readings for today present a consistent theme: The Lord repays those
who observe the commandments! But the message is clear for people
who select out the Old Testament verse “and he will give back
to you sevenfold” as some sort of calculation for gain. The
next verse says, “But offer not bribes, these he does not
accept!” My reflection focuses on how we see evidence that
those who give up anything to follow Jesus will receive a hundred
times more than they gave up.
In my witness to the faith, I am often asked by persons who do not
believe in the saving power of God, “why do you want to join
a church that constantly makes demands on your time and money?”
They think there must be empirical evidence of practical benefits.
They don’t want to go to church because they don’t want
to give money or be held accountable for their lifestyles by people
they consider to be less than perfect themselves. I must admit that
the answers to such questions are difficult to summarize in the
short time most people give you for your response, especially when
they really don’t want to hear the answer anyway. But the
lessons for today are helpful here.
In response to unbelievers, I always admit that I don’t give
that much money to the church. I am not a 10% tither. Not very many
people are. And while the Bible encourages sacrifices of money,
that is not what God expects from us. Rather, I think it is important
to reflect on how God blesses us in our efforts to praise God with
our lives in any way that we can. I like the verse in Sir 35 that
says “appear not before the Lord empty-handed.” It is
not what we give, but the spirit in which we do it that matters
to God. We can’t trust in the sacrifice of giving tithes expecting
to be rewarded for points we score; that’s a bribe and God
will not accept it. What God does accept is a generous spirit that
makes joyful and cheerful contributions to the glory of God.
That’s the message, I think, that each church should convey
to the surrounding community. People are more likely to be attracted
to worship and fellowship if we value and cultivate generous spirits
than if we demand sacrifices. I am reminded of what my pastor said
when I joined my current congregation. I was apologetic when I told
him that I really didn’t have much time to serve on committees
or sing in the choir. I also confessed that I do not give 10% of
my income to the church. I admit, it sounded a lot like I thought
I had to “bribe” him to get in. To my surprise, he said,
“We have a lot of very generous people in this congregation.
We don’t really need more money or more people to serve on
committees. What we really need are more people to just live good
lives and who will come to church on Sunday to offer praise as their
sacrifice to God.”
So that is what I do and God repays me by showing me the saving
power of God. And while that doesn’t translate to winning
lottery tickets, it does mean spiritual enrichment. The more God
shows me God’s saving power, the more I want to participate
in the generous spirit that is so evident in my congregation. I
am growing in my giving, and I am serving on the worship and education
committees. But I am never asked for more, only thanked for what
I give. Here is a powerful example. This week the congregation worship
and education leaders were all invited to a catered lasagna supper
in the fellowship hall in appreciation for our offerings of our
gifts. After dessert, the pastor cheerfully informed the gathering
of the faithful of the progress of the renovation projects on our
100 year old church. Since we are the leaders, he wanted us to have
information to share when other people ask us what is going on.
They’ve gone over the one million dollar approved budget,
he reported. But he didn’t ask us for more money. He presented
the entire matter as evidence of the ongoing covenant our congregation
has with God. He reviewed the maintenance history of the church
and gratefully concluded that because the members have been so generous
in the past, everything has lasted way longer than could be expected.
And due to the generosity of the current membership, the renovations
underway should serve the church well for another 50-100 years.
We now all have the facts. We can share them with others.
There won’t be a sermon about tithing. But the money will
come in. Telling stories like this is the best way I can think of
to witness to unbelievers about the saving power of God. I let them
wonder about whether I sent in a check or not.