Gen 14:17-24, Leviticus 27:32-33, Matt 23:23-24, 2 Cor 9:5-8
Welcome to Consecration Weekend/Sunday, which is also sometimes called Stewardship Weekend/Sunday! This is the day we talk about what it means to be stewards of all that God gives us. First of all, what is stewardship…? It’s simply: the use and care of God’s gifts to us. We sometimes use the three T’s to describe stewardship: time, talents, and treasure. Stewardship also includes our care of God’s creation.
So since all that we are and all that we have are gifts from God, stewardship also includes how Christians use their money. It has been said that if you want to know what your priorities truly are—just take a look at your bank account, and what you spend money on. That’s true of us as followers of Jesus, as well. What we use our money on is directly proportional to what our priorities are.
A few summers ago, at the last congregation I served down in Frewsburg, I did a sermon series called “God Questions.” Worship attenders there anonymously submitted questions about faith and God, and four of those questions were addressed in sermons during the month of August.
Well, one of those questions was “What Does God say about Tithing?” Which totally surprised me, and also intrigued me. Because although we hesitate to talk about money, it’s clear that we also have questions about it—especially, how our money is connected to our Christian faith.
So to start off, what is tithing…? Yeah, it’s giving 10% of your income. It’s what most people say we should strive for—some would even say we should strive to give offerings above and beyond tithing.
The thing is, talking about this can be stress-inducing because there are all these emotions attached to money, right? I want everyone to take a deep breath, let it out. This, I hope, will be a stress-free time to talk about tithing and giving, in a way that won’t get your blood pressure rising.
And the way I’m actually going to start is talking about it is how I first learned about tithing in a church setting.
Picture this. It’s 8 years ago. I am a seminary student, and I go to my first day for field education. This is where myself and my fellow seminarians training to be pastors are each assigned to a congregation in Philadelphia area, and there we worked 8-10 hours a week for no pay, learning how to teach, lead worship, preach, and do other pastorly things.
So I go to my first Sunday in the church I was assigned to—you may remember me talking about Mediator Lutheran Church in the inner city of Philadelphia. It is an African-American Lutheran Congregation. And because of this, although they are Lutheran, their worship service is a just a tad different than ours.
And one of the differences really stood out to me. Before taking the offering, the pastor invited the congregation to join together in saying the Tithing Litany found in their bulletin. A WHAT??? I thought. How can they do that?? How can they be so bold as to talk about their worship attenders tithing?? I had heard the word, sure, but it was kind of a dirty word in most circles I was in. Don’t talk about it at church—it will scare people away. You know what I’m talking about!
Yet here was Mediator Lutheran Church, in a very poor neighborhood, having everyone say this litany, using Bible passages about tithing and giving. And sure enough, every week before the offering, they would say this litany together, and you know what?? People were EXCITED about this litany and about giving money. People would say it with energy, especially at the end—they would shout “GOD LOVES A CHEERFUL GIVER!” And they would happily put their money in the plates when the ushers brought them around.
I was dumbfounded. Never had I seen ANYONE be so obviously excited about giving money, especially in church! Usually it’s seen as a kind of necessary evil. Yet, these people, who most of them had very little to give, were thrilled. What made such a difference at Mediator, that people were excited to give, as opposed to every other church I had ever been to?
As I worked there over the year, I found out what the difference was. Although these were people struggling to make ends meet, many had very difficult family situations, and many were dealing with issues we can only imagine, they were very clear on one thing in their lives.
Everything good given to them was from God.
That meant any income they had, anything good happening to their family, anything given them as a surprise gift—that was God supplying them with what they needed. It was God providing for them. I’d heard a few people maybe say that in passing before, but the people at Mediator talked about it all the time.
And they ACTED like it. They were so excited to say the Tithing Litany (which you may have noticed is in your bulletin) and the people at Mediator were excited to give on Sunday because it meant they were able to give back to God what God had first given them. It was a tangible way for them to say thank you to God for all God had provided them. And it blew me away.
The people at Mediator completely changed how I looked at giving. It wasn’t about guilting me into giving money to the church. It’s wasn’t about rules and regulations regarding what I could or couldn’t do with my money.
It was about truly being thankful to God and giving God back just a percentage of what God provides us with every day. That’s what giving is about.
So let’s look at some Bible passages having to do with tithing and giving, and I think we will see that the people at Mediator were on to something quite Biblical. There are many more passages having to do with tithing and giving in the Bible, of course. But we will look at four today. We read three of them as the readings for today earlier in the service.
So we’ll start with the story we read first from Genesis 14. We hear about Abram meeting up with Melchizedek, the high priest. They break bread and drink wine together, and then Abram offers one-tenth of everything gained in battle. The first recorded tithe in the Bible.
But the story continues past that. The king of Sodom argues with Abram about what he should take—but Abram chooses to take only that which was agreed upon. His tithing, then, doesn’t just happen in a bubble. It’s part of his wider view on giving and receiving.
Tithing and giving for us, also, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s part of our wider view on giving and receiving, just like Abram. If all that we have comes from God, we naturally want to thank God for what God has given us—and giving and tithing is one of those ways.
And in Leviticus 27:32-33, we see that tithing has become the norm for the Israelites. “32 All tithes of herd and flock, every tenth one that passes under the shepherd’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord. 33 Let no one inquire whether it is good or bad, or make substitution for it; if one makes substitution for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy and cannot be redeemed.”
It was expected to give 10% of what you had to God, no questions asked. If we were to try to answer that question submitted, “What Does God say About Tithing?” using just the Old Testament, the simple answer would be “Do it.”
In the New Testament, however, what is BEHIND tithing and giving is discussed. Let’s look at Matthew 23:23-24 for example. Jesus says: 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
Harsh words from Jesus! What is Jesus saying to the Pharisees….? Basically, they tithe like they are supposed to, but they don’t do the other things that are incredibly important—working for justice, showing people mercy, sharing their faith.
So tithing isn’t the only thing we do to serve and thank God. It’s not like “oh, I gave my 10 percent, that’s the most important thing, now I’m good.” Tithing is just part of the many things we are called to do as Christians—work for justice in our world, be a merciful presence to others, and share our faith in Jesus Christ. Our intention behind giving is not just something we should do—rather, it’s part of all the things we do as Christians.
The last Bible text we are going to look at today is also from the New Testament—2 Corinthians 9:5-8. Paul says: 5 “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”
This passage talks about the intention behind giving. Paul asks the people of the church in Corinth to gather up an offering for those Jesus followers outside of their community who are in need. He says that they should give as they feel moved, not hesitantly or by force, because “God loves a cheerful giver.” That line was Mediator’s favorite line to say in their Tithing Litany, and boy were they cheerful when giving!
So our giving, as we have said earlier, is not because we feel guilty, or because we have to. When we give to the Church and other causes, we give as the Spirit moves us to do so. We give because God first gives to us. Everything we have comes from God, and one of the ways we are able to show God our thanks is by giving back a percentage of what we have back to the Church and our community. The Bible suggests 10%, a tithe, but you can gradually work towards the tithe if you aren’t there yet. Many people start at 5% and work their way over time to 10%. That’s OK too. The 10% is helpful, because it’s good to have a goal to work towards.
And once you get to tithing, or if you are already tithing, that doesn’t mean it has to stop there! If you are moved to give for other specific things either in Church or in our community and world, on top of the tithe, go for it! God has no limit to what God gives us—and neither do we have a limit on what we can give back to God! Paul said in our 2 Cor reading: “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”
Because God gives us what we need, we are now able to share that with others. Did you know that Zion actually tithes what is received as well? 10% of what we receive in offerings goes to things like mission trips so people can go to Haiti & Belize, Lutheran Charities, Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center (LCLC), ELCA Disaster Relief, and other community needs as they come up. How cool is that—our own congregation tithes to thank God for all God gives us!
Before taking our offering today in just a few minutes, as we think about Consecration Sunday and the money resources God has given us, we will be saying the Tithing Litany that Mediator Lutheran Church in Philadelphia uses every Sunday before their offering. Let it be a reminder to us how God blesses us abundantly, and how we have the opportunity both in church and in our community to show God our thanks by giving back some of what God first gives us. God loves a cheerful giver! Amen.