It Blows My Mind!
I would like to begin the sermon
for today with two stories. The
first is a bad news story and the second is a good news story.
First is the bad news story. Recently, I was talking to a
young man who is not so young anymore;
he fought in Viet Nam. He
is a Christian and a member of another neighboring Lutheran church,
but he grew up in this congregation, a young man known to some of
you. He was involved in the ugliest parts of the war in Viet Nam.
He was in the worst kind of face to face combat, and the
word, awful, does not begin to describe what this young man did and
had to do when fighting the war in Nam.
When he finally did come off the battlefield or out of the
jungles, he went back to his barracks to discover that he received a
letter from his church (not ours).
The letter was the financial quarterly statement from his
congregation that had been forwarded to him.
He had given nothing to the church, not a dime, and the
letter implied that he should be sending the church his offerings.
Meanwhile, out in the jungle, many of his buddies were being killed,
and as each young man was killed, his GI friends took all of their
money, gathered it together, and sent it back to the dead
soldier’s family. These
soldiers were giving away every dime that they had to the families
of their dead buddies. Now, needless to say, this young man did not
have real positive feelings towards God or the church during this
time in his young life. In
fact, his feelings were rage and fury, and he still struggles to
overcome the furious rages in his midnight dreams.
For me, this story
symbolizes the immorality and insensitivity of the church concerning
money. It symbolizes
the immorality of the church when pastors and leaders abscord with
the church’s money; but
much more importantly, it also symbolizes the insensitivity of the
church that makes people feel guilty for not giving more money. For example in the newspaper the other day, an elderly woman
was caught shoplifting for food, but the church will send her a
letter which says, ‘Old lady, why aren’t you giving more
dollars.” Or a single mother in our church does not have enough
money to buy shoes for his kids;
she has been feeding them Top Raman for food and doesn’t
have enough to pay the food bills and doesn’t want to use the food
bank because to do so would crush her dignity, and then she comes to
church and hears a sermon with the strong message:
give more money to the church, and she feels enormously
guilty. Or a person is
married to a spouse who is not a church member and wouldn’t be
caught dead giving an offering to the church.
The faithful spouse who comes here all the time arrives on
the third Sunday of November and hears a sermon with a not so subtle
message to give more money to the church, but by doing so, the
marriage will be further upset.
And so I appreciate the story of the young soldier from Viet
Nam because he symbolizes the immorality and insensitivity of the
church when it causes guilt in people for not giving to charity. The
church often causes guilt in people who are barely surviving and
keeping their heads above water.
To such people, the church needs to get down on our knees and
say: “Forgive us.”
So, that is the bad news story.
Now, I would like
to share with you a good news story or stories.
I called Lutheran World Relief the other day, and talked to
one of their top administrators.
The suffering in Cambodia has been in all of our newspapers
recently, and I asked him what we Christians were doing in Cambodia.
He told me that we are doing plenty; that OXFAM is the
primary relief agency of the world and they have been working in
Cambodia for a long time; they have a history of good work there.
All the relief agencies funnel their money through Oxfam into
Cambodia. These are
relief agencies such as Red Cross, UNICEF, Catholic Charities,
Lutheran World Federation from Geneva, Lutheran World Relief from
America, American Friends, Church World Service.
Our offerings for Cambodia go to Lutheran World Relief to
Oxfam to Cambodia. That’s
the way the system works. It
works sensibly, with fabulous partners who are already working in
that part of the world. Secondly, Dr. Bill Foege, a Lutheran physician and graduate
of Pacific Lutheran University, is head of the Center for Disease
Control in Atlanta, and he was in that part of Asia recently and he
is helping to co-ordinate medical supplies for that region.
Third, there was a recent meeting in the White House about
Cambodia, and all the representatives of the primary agencies were
there. They were
organizing a concerted effort to feed, house, give medicines, job
training for the people of Cambodia. All the agencies that I
previously mentioned were there. To me, this was symbolic of the church of Jesus Christ at its
very best, symbolic of the church when we understand that we are to
be the hands and heart of Christ.
This is symbolic of the great numbers of our congregation who
give offerings excessively and generously to the work of Christ in
the whole world.
So we have two
stories: We have a bad
news story about this young friend in Viet Nam, and we have a good
news story about the church at its very best in what we are doing in
Years ago, I was
taught at the seminary that a sermon is supposed to have an
introduction (which you just received) and then three points,
in the classic style of Aristotle.
I would now like to make six points about stewardship.
These six statements are based on the Bible’s teachings
about money and my own experience of wisdom that I have learned from
you during the years.
First, Christ was
never cheap. Being a Christian is never cheap. The cross is never cheap.
All the stories in the Bible about conversion and
discipleship call for total commitment.
Christ asks to rule every part of your life and mine:
our hearts, our hands, our minds, our mouths, our feet, our
everything, including our pocketbooks. The call of discipleship is
for total commitment, not selective commitments.
It is not “I’ll select the cheap part to give to you,
Lord.” Christ wants to rule our hearts that control the pocketbook
and how we spend money. The key is ruling the heart; and the heart has a direct
connection to the pocketbook; a direct link.
Christ rules hearts of people like us.
Christ is never cheap and true love is never cheap.
False love is cheap, most of the time.
Cheap loves looks like God’s love on the outside but never
Second, the Bible
asks for at least a tithe to be given in offering to God. Now, I
especially want to talk to you confirmation students who are taking
notes on the sermon. The
word, tithe, is spelled, T I T H E and that means 10%.
I want that in your sermon notes.
In case you don’t know it or your parents haven’t talked
with you about it, Christ wants you to give at least 10% of your
allowance or your income to Christ’s work in the world.
So if your income is $5.00 a week, that means a Christian is
to give at least fifty cents. If you make $10 from allowance and/or
babysitting, that means we give one dollar in the offering plate of
our choice. This tithe
comes right off the top. It
is the first thing you do. Out
of thanksgiving to God for life, you happily and joyfully give the
first portion and the best portion to God. You keep the 90% to use
in ways you see fit. Now,
I want you confirmands to understand this; but more importantly, I
want you to do this. But
more important than I wanting you to do this, God
wants you to do this. That’s
what God is saying to you in the Bible. It is very serious to develop good habits early in life, and
those good habits of childhood and youth may be with you throughout
your whole life. It is
harder to develop good habits in adulthood, as many of us realize.
God in the Bible asks us to tithe.
Third, a tithe is
never the goal of Christian giving; the tithe is the starting point.
A person never strives to give a tithe, 10%, and then say to
yourself, “Oh, I have arrived, I have given 10%, I am a better
giver than you.” It
is never a goal to tithe and then pat yourself on the back for
arriving at your goal. Nowhere in the Bible does a person ever give less than a
tithe. Not once.
fact, if you can find one place in the Bible where a person gives
less than a tithe, I’ll give you a hundred dollars, a hundred
dollar bill. But
don’t worry, I won’t have any takers.
The disciples gave all that they had.
The widow in the temple gave her last two pennies, again, all
that she had. Zaccheus
gave 50% of what he had to the poor. The Gospel of Luke invites us
to sell all we have and give it to the poor. The goal of Christian giving is to give everything.
The starting point, the first step on the ladder, the first
rung, is a tithe. That
is where it begins. By
the way, taxes were much higher in the Roman Empire than they are in
our American Empire. Also,
the Apostle Paul told the first Christians that they were free from
the tithe; that the disciples didn’t have to give 10%; but Paul
never scaled anything down. And
Jesus didn’t scale anything down.
I can’t imagine the first disciples saying, “Well, I
don’t have to tithe. What a relief. Guess I will give 2%.”
No. When the
disciples were freed from the Jewish law of the tithe,
that meant they were free to give more. You are free to give
sacrificially, to give all that you have.
The point is: the first step on the ladder of giving is a tithe; it is the
starting point. O yes,
I remember where in previous sermons that I encouraged Christians to
start where they were and increase their giving by 1% a year until
they pass the 10% mark. That
still makes sense in our American culture. But the first step in the
ladder of Biblical giving is 10%.
“Bring the full tithes into my house, says the Lord,
that I may abundantly bless you,” says God in the book of Malachi.
rarely, if ever, have I heard a tither complain about the
lack of money to spend. People
who tithe rarely complain about not having enough cash around.
Sometimes these people are rich; more often, they are poor;
and sometimes they are middle-income; but regardless of income, they
tithe to the Lord right off the top, their first and best gift, not
the leftovers after all the bills have been paid.
What is interesting to me is that the people who complain the
most about the shortage of money usually give the least to charity.
It always amazes me that those who tithe rarely complain
about money and they always seem to have enough money to do what
they need to do. Those
who complain the most, seem to give the least.
I truly believe that God cares for us in all our needs.
in comparison, lower-income Christians do not seem to resist
tithing as much as higher-income Christians.
Higher income Christians seem to have a greater resistance to
tithing. I worked in
another parish one time, and they had so many doctors and dentists
that I could have a dentist for each tooth in my body.
These were great people, my dearest friends, but did they
fight the concept of a tithe. They
couldn’t afford to tithe, so they thought. Meanwhile, in a
neighboring Lutheran church in that town, with mill workers,
construction workers, secretaries, teachers, and other people with
moderate incomes, their congregational giving was just as good as
the rich church down the street. This was very revealing, and
this is often true. Why
is it that the more money your make, the more money you need to
spend on yourself? Why
What would happen if most of our households tithed?
It blows your mind. The
possibility truly blows your mind. What if we had an extra $300,000
to give away? I
telephoned church headquarters and found out that we could sponsor
ten missionaries a year. Ten missionaries?
It blows your mind. I
called the person in charge of American missions and the told me we
could buy a start for a new congregation, the land, the building, It
blows my mind. We could take the 150 women in our congregation who
are divorced, single, with kids, and are barely keeping above the
poverty line, and we could give each of them $2000 a year. It blows my mind, how much it would help them.
I called a professor friend of mine at the University of
Washington, and he made a quick calculation of what to buy with
$300,000 and he said we
could feed 7500 people daily for one year.
That blows my mind. He
reminded me of the story from Jesus about the boy with two fish and
five loaves of bread. The
boy gave them to Jesus, and before you knew it, there was enough
bread and fish for 5000 people.
Some say that the real miracle of this story was that Jesus
got everyone to share, and when everyone shared significantly,
everyone ate, and there was food left over for tomorrow.
It is called the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.
But this professor said that our congregation could feed 7500
people a day, for 365
days. Now, I am telling
you, that blows my mind. Our
miracle would exceed the famous miracle of the feeding of the five
thousand. If that
happened, that would be a true miracle and everyone would study us
to find out what happened. What
happened on that day and hillside in Palestine? Simply, the people
shared what they had, and it became the miracle of the feeding of
the 5000. If we shared
what we had, we would experience the miracle of the feeding of the
7500…every day. It blows your
mind. But this
professor friend from the University had an even better idea, so he
said. It was to buy land and equipment for water and farm equipment,
so the families would not receive a handout of food, but be able to
grow the food. He said
he would get back to me on the telephone how many families we could
sponsor so they could get
their own land, water and equipment.
It blows my mind.
So, what do you
want to do when we all tithe? Sponsor
ten missionaries? Build a new church here in America?
Support 150 single families in our parish? Feed 7500 people a
day for a year? Buy
land, water and farming equipment so they can grow the food for
themselves? And of
course, you have dreams and visions to consider as well. It just
blows my mind thinking about the possibility.
Jesus worked a miracle when he got the people to share.
Can similar miracles happen today?
In you? In us?