Scripture Lesson: Micah 3:6-12
Sermon: "A Heart that Gives"
Mark Twain once said, "It's not the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that bother me...It's the parts I do understand." Sometimes there are issues in life and in faith that force us to dig deep, to get serious quick. Often they are hard to look at and even harder to speak of...and today we tackle one of those issues...the "T" Word
Tithing. Tithing is an Hebrew Scriptures teaching. The people were to give 10% of their income to God, care of the Temple. It was a mitzvot, a teaching, a command. It was an expectation of the people of God to give their money as a sign of love and obedience to the LORD.
Not only was it to be 10%, but it was to be the "first fruits." This statement comes from an ancient time when all economics were agrarian in nature. Nearly everyone's income came in some way from food production; thus, income was in fact farm produce and livestock. First fruits would be the first 10% out of your field, be it wheat or cattle or sheep. In Jesus' day, some even spoke of tithing from their spice gardens! God didn't just want any 10%, he wanted the first fruits. Why? From a spiritual perspective, it was a sign that the first thing we do is to worship and honor God. Secondly, it was practicle. You have 10% to give if it's the first thing you do. If you pay bills, expand your fields, and buy a brand new mule, you might only have 5% left. Offering God's tithe first was a sacrifice of putting God first.
And God makes a pretty big deal of this, too. In Micah, God says that not tithing is like cheating him, literally stealing from him. God not only wants to be firstly honored, the LORD demands it. Trust me, if God weren't so concerned about it, I would talk about. I don't like to be preaching about money...It's like walking through a minefield. But God makes a big deal out of it, and I think I'd be in the wrong if I didn't. In fact, Jesus spoke on money often. Of his 38 parables, 16 dealt with money. Of the 500 verses in the Bible on prayer and the 500 verses on faith, there are 2350 verses on money. The Bible talks about money alot. Why?
God knows who we are, and God knows how easy it is for possessions, things, and money to seep into our hearts and consume us. Too quickly they can become our "foundation" our "safety net" our gods. The LORD is jealous. Like a lover and a spouse, God will not share our love with another. The LORD is absolute about this that our love and devotion are God's...And I believe that the commandment to give money to God is a spiritual act of handing over potential idols to our Heavenly Father. We honor and worship God by saying that the most valuable things we have possess are God's, and that they mean nothing next to God's worth. In the end, the issue isn't about the money. It's about the heart.
[i sang Zacchaeus was a wee little man and invited the congregation to follow along]
The story of Zacchaeus is so much more fun when we sing that song, don't you think?
[I reiterated the Zacchaeus story]
Zacchaeus was hated. He was hated because he was a Tax Collector. Now this is beyond just being an IRS agent, you see. Tax Collectors in ancient Palestine under Rome were allowed to charge any tax amount they wished. Their only requirement was to bring in the state's allotment. So, often the tax collectors would add on to the already huge taxes, charging way too much, and pocketing the extra. There was little to no oversight, and if someone did not pay the amount the tax collector asked for, he had the power to send soldiers into a household and take whatever he wanted...including the family as slaves. And we think our tax system is bad!!!
Now add in that the tax collectors were working for an hated occupying force, the Romans. In bed with the enemy, these cheats, thieves, and traitors were hated and despised by the people. And that's exactly who Jesus calls down from the tree and in whose house eats dinner.
But, Zacchaeus doesn't remain the thief-traitor. In the presence of Jesus, his heart is transformed. He regrets his sin and offers his life to God. He does this by giving half of his wealth to the poor, and he wants to seek restitution by paying back four-fold everyone from whom he took too much. Unfortunately, the song ends too early in the story, for the best part comes at the end: Zacchaeus is a changed man with a changed heart. Once taking from the poor, now he gives to the poor. Zacchaeus has traded in its idol. His heart is now God's; and therefore, his wallet is now God's too. Jesus honors him with a blessing and naming: He is now a true Son of Abraham. A person of faith. A child of God. Beloved.
Two stories about people's giving. One in Micah and Zacchaeus. One story about God's people failing to give and honor God. Another about a heart transformed and given over to God, giving and loving.
Jesus said, "Wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Possessions show our values. Whatever we truly value, that is where our heart is. Whatever we save for, we value. Whatever we spend on, we value. And conversely, whatever we don't save or spend for, we don't value. A person's checkbook register can share a lot about what a person values, and so it also shares a lot about our faith, too. I can see by your faces that alot of you are thinking the same thing I thought when I first heard that: Ouch! At the end of the day, there are many excuses for giving or not giving, but it is really about our heart. If we truly value God, we will give to God.
Yesterday, I watched some football. How many watched footbally yesterday? Yeah, it's hard being a Purdue fan this year, and I've about given up...You want to hear why?
- Every time I go to a game, they want my money.
- The people at the stadium aren't always friendly. In fact, some are rude.
- The seats are crowded and uncomfortable...and way too hard!
- I don't agree with the coach, and he never does what I think he should do.
- A few of the games have gone into overtime...they just take too long. I'm late eating at the restaurant.
- The band plays music that I don't know.
- The games are always scheduled when I have something else going on...It's Saturday afternoon...couldn't they find a better time!?!
- When I was growing up, my mom and dad made me go to ballgames.
- And lastly, I've read a lot on sports and football, and I'm pretty sure I know more than the coaches do. I don't need to go to the games.
Yeah, you see where I'm going! How is it that we can sit through freezing weather to watch someone throw pigskin around with people puking all over our backs, but we can't make it to church!?! Or can't give!?! There are millions of excuses, but at the end of the day it boils down to whether or not our hearts are in it. If you love Purdue football, you'll watch it. If you love God, you'll give. It's all about the heart.
It's funny how our attitudes and dispositions change when we speak of money...take for example what happened this last week at our office...There was a man from Texas who called at the church and asked if he could speak to the Head Hog at the Trough. Brenda said, "Who?" "The Head Hog," he replied. Brenda paused composing herself, and said, "Sir if you mean Pastor Mark, you will have to treat him with a bit more respect. Please call him Pastor, but please don't call him the Head Hog at the Trough." The man looked down, and said, "Sorry, but I was stopping by to drop off $10,000 to donate to the church. Just then I walked in the door, and I heard Brenda say, "Hold on a second, I think the big pig just walked in the door."
I'm kidding, that didn't happen, but we laugh because there rings some truth for all of us in that story. People have strong, deep rooted emotions and feelings when it comes to money and possessions...Funny how that is...Perhaps there is something to that...Like money is more important to us than we'd like to admit...even to ourselves.
God wants to be first in our hearts. Period. God wants to have our hearts completely. That's why we give. God wants us to give because it is symbolic, yet very real statement of our allegiance and devotion to God. It also is a way to say thank you for the many material blessings that God has given us.
One of the reasons we give to the church is that together as the Community of Faith we can pool our resources and do more, together. We pool our money to do Mountain TOP, give out milk vouchers locally, we support the YMCA, we support Steve Newnum a Brazilian missionary. We also give to support those who can't pay their heating and energy bills. Together, our money that we give to God, out of our love for God, goes to help our neighbor, too. By giving we love God and neighbor.
So, if God is calling us to tithe, what's our plan of action? Most people can't jump from not giving or giving 1-2% of income right to the entire 10%. So what do we do?
- Our aim is the Tithe (as individuals and as the church). The tithe is the Biblical starting point for giving. As individuals we aim to give 10% of our income, and as a church we give 10% of our income to help support the greater United Methodist Church.
- The 1% Increase Plan - If you can't jump right into tithing, start making a 1% of income increase in giving each year. Most people can make this jump fairly easily, and over time you will get to your goal of giving.
- Often people ask me if they should give off of Gross or Net Income. I say, "Either, just give!" In ancient days, Temple Tax (the tithe) included support for widows and orphans. Today's government taxes include this. So believe that it is OK to give from Net because much of what is taken is given to help others...a way of giving through our government!
- Commit to giving. This week we are sending out a letter with a pledge card to all members and friends of Winchester First UMC. And, we are asking you to prayerfully consider what God is asking you to give. It's not about me telling you what you should give. Each of us must really go to God and honestly hear what God is asking us to give. I would suggest that as a matter of practice that you would put the percentage of giving down on the pledge card. This is a great way to practice and/or help us grow in our practice of tithing. At the bottom is a place to put the grand total for the year, but I encourage each of us to write the percentage down as we aim toward tithing.
Giving is about the heart. What do our giving habits say about our hearts? This week and month I challenge each of us to consider what our giving habits really say about us. Amen.