Narrating Grace

Sermon for Sunday, November 11

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This sermon was informed by the book Ministry and Money by Janet and Philip Jamieson–a wonderfully practical book for pastors.
Text: Malachi 3:8-12
Let us pray:  Giving God, grow in us generous hearts.  Help us to give, not out of guilt or only obedience, but out of joy and freedom, knowing you bless us with all we need.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.
When I first began planning for this eight-week Stewardship series, I wasn’t so sure about it.  Eight weeks is long time.  I worried some of you would get very tired of it.  I was afraid it would begin to feel like an eight-week-long fundraising effort.  In the midst of a presidential election, it could feel like overkill.
Yet I’m learning a lesson.  Stewardship is such a broad topic and covers so many parts of our Christian lives that I’m starting to feel like an eight-week series may be too short.  It’s a relevant and essential topic.  Stewardship is so basic to what we believe as Christians that it seeps into every area of faith.  As Lutherans we believe God blesses us first with mercy and forgiveness, and we live out our faith in response to those gifts.  It’s the same with Stewardship—God gives us gifts and talents and everything we need, and we give them away faithfully and joyfully. 
Stewardship is also relevant because it addresses the power money has over us in our everyday lives.  We make choices about money each day.  We worry about it.  It makes us feel stupid.  We feel trapped by it.  We enjoy it. 
The church has something very important to say about money.  As a theologian, I have something important to say about money.  If the church doesn’t talk about money, we’re missing a huge part of people’s lives.  There is a strong relationship between our faith and our finances and we need to discuss it.
So often we like to think of money itself as sinful.  Rather, money is neutral.  It’s simply a tool.  What we do with it reflects the state of our hearts.  We can allow it to have power over us, or we can use it to make a difference in the world and give us great joy.
Today’s Stewardship theme is tithing.  Here’s what I think about it, and here’s how I use the concept in my own life.
Tithing hasn’t always been easy for me.  When my husband and I began our first calls in small rural congregations, we had a lot of student debt that challenged and still challenges us in our ability to give.  For a long time I felt extraordinarily guilty about not being able to tithe.  My giving wasn’t joyful because I always felt badly that it wasn’t up to a tithe.  That magic 10% number haunted me.  It didn’t allow me to enjoy what I was giving. Yet we move closer and closer to our goals every year (even exceeding some), and we’ve found that the more we give, the more we want to give.  But we’ve forgotten about tithing.  Once we all reach that 10% number, why stop?
I know what the struggle to tithe involves.  I don’t think the concept of tithing is meant to guilt and shame us.  It’s an Old Testament concept—we heard it in our text from Malachi today.  Jesus barely talked about tithing, and it was only in warnings about religious hypocrisy—don’t claim you tithe just to impress others.  Tithing hasn’t always been the way the church has raised funds.  It’s actually a more modern concept from the past 100 years or so.
Here’s what I think about it:  It’s a good guideline.  It’s a great goal.  But it’s not meant to shame you.  It’s not an obligation.  And it’s not a graduation once you get there.  For God isn’t Lord over just 10% of our belongings.  God is Lord over all, including the other 90%.
I like the idea of a tithing as a spiritual discipline.  It’s something we practice doing—and it’s not always easy.  Tithing is meant to be inspiring, not shaming.  It’s meant to be exciting, not a heavy burden.  It’s meant to be a source of joy and not guilt.  It’s meant to free you, not entrap you in impossible expectations.  Give what you can, and pray that God will allow you to give more and more as you grow in this part of being a Christian.  Rejoice in what you can give, for God will use your gifts.  Our reading from Malachi says, “God will open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”  God calls us to tithe, but I believe God will use whatever we give as a blessing to others and the world.
Of course, I think Christ the King is a worthy cause.  I believe in what we do here, or I wouldn’t be giving my career to the mission of this congregation.  I’ve seen lives changed by what we do.  Our mission is not to stabilize the budget, although we are responsible to keep it balanced.  Our mission is to make a difference, to eliminate suffering, to empower and heal people and families, to build relationships, and to spread the gospel.  Don’t give to the budget.  Our budget is a tool to foster our mission.  Give to the budget that allows us to do our mission.  Give to help us connect, and teach, and keep.
Give so we have a warm and welcoming building where people can come to have their children baptized, watch them get married, and bury their loved ones.
Give so kids have a safe place to come with people who care about them as they learn about what God means in their lives—and that they are important and valued children of God.  We make it a priority to have a Youth and Education Ministries Director.  Give so she can continue to empower the congregation to grow in its youth and education ministries.
Give so our musicians can continue to bless our worship with wonderful music.
Give so our outreach ministries can continue.  As a congregation, we tithe 10% of the money we take in each year.  As a congregation, we experience the freedom and joy of knowing God’s blessings aren’t something we need to keep all for ourselves.
I believe in what Christ the King does. There are countless other ways Christ the King lives out its mission.  I also believe in your generosity.  If you want to increase the mission of this church, please consider increasing your gifts—even by a little bit.
And don’t only give to the church.  Give to whatever makes your heart burn and ignites your passions.  Stewardship isn’t just about giving to the church.  It’s a way of life!  Stewardship is about living generous lives that know freedom and joy.  What are you passionate about?  Is money holding you back from following your dreams?  Trust in God and take the leap!
May we all continue to grow into the freedom found in living generously.  May we hear God’s call to live with open hands.  One way to really make your faith feel real is to give—give what you can, and ask God to inspire and challenge you in your future giving. 
Amen.
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