Preparing for the Sixth Sunday of Easter: One Day Before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 67
Old Testament: Proverbs 2:9-15
Gospel: Luke 19:1-10
Open our hearts to your power moving around us and between us and within us, until your glory is revealed in our love of both friend and enemy, in communities transformed by justice and compassion, and in the healing of all that is broken. Amen.
Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” Luke 19:8-10)
In his book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Bishop Robert Schnase writes, “Instead of giving God the leftovers at the end of the month, tithing is a spiritual discipline that puts God first” (p. 105). Extravagant generosity strengthens faith. People who give more worry less about money: “[G]enerosity enlarges the soul, realigns priorities, connects people to the Body of Christ, and strengthens congregations to fulfill Christ's ministries” (p. 106).
The Bible has much to say about money and giving. It clearly warns us not to focus our lives on possessions and wealth, but to give generously to God. In the Old Testament, God is to receive the first-fruits of the people's abundance. In the New Testament Jesus has much to say about wealth and poverty, giving and greed. The widow is praised for putting in what little she has to live on and the wealthy are condemned at giving only out of their abundance. Jesus warns the stingy, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions'“ (Luke 12:13-21). How we use what we have received is important to God.
God’s generosity is extravagant. The most popular verse in the Bible, John 3:16, attests to the lengths God is willing to go for us. God’s people, in like fashion, are to be extravagantly generous as well. Generosity is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). “[G]iving is always extravagant, life changing, and joyous” (p. 110).
John Wesley focused on generosity and expected the people called Methodists to do the same. “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” For Wesley generosity was rooted in grace, and was an expression of love for God and neighbor.
“Forty percent of the American people spend 110 percent of their annual income each year” (p. 113). And while surveys show that most people believe that making a little more money will make them happier and keep them out of debt, Schnase reminds us that debt is not a matter of how much money one makes, but rather it is about the attitude one has toward money and way of life. “We struggle with tithing because because our hearts and minds are more powerfully shaped by our affluence. We find it harder to give extravagantly because our society values shape our perceptions more than our faith values do” (p. 115).
Schnase refers to one congregation who completely revamped how it dealt with the issue of giving and stewardship. First, they would not use guilt and fear as weapons of coercion. Second, the discussion of giving and stewardship would shift away from the pastor and toward the lay leadership. Third, there would be no secrets in reference to the church's budget and financial needs. Fourth, tithing would be taught as the norm and the goal to work toward. Fifth, financial stewardship would become the single focus of the church in October of each year. After these steps were implemented, pledges increased 30% the next year.
“Extravagantly Generous congregations emphasize mission, purpose, and life changing results rather than shortages, budgets, and institutional loyalty” (p. 119). Churches that practice extravagant generosity are not ashamed and embarrassed to talk about money and giving. The emphasis should not be on what the church needs, but on what each disciple should give.
In my experience, the people who get offended by the church's talk of money, giving, and stewardship, are most often offended because their stewardship is not what it should be. Thus they would rather not have to hear about giving, so they don't have to feel guilty about and face their lack of financial stewardship.
Giving is a spiritual matter; Jesus said so.
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