“Called to be the Church – Part Two”
September 17, 2017 – 15th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A
I want to introduce you to Debbie. I was Debbie’s Spiritual Director approximately 25 years ago. She was a devout Mennonite who was widowed about 10 years previously. Debbie had the practice of matching dollar for dollar the money spent on gifts for her children and grandchildren with donations to her church. If she bought a sweater for $30 she also gave $30 to her church, over her ongoing tithe. Needless-to-say, Debbie was a generous giver. However, you need to know, Debbie had only a meagre pension to live on.
We heard Sheila read one of the more challenging set of scripture texts. We heard about a widow who had limited resources who placed 2 small copper coins into the treasury of the synagogue. Although the value of the 2 coins is minimal, the extravagance of the gesture is unmistakable. The woman gave all the money she had, while the others gave their loose change. There is a certain recklessness about this act. The woman could have held back one of the coins. But, she did not. She gave everything she had. What about you and me? Do we hold back or do we give our all? Does generosity mark us?
The loose change approach to church giving is putting $2 or $5 in the offering plate without much thought of how it impacts our daily life. Many of us spend more at Tim Hortons or Starbucks each week than we give to the church. In other words, we want Tim Hortons or Starbucks to stay open more than we want Penticton United Church to carry out its important ministry.
When eating out at a restaurant, at the end of the meal we pay for it and likely add on a 15% tip acknowledging good service. Seldom would we leave a restaurant without giving the added 15% gratuity. I find it interesting that we are generally more stingy when it comes to our offering to the church.
It seems to me that, when it comes to our approach to our offerings that we give to the church, there are two ways. One is intentionally planned and the other is offering the loose change. If you give intentionally, you make a decision what the church is worth to you and what you can afford. For some folk, the biblical injunction of tithing is taken seriously and they give a fixed percentage of their resources. A tithe literally means 1/10. Some of us cannot give 10%, but can give 3%, or 5%, or 7%, of their resources. Many of us set aside the money for housing, food, and the church as the first expenses of each month. All other expenses come afterwards. However, with changing priorities and lifestyles, I note that more and more people pay all other expenses and whatever is left over goes to the church.
I must say, ever since I was confirmed as a teenager, I have tithed. I have never gone hungry or could not pay my rent. It is true, some months money was very skimpy, but I persisted in tithing. While I was a student, there were a number of times that I worried how I was going to pay my bills, but always money come through in the form of gifts, bursaries or scholarships. Through it all, I tithed. I have been doing that for almost 50 years. The chart that is in today’s order of service might be a helpful resource for you if you want to consider tithing.
Scripture reminds us “where your wealth is, there your heart will be also.” Knowing full well that we humans are so tempted to accumulate items that can be destroyed or stolen, Jesus guides us to invest in that which feeds the soul. “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” directs Jesus. What are those treasures in heaven? This is a Jewish concept which comes from prayer, tithing, and spiritual disciplines such as meditation or fasting. In Jewish literature, the good deeds of a religious person are often described as treasurers stored in heaven.
Biblical scholars suggest that this passage found in the Gospel of Matthew may originally have been a piece of secular wisdom. “A person’s real interests are where their investments are.” In other words, if you want someone interested in something, get them to put money into it. In this particular context, it could mean, “If you act in this way, your whole inner disposition will increasingly be turned in the right direction.
On this 2nd week of our preaching series on “Called to be the Church, We Sing Thanksgiving” we are confronted in a direct way with 2 of Jesus’ directives concerning money. But we are left with the question, “why should we give to the church? And more specifically, why should we give to Penticton United Church? Last week I identified the amazing variety of programs and activities that go on inside the walls of this church. I listed the user groups who value and appreciate the warm welcome they receive when they meet in our building. Quite simply, we give so the programs, activities and services can continue. We give because we believe that baptisms and confirmations like Mike’s should happen. We give because we believe that Cory and Joseph, who are being married in our sanctuary over the Thanksgiving weekend, and other couples, should be able to use our beautiful sanctuary for their wedding. We give because we want to ensure that folk who are ill are visited. We give because we know that the varied and diverse ministry tasks need staff to ensure they are well administered.
Perhaps you are wondering why I am doing this preaching series and why we are engaging in an informational series of inserts in our order of service for 7 weeks. As you look at the announcement indicating our financial picture you notice that we are in a significant financial deficit. So, your council is hoping that you might be able to help reduce that serious deficit. Also, it has been 5 ½ years since we have done a serious stewardship campaign. It is past time to remind ourselves that money is not a 4 letter word.
I believe that Penticton United Church has a long, important ministry. If we all are committed to that vision, it will happen. Next year we will celebrate our 90th anniversary. We have many more years of ministry before us. Together, we will make that happen. May that be so. Amen.