Many have walked away from the church because of this very issue. My own father, in his church growing up, posted a list of who gave and how much in the back of the sanctuary. This was shameful and hurtful, and it was one of the reasons he walked away from the church.
Throughout history, the church (collective) has mismanaged, misused, and misunderstood the gifts we bring, our offering. Today, hopefully we will understand why we have this practice of giving of our money during church.
I want to be upfront, there is a pledge card and a pledge guide in your bulletin this week. This is not to guilt anyone into giving, rather to enlighten why we give and how we should give.
Let’s begin with today’s scripture. This is a heavy passage and it comes from one of those books of the Bible where people often say, what does that have to do with today’s world? How can that have anything to say to us? I want to always stress that the word of God should not be read literally first. First it should be read in its context. What would it have meant to the original audience? What was the author trying to say to the original audience? Once we have decided what it was intended to do, say to the original audience, we ask ourselves what does it say to me, us today? I would offer that we are not to take one tenth of our goats and sacrifice them… so what are we supposed to do with section of Scripture?
Leviticus. It is the book of the Law. It is the detailed description of how Israel was to live. And it was a reaction to Israel’s desire for law and leadership. It is attributed to Moses, and is the detail of how the people of God should relate to one another and to God. It is directed towards all of Israel, but it outlines the role of the priests (the Levites) on how to lead people to worship.
So there are many complex systems of ritual, atonement, sacrifice, but all of it, all of it is about worship.
Essentially this whole book is about how Israel is to relate to God. The Law was meant to be a tool to help Israel focus on God.
Today’s section of Scripture is about the 1/10th rule. The tithe rule. Have you heard this before? That we should give 1/10 of our income to the church. This is where this comes from.
But it wasn’t because God is greedy. It wasn’t because God wanted to start a herd in heaven. But rather, it was about focusing the people of God on God.
It was about helping Israel recognize that their entire life was from God and to give thanks to God. It was about helping them to keep God, God in their lives. It was about reminding them that no matter how much or how little they have, God is concerned about the details of their lives. It was an act of faith, an act of worship, a physical demonstration that nothing was above God.
And Israel, Israel had a hard time remembering that God was taking care of them… remember the Manna from heaven? Remember the griping in the wilderness? God wanted to keep Israel focused and this system of giving 1/10 was one way of doing just that. There is nothing more important that God. We worship God alone.
And this is not a gift to the poor. There is an entirely different system of giving to help those in need. This was entirely a gift to God, dedicating a gift to God because we worship God alone.
So this is what it meant for Israel. What does it mean for us? Again, I don’t believe that God wants us to sacrifice our animals. But I do believe that God wants us to continue to worship God alone. There are three things I want us to see in this passage:
1. We give out of our earnings, not our abundance. This is not a call to give if you have extra to spare. It is not about giving the most. It not about giving when we feel like it’s convenient. It’s about an intentional practice of giving out of our earnings.
It’s very easy to make a god out of money. Our world today perpetuates this belief. And it’s sneaky. Most of us don’t worship our money with a shrine, but how many hours in your week do you spend earning money, counting money, checking your bank account, spending money, saving money?
How many hour each week do you spend with God?
Certainly the shepherds and workers in Moses’ day who were giving 1/10 didn’t spend the majority of their week worshipping God, but perhaps this is why this system was put into place?
We spend a disproportionate amount of time accruing our financial stability and so we don’t have to rely on God. We are to worship God alone. Giving out of our earnings reminds us, with every dollar that we make that we are worshipping God alone.
Do you remember the story of the rich young ruler? A wealthy young ruler came to Jesus, ready to follow Jesus and asked him, eagerly, what can I do to inherit eternal life? Can you picture it? Excited. Jesus answered, sell everything you have and follow me.
The rich young ruler went away grieved because he couldn’t do it. Jesus didn’t want his money, Jesus wanted his heart. We worship God alone.
2. Giving is a sacrifice. Next week is one of my favorite holidays of the year. Thanksgiving is fun, but truthfully, I love black Friday. That’s sounds crazy, right? But it’s true, I love a good bargain. I love to give gifts to the people I love. But here, God is saying, the first gift is for God. 1/10 of everything, no substitutions, is for God. Not, I’ll get to giving to God after I shop for Christmas. Not, I’ll give to God when I get my Christmas bonus. Not, I’ll give to God when we get a raise. We give to god now, and we don’t hold back the good gifts for ourselves, we give every time, on a regular basis, because we worship God alone.
There was on the news last night a story about a church in Minneapolis, not a terribly large church, probably a little bigger than ours. They had challenged their congregation to give half of their Christmas budget to a project at church. They were hoping to raise $60,000. Instead, they raised $150,000 and they were able to build an entire house for a homeless family. Imagine giving half of your Christmas gift budget away… half.
It isn’t meant to be easy, rather an intentional gift to God, an act of worship, because we worship God alone.
3. Giving is about giving up self-sufficiency. I don’t know about you, but giving is hard. In this stage of life, with young children. My husband just took a new a job and has to develop a client base. We’ve always had mountains of medical bills, in fact to be honest, we are always in some form of collections ever since we started paying for heart surgeries and follow up care. My six year old had over $900,000 in medical bills in the first three years of his life! (Thank God for insurance, but we all know that insurance doesn’t pay everything.) We are paying a mortgage and rent. There are a million reasons why giving to the church doesn’t make sense, but we are called to give, and to give sacrificially.
Culture tells us that we should have money in the bank, stored away just in case. It tells us that we should be able to provide for ourselves and we should take care of ourselves. To be successful you should own a home, own land, own a car, own a cabin, own a boat, have a name brand purse, our kids should be in every sport, have all new equipment… the list goes on and on. But what this system really tells us is that we should be self-sufficient.
And that is the biggest lie that was ever told. In this land of wealth, consumerism and capitalism, it is all about individuals. Getting what’s mine. God says none of it is yours. It’s not about being self-sufficient, it’s about relying on God.
Giving 1/10 of everything is a quick way to remind us it’s about relying on God. We worship God alone.
This whole system about giving is not about obligation. It’s not about a roof over the church. Honestly, I have complete confidence that if we are seeking God in this church, the roof will remain. I have complete confidence that if we are seeking God in this church, the bills will get paid. And I don’t mean that to sound flippant or naïve.
But what I mean to say is, when we are seeking money, we will make money. When we make money our god, we are not seeking the one true God. So when it comes to bringing our gifts, our offerings… Did you catch that, offerings… we are saying to God, we will worship you alone. We will not hold back from our God. We give out of our earnings, not our abundance. We give as a sacrifice. We give to remember God is sufficient for us. We give because we worship God alone.
Today we have two specific challenges:
1. This week there is a pledge card in your bulletin. A pledge is not a contract, rather it speaks to an intention. An intention to make God, God, an intention to worship God with our offerings. An intention to worship God alone.
We bring our offerings each week during worship as an act of worship. We make a pledge to help focus your gifts but also to help the church use them effectively. When we know approximately what to expect, we can make decisions and plans for ministry. That’s what the pledge guide is about, it is to help all of us remember what our offerings do to impact the community of God.
2. In a couple weeks the Christmas shopping season officially begins. I am offering a serious challenge, consider this Christmas giving a tithe of your Christmas budget to God. Not because we need to make up our finances at church, (our church finances are strong,) but because we want to remember that we worship God alone. What would it look like that for every $100 you spent you gave $10 to God? How would it change your focus? How would it impact your Christmas?
Giving is an intentional act of worship. It is something we do remind ourselves that God is God. It is a reminder that it’s not about abundance, but obedience. It is a reminder that it’s not about our comfort but about a sacrifice. It is a reminder that we are not self-sufficient but we are completely dependent on our God. Jesus doesn’t need our money, but Jesus definitely wants our heart. We give because it keeps God, God. We give because we worship God alone.