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Edward F. Markquart

Tithing; A Dialogue Sermon

Stewardship Sunday     Malachi 3:6-12

John  Once a year we talk with you about money here at Grace Lutheran.  If you are a visitor to Grace Lutheran Church today for the first time, don’t go home thinking that’s all we talk about is money here at Grace.  You have just happened to come on Stewardship Sunday, always the third Sunday of November.  Today, in our dialogue sermon, we especially want to talk about tithing. 

Ed  The Bible, in Malachi 6:10 says,  “Bring the full tithes into my house.”  John, what is a tithe?

John  A tithe is 10%.  It is the giving back to God 10% of what God has given us. In the Old Testament, the people gave 10% of their food and grain as a thank offering to God.  10% or a tithe was a part of Jewish life.

Ed  Tithing is a form of proportionate giving.  We give a percentage, a proportion.  We may begin at 2%, 3%, 4%, 5% as a thank offering to God, and then increase our percentage, perhaps each year.  The goal of proportionate giving is to give a tithe, ten percent, sometimes more than 10%.

John  Ed, what has affected you personally in your giving and tithing?

Ed  Many things, including Pastor Norm Orth.  Norm Orth, more than almost anyone, has taught us pastors about giving.  Norm tells a story about the Norwegians in North Dakota who “gave all they can, which was about two percent” and the poorer Latinos in Texas who believed that they needed to tithe and they gave ten percent, not two percent.  Norm, comparing the 2% North Dakota Norwegians and the 10% Latino Texans then went on to say, “My wife, Mazie and I don’t give all we can, and we still give 20% of our income away as our offering.”  Well, I was bothered about this; that Norm would tell his congregation how much he and Mazie gave to charity, and so I called him up and asked him about it.  Norm said:  “Ed, you need to tell the congregation the truth about your financial giving patterns.  Your life is an example in many areas, including stewardship, so you need to be open and honest with what you give.”  I gulped and felt awkward about doing this.  And so for the first time in my life, I am going to be open as possible about our financial giving and tell you of Jan’s and my giving patterns. …  For many years, since after seminary, we have given ten percent and then fifteen percent of our gross income to charity.  This has been more difficult for us in the college years, when we have the higher expenses of college.  Even with an income and a half, my wife working part time as a teacher, we started to reduce our giving to ten percent of gross income.  Right now, we are at about twelve percent, and like Norm and Mazie Orth, we don’t give all we can.  How about you, John?

John  My story has to do with internship, while at the seminary. Our congregation published a list of all the givers, by name, and we were in the top ten percent of givers in that congregation…while we were on a seminary stipend, not much money at all. I couldn’t believe it. I was surprised that we could give so little and still be in the top ten percent.  Since that time, we are still tithers, and this is something we have wanted to do.  It is not that we had to, but that we wanted to.

Ed  Yes, that is the same for Jan and me.  This is something we want to do.  And this was the same for the twenty people that we talked to in the parish who are tithers.  As you know, in preparation for the sermon for today, we publicly asked for tithers to privately talk with us.  John and I had a set of questions for discussion with our tithers.  In these twenty conversations, every single one of them wanted to give.  None of them gave grudgingly.

John  Speaking of those phone calls, let me say that not everyone who is a tither talked with us.  Also, we didn’t get a chance to talk with everyone who told us they were a tither; some of you were not home when we tried to talk.  This sermon is essentially a report of those telephone conversations about tithing, how tithing looks in the real world of real people, at this time in history.  The names and identities of all people will be kept private.

Ed  What were some of the meaningful parts of those conversations for you?  For you, what were the most important stories?

John  We heard great stories. One story I immediately think of is Jerry’s story.  He started tithing when he was in college.  He said in his own words, “Ten percent of zero is zero.  I tithed and gave nothing.  Somewhere along the line, my father died, and we were left with no income, and a lady came over with a box of food from the congregation.  I’ll never forget that gift of food when it was most needed.  Then, miraculously, a distant relative of mine died and left us a few stocks, not much money, but enough for us to get by.  For me this was not a coincidence.  The Lord took care of us in difficult times and so we still tithe today.”

Ed  Yes, we both heard several stories that the Lord took care of us in difficult times.  That understanding became a theme from several people.  I heard a similar story from a tither that in 1953, they were a low-income family and they cut back on their tithe.  They were just too broke.  The next day, an insurance check arrived in the mail, and they experienced a blessing and felt that God took care of their needs in a special way.  So my story is like your story: God takes care of us in our difficult situations.

John  These first two stories reflect the fact that some people began tithing young.  They learned about Biblical truth and Biblical tithing as children.  So here is another question.  How do people teach their children to tithe?

Ed  This was important for me to hear;  that many tithers had learned Biblical tithing from their Christian parents.  Such parents taught primarily by example; they were tithers and they encouraged their children verbally to tithe and then taught them to give 10% of their allowance into the offering plate.

John  I  heard a story about a teenage girl who received a five dollar weekly allowance and she gave fifty cents every week to God’s work.  She was part of a youth group and several of her friends tithed and so she felt pressure to tithe also.

Ed  I have a story that is just the opposite.  I was teaching a class about world hunger to our students and asked that all students write down their weekly income on a piece of paper and also the amount they give to charity.  I asked them to do this privately, so that no one saw the paper before they folded it and passed it in to me.  I was shocked at how much money each kid had per week, and I was also shocked that almost no teenager was giving a tithe. In fact, they weren’t giving much away at all, but spending almost all of their money on themselves. What a selfish attitude:  to think that money is to be spent on yourself … So how do we teaching tithing to our children in our parish today?

John  Most of the tithers that I talked to said that they are teaching their children to give by modeling.  The children knew that their parents were tithing, and they talked about tithing and being generous givers with their children.  They talked with their little children about giving from allowances.  With older children, they talked about giving generously from their paycheck from the job. Their offering to God was their first check they wrote. It is important that we teach this to our children.

Ed  Yes, we must see that this is done, that we are teaching our confirmation students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades, and also our high school children. …  John, let’s change our focus, important as it may be.  What were some of the common characteristics that we found in this group of tithers that we telephoned?

John  First, there were no surprises.  These people were clearly dedicated to Jesus Christ; they had deep faith in Christ.  They were all active in the life of our church in many and various ways.  They were caring and loving people. If you want someone to care for another person in our parish, these are the people you call. 

Ed  Another quality of these people was the belief that all of their money belonged to God;  not just the 10%.  I recall an older woman in our parish who makes a lower income; she is not quite poor but above the poverty line.  She said, “With the little money I make, I always give a tithe.  I love doing it.  I wish I could give away more.”  So her feeling and the feeling of the other tithers was that all money came from God.

John  I talked with a young woman in her late twenties.  She said that she was just not making money for herself, but she was also making money to give away for the work of Christ.  She said, “That is one of the reasons I make money.”

Ed  A third characteristic of these tithers in our parish is the belief that they have been generously blessed by God.  It was deep within them, this feeling of God’s daily goodness.  One man expressed how God had blessed him royally with a good wife, and that God has been good to him in life and he assumed in death.  So he said, “Of course, I give thank offerings because my heart is so thankful.”

John  A fourth characteristic of these tithers is that they were very quiet about it.  They were humble people and didn’t want others to know who they were.  After you and I had asked for tithers to approach us about their tithing, not one of them called the church office; not one.  Instead, they found us out personally and directly.  They would even sneak up on us and slyly and whisper in our ear:  “I am a tither.  Call me.” 

Ed  That’s good.  I like that quietness about tithing, that humility.  John, what are some of the complications that these people mentioned about tithing?  What are some of the obstacles to tithing in our day and age?

John  There are sometimes what I call “spouse” complications such as when either husband or wife is not in favor of giving generously to charities. In one unusual situation, a man reported he had to wait for a divorce from a wife, and then he finally doubled his charitable giving.  His ex-wife was opposed to giving money away.  That is a more dramatic example of the simple truth:  the spouse may not willing to be a generous giver.

Ed  I liked the story that one spouse went and bought extra food for the food bank, and did this behind the back of their spouse.  This spouse couldn’t give money away, so the person gave food instead, to the food bank.  The unsuspecting spouse still doesn’t know about it.

John  You can see where the husband and wife could have a problem in giving, especially when a husband and wife consider their money as theirs and not his or hers.  There needs to be some kind of consensus and agreement when it comes to giving a percentage away.  Were there other complications?

Ed  Another complication for these tithers is the expense of college.  Children can become more expensive as they grow older and especially when they were attending college.  If you have a child in college, you may be short on money, and several of our tithers mentioned this and said that their giving increased after their kids finished college.

John  Another complication is a pre-tax gift or post-tax gift.  Tithers were asking a complicated question:  Do I tithe on income before taxes or after taxes?  The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically what the Jews and early Christians did about this issue.  We know the taxes were high during the Roman empire.  As for my wife and I, we tithe off the top, before taxes.  But the important thing is not to make another law.  Tithing needs to be a decision of the heart, and not some adherence to a law.

Ed  Sin is a fourth complication.  The shape of sin varies for each one of us, but we all know that it is expensive to live a middle class  life.  Our monthly expenses for food, housing, heat, cars, gasoline, recreation, travel, taxes and others have a way of getting in the way of tithing.  In fact, I think it is the power of sin in our lives that primarily interferes with most people becoming tithers.

John  It is the power of sin in our lives that makes us look at the tithe in terms of what we might have to give up rather than how much good we can do in the world by giving to the work of Christ.

Ed  Come to think of it, another characteristic of his group is that that never missed the money that they gave away. That is what they all said about themselves.  “We never missed the money because we never thought it was ours.”    John, would you tell that grain elevator story?

John  Sure…(John has lost the story of the grain elevator. It was a good story though.)

Ed  God, in the Bible, says:  Bring the full tithes into my house, so that I can continue my work in the world.  I promise you:  I will bless you and take care of you in all your needs.  This is the word of the Lord.

Both.  Amen.

(On every Stewardship Sunday, we have a testimony at our church, as do so many congregations. I always is powerful when someone tells their personal story of giving one or two percent and then making a decision to increase that percentage each year. The personal story as to how such a person arrived at their conclusions is most helpful and transforming for the listeners.

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