Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” In this season of Thanksgiving, as we consider all that we are grateful for, how can we give back? What does God really want from us? And could we find joy in our offering?
Due to technical difficulties, the sermon video is unavailable this week. We apologies for the inconvenience.
I Chronicles 29:6-18
Then the leaders of fathers’ houses made their freewill offerings, as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and the officers over the king’s work. They gave for the service of the house of God 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics[d] of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze and 100,000 talents of iron. And whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the Lord, in the care of Jehiel the Gershonite. Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord. David the king also rejoiced greatly.
Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.
“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.[e] O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you. O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
‘Tis the season. No, not for Christmas. I’m a very adamant, one holiday at a time person. Just ask Keith. Poor Keith made the mistake of playing Christmas music earlier than I thought appropriate and got an earful. For a pastor, I can be irrationally cranky about such things. For the record, I haven’t banned Christmas music from the office; I’m not a tyrant. And Keith knows I’m mostly just kidding, mostly.
But ‘tis the season for Giving. Giving Thanks and for Giving Back. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and today is Giving Sunday at Calvary.
Now, in some ways, “Giving Sunday” is a misnomer. We ask that you give every Sunday; we take an offering, and come together to worship, giving of our time and our talents, because it is our duty as Christians to give back and because God calls us to give. But today we give in a particular way that allows the church to plan and budget for the upcoming year.
Some of you have already pledged; in fact, all of our leadership – elders and deacons – have, but others of you have as well. So, thank you.
And if you think you might give to Calvary at all in 2018, consider making a pledge, so that we can plan and include more ministries and mission opportunities based on your pledging.
Your giving makes a difference. You know this. It allows youth to go on mission trips; Senior Adults to gather and fellowship on Tuesdays; for real baked good to be available at coffee hour.
It also helps people with rental assistance when faced with eviction; it helps feed those who are hungry through Pack-a-Sack; and it works to help break cycles of poverty so that perhaps one day hunger will no longer be a problem.
Later in the service, Amy Ovalle will speak more to this. How our giving and her giving has made an impact. All of this is really about the theological concept of stewardship, the idea that we take good care of that which has been entrusted to us. So we consider things like stewardship of the earth and how to take good care of this planet. But also how to be good stewards of our possessions and of our money and of our time and talents.
We all know that we are supposed to give. We know that we are supposed to share.
It’s one of the earliest life’s lessons that we learn, isn’t it? Even before you had any money or an income; sharing was likely ingrained in you in some way.
With an almost-four-year old in our home, our family talks a lot about sharing. For the most part, the kid is actually pretty good about it. But every once in a while, especially when it comes to sharing a toy he wants to play with, it’s trickier. He told me once, quite honestly, “But I don’t want to.” And rather than reacting immediately, I thought about that and took his answer to heart.
Because I don’t think our children can learn generosity and sharing by being forced to give. That just seems counter-productive. I want him to want to share, not be forced to share.
And perhaps God is that way with us as well. We have the free will to give as little or as much as we want. God could force us to share but wants us to want to share. And at the crux of it, it’s really about the heart- how willingly and joyfully are we giving?
Science actually now tells us that giving has psychological and physiological benefits. A recent article in Time magazine says, “Scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness.” MRI technology shows that our brains are positively stimulated when we give. Altruism is hardwired in our brains, and it’s pleasurable. The article concludes that, “Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful.” (http://time.com/4070299/secret-to-happiness/)
Perhaps God created us to give. And as such, when we do, it benefits us in a multitude of ways.
Now, ideally, we don’t give because of what we might potentially get in return. But it seems we are innately made to take joy in giving. And there’s something really beautiful about that.
Scripture talks a lot about giving. By my rough count, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible mentions the word “Give,” in the context of giving, at least a thousand times. That’s more than most words in the Bible.
For instance, the word faith is used only 480 times; the word hope, even less at 156, and the word love even falls short at 740. Some would say giving is an expression of faith, hope, and love, so it makes sense that it is used more than the others.
So, the Bible has a lot to say about giving which is good because I imagine we all have some questions about it. We all know we’re supposed to be doing it. We now know it’s probably good for us to be doing it.
But if you’re anything like me, you may wonder: But how much giving is enough? What’s the deal with tithing? Is that from my gross profit or my net profit? And what should I be giving? Is it just part of my income, or does the entirety of my wealth, which includes property and savings and all the other stuff, get factored in, too?
Well, the Bible does say a lot about giving. But it’s not an instruction manual for 21st century living. Jesus never factored in 401Ks or the San Francisco housing market in his sermon on the mount. King David wasn’t concerned with inflation or retirement or his son’s college tuition. So we’re not going to find the exact answers we might be seeking in scripture.
But there are some general biblical guidelines, three of which I’d like to lift up this morning.
The first is the idea of tithing. The Hebrew word מַעֲשֵׂר (maaser) literally translates to “a tenth.” And it was a practice of Abraham and Jacob even before it became Mosaic law as we read it in Leviticus (Lev 27:30-34).
The tithe was not optional. It was obligatory; it was the law. The first 10 percent of your harvest automatically belonged to God.
But it’s important to remember that this wasn’t the only offering that was required. There were tithes for a special jubilee festival (Deut 12) and every three years, there’d be another tithe to specially care for orphans, widows, and the poor (Deut 14). These were the compulsory offerings, and some experts say they’d actually equal to about twenty-three percent of what you made a year.
On top of that, freewill offerings were also encouraged adding to that which was mandatory. And we read that people oftentimes gave over and beyond what was “expected.”
So, yes, today, we talk about tithing, and aiming to give 10% of what we have. In fact, Calvary, in our own budget, has made a commitment to tithing – giving away 10% to organizations and partners beyond these walls. As a church, that is a faithful and necessary commitment.
But for the Israelites, what was expected was actually more than 10%, and it was regular cultural practice to give even beyond that. So, it’s not as cut and dry, and when you start asking about gross or net income-or-wealth, it gets even more convoluted.
The reality is many of us are probably simply working towards the day when we can give 10%, we may not be there right now; some of us may never be, don’t be discouraged. There is no mandatory giving amount or percentage here at Calvary. All gifts of any size, or any percentage are welcome.
But others of you might easily be able to tithe, and if so, don’t let the tithe be a ceiling on your generosity. For us, in this day and age, the tithe is simply a guideline, a marker, to encourage us in our giving.
And for the ancient Israelites, while it was mandatory, it also served as a visible and tangible reminder of this second concept of giving that I’d like to lift up which the Psalmist so eloquently expresses in Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”
It’s not just a tenth that belongs to God; it all belongs to God.
That was probably easier to understand as farmers or shepherds since so much of what you yielded was left in the hands of forces beyond your own control- rain, sun, pests, and predators.
These days, it’s too easy to forget that all that we have; all that we’ve been given; all that we see and experience, actually belongs to God and not to us. We swim in a culture built on the ideas of property, possessions, accumulated wealth, and fierce individualism. As such, it’s much too easy to fall into thinking that what I have is what I deserve, and I made it and got it myself. I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps, right? My talent, my grit, my hard work?
Well, maybe. But your talent, your grit, your hard work, that’s a gift from God, too.
The main problem with thinking any of this belongs to anyone but God, is that we start holding on awfully tight to what we feel belongs to us. That’s “mine,” we proclaim, as we surround it with our death grip. And that tight hold makes it impossible to receive anything else or anything new from God.
When we unclench our fists, when we hold loosely to that which we have been given, we are able to both give back to God and receive from God.
So, first, tithing serves as a guidepost but not a mandate or a ceiling for giving. Second, all things belong to God and come from God.
And finally, giving is not really a matter of money, but a matter of the heart.
If we love God, if our hearts are full because of the love we’ve experienced from God, then we can’t help but give and give joyfully and bountifully.
Some answers about our giving can be found in a spreadsheet; after all, budgets are moral documents – “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Where we spend our money, that’s where we find our hearts.
But perhaps the opposite is also true, where your heart is, there your treasure will end up.
The Hebrew word for heart לֵב (leb) used in 1 Chronicles 29:9 means more than just that organ that beats within us. It can also be translated as mind, will, courage, inner being, or even yourself.
When Hannah read this morning, “Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord,” we could also say for with their whole being, with their entire selves, with their whole mind, soul, spirit, will, courage, and heart, they offered freely to the Lord.
My parents are first generation immigrants to the U.S. I love them, but we have some cultural and theological and ideological differences. But their faith and their trust and their giving to God remains a constant source of inspiration to me.
My parents were college-educated in Korea, my dad worked for a company in business, my mom was a nurse. Neither of those degrees really translated here to the U.S. when they came, so they ended up working and later owning a dry-cleaning business. They worked twelve hours a day, six days a week, and then on Sundays would be at church all day. They never slept in and rarely went on vacation. And financially, we just barely scraped by. Each month, there’d always be some bills we just couldn’t pay.
But oh did my parents tithe and give to the church religiously. I’m quite certain now that God does not ask that we forego our rent check and give it to the church. But sometimes that’s exactly what my parents did.
See, to them, they could live without an apartment over their heads, they could certainly live without a phone line or heat or electricity for that month. But they could not live without God. And anything they had that brought them even a little bit of joy, their health, their children, their jobs, they believed came from God. So giving back to God was a no-brainer. Though their bank accounts were often overdrawn; their hearts were full.
Now please, if you cannot make rent, let us try and help you. Giving goes both ways. And I am in no way advocating that you give to Calvary over taking care of your own basic needs.
I just lift up this radical way my parents lived – full hearts; empty hands – cause it challenges me every day into thinking where is my heart and where, as Brian Elbogen lifted up last week, is my security? Giving is not just about money. It’s about the heart.
So how is your heart this morning? Is your heart full, knowing that God’s love, grace, and mercy are offered freely and abundantly to you this day? Or does your heart weary, in need of to tapping back into the source of all that is good and right and loving?
Drink deeply from the well that is the Jesus Christ the Living Water. And from your overflow, from the great abundant cup that is more than enough, offer your whole heart. Everything else will follow.
Today, during the offering, you are invited to come forward and place your offering in the baskets up front. If you have mobility issues, ushers will be available to come to you.
You can put in a check, a pledge card, a few dollars or a few coins, or even a note asking for help if that’s where you are right now. Whatever it is you place inside the baskets, I invite you to imagine that it is more than just that particular item. Imagine that is your whole heart; your entire being; your very life and self that is offered to God.
What would need to change in your life for that to actually be the case?
What would you need to do differently if your whole heart and life belonged to God?
Because that is the bottom line truth: We belong to God, this day and every day.
So let us live accordingly. Amen.