This morning is a time of consecration. We consecrate the outward and visible signs of God’s provision by placing the received commitment cards upon the altar. In our own way, it is the annual re-enactment of the fishes and loaves story in the Gospel where Jesus receives a small amount of resources and somehow it is multiplied to feed a great multitude. It is appropriate I suppose, that a community of faith lives by faith relying upon the faithful giving of its members.
For me, throughout my adult life, the spiritual act of presenting a tithe at the altar of the church is about my relationship with the church, my relationship with God, and my relationship with money.
My relationship with the church
I have always considered the church as community, as family. I read about the dynamic beginning of the church as it is recorded in the 2nd chapter of Acts, and I see people being brought together in a profound and communal way: Acts 2:44-46 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
My own relationship with church community dramatically changed at the age of nineteen from attending an institution or organization, to becoming a personal part of a family, a community. It went from being a person in the pew, to being a brother, a son, a servant in the community. People of the church became friends and family brought together in kindred Spirit. My whole reason for being present with the community of the church changed from “because I was supposed to, or as a holy obligation”, to being because I wanted to; motivated by love and friendship and belonging.”
Even when “church” became my vocation, my livelihood, it did not stop church from being my family and my friends. So, this act of sharing generously from my means for the sake of the church community, it is not about giving to an organization or an institution, or a club, or a budget… it is about giving for the sake of my family, the family with whom I am a brother, a son, a grandson, a father, a grandfather, a friend.
Church, in its purest form, is community. People bound together in mutual love and care for the common good and for the world around them. How can such a community exist without the generous and even radical sharing of time, abilities, and resources amongst all the members of that community.
My relationship with God
As I shared earlier, my relationship with the church and God changed at the beginning of my adult life. And, it was at that age when I was first taught about the spiritual practice of making a tithe, or bringing a portion of my income to my sacred community as an offering of thanksgiving and faith. When I was told about this practice it made sense to me. At that time my heart and life was filled with the sense of God’s love. It was filled with trust and belief in God’s provision for my life. So the ancient and real practice of giving back in faith and thanksgiving from all that I had received from a loving God, has never ceased making sense. It is sacramental spirituality, isn’t it? An outward manifestation of an inward spiritual grace and presence.
A relationship with God is a mystical thing isn’t it? We know when we are practicing a life of love and community with God and with the church and with our neighbor and when we are not. For me, this spiritual discipline, this act of giving back in faith a generous offering in thanksgiving and trust in God, is a tangible and real act I practice that makes visible the reality of God’s love for me… and my love for God, and for the community God has called and rooted me in.
My relationship with money
I admire those who have a healthy relationship with money. I remember sitting down with a friend who worked for Met Life as an investment broker. He said his profession was a lot like mine. He said people did not want to do the work of managing or even understanding how to manage their money, they wanted to be able to trust “an expert” so they did not have to.
John Eklem, a long-time member who served as treasurer for forty years. He died a few years back and he now prays for us amidst the communion of saints. During a stewardship month John gave me an article from the wall street journal. The article was a confession, or a testimony, from a financial manager who had come to a conclusion by observing his clients, some of whom practiced “giving” a portion from top or first of their income. His observation came following decades in his profession. The article concluded that those who practiced tithing held a healthier relationship with money, and practiced better management of the remaining percentage, than those who did not practice this ancient spiritual discipline known to all the world religions.
Jesus taught often about our relationship with money. He taught as much about our relationship with money as he did about prayer and love and God. Maybe because he knew then – what is even more prevalent now, – that people exchange their resources for what they value and hold dear. And if a person puts forth precious resources for the sake of faith, hope, love, community, for the sake of common good instead of personal gain and security, or even philanthropy – a person has exercised a sacramental act that is powerful and redemptive. A person also declares by habitual and faithful action one of the primary tenets pronounced by all spiritual traditions: Love your God, the ground and being of all creation, with all your being, love your neighbor as yourself, love one another – but be wary of loving money, wealth, power, position, and fame… because all those things are fleeting and filled with corruption – whereas life – your life, my life,- is eternal – and holy – and made to be in community. So give yourself wholly to those things that are eternal and for the common good. And, be a wise, humble, and faithful steward of any money, power, position, or fame that happens to come your way. Rest assured, those things will come and they will go, but the eternal things, like faith, hope, and love, these things will remain and make life good and eternal…and make the world a better place for you being here.