheque is for. Hard to know what to put. It’s for the lighting and heating; Church school and music; a good chunk is for salaries. Better yet, its for outreach into our community; to feed hungry and lonely people, to welcome people into a loving church family where they’ll grow to know God’s love and grace. It’s also a thank you for what God through the Church has done to help you raise your family; to keep your own priorities sorted out; to tune you in to his ever-nearness. Or, perhaps, better still, it’s for you. It’s a moment for you to clip yet another strand from the rope of earth, so that when he returns you won’t be tied up”. Best yet, it’s so that you can return to God and God can return to you; you can pick up where you left off with a clean slate and a tender heart. Its so God can “open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams” (Malachi 3: 10). Not necessarily financial abundance or material possessions, but the blessings money cannot buy. The blessings of communion and relationship with the God who loves you. The blessings of grace and mercy. The blessings of joy and peace. And so, the final thing you do is sign that cheque. By making your own unique mark, you remember God wants you. We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, by signing we offer our lives to God. We give Him everything we have and everything we are. A living sacrifice is completely devoted. God asks for your money because to get all of you, He needs you to be willing to let go of your wealth and your reliance on it. “We cannot serve God and money.” If we have two gods, “we will love the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24f). More than anything else, God wants our love. He wants us to be good stewards of all he’s given us, but especially of his love which flows through us and returns to him, so he can return to us.