Preached October 6, 2013
Texts: Proverbs 11:24-28; Matthew 6:19-33
51 women are fresh back this morning from the 2013 Women of Faith weekend in Pittsburgh. It was an event with great bands, musicians, and speakers…with powerful preaching…those girls can preach!
Saturday morning began with preacher Sheryl Brady. She came out dressed in pink, with streaked blonde hair and high heeled boots. She was all energy! She preached, she sang, she shouted, she bounced all over the stage – she brought it! And she finished to a standing ovation.
As the crowd found their seats again, the next speaker was introduced: Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian (cha-VI-jin). He came on stage in blue jeans and a black shirt, and went straight to the podium, where he arranged his notes carefully and slowly opened his Bible. Then he looked up at the crowd and said: “I want to know whose bright idea it was to put the Presbyterian after the Pentecostal?!”
I have to say, I feel a bit that way this morning! The preaching and the worship and the music at Women of Faith were inspirational – and made even better by being together with 50 other women from the congregation. It was a great weekend!
And somehow, I’m supposed to stand up this morning and follow all of that? And not only follow it, but follow it with a sermon about money?!? Whose bright idea was this, anyway?!
Ah, well. But here we are – three weeks into our Disciple’s Path series, looking at the ways that we follow Jesus in the United Methodist tradition. In the first two weeks, we considered how we support the church with our prayers and our presence. This week, we look at the ways we support the church with our gifts – most specifically, our financial gifts.
You know, we said in week one that asking for a volunteer to pray out loud is the fastest way to suck the air out of a room. Well, let me tell you, the second fastest way is to bring up the topic of money in church.
There are all kinds of reasons that we feel uncomfortable talking about money. Here are a few I hear often: “Finances are a private matter.” “No one should know who gives what.” “We wouldn’t want to make anyone feel badly because they can’t afford to give.” “What I give is between me and God.” And I could go on…
But here’s the thing, folks. Money is too important in our lives and our world not to talk about it! In fact, our resistance to talking about money demonstrates just how important it really is. A couple of years ago, I heard a speaker challenge the church’s silence on the subject of money with these words:
“When one finds oneself in the presence of one’s god, the first human response is silence.”
He went on to describe the ways that people responded to the presence of God in the Bible:
- At the burning bush, Moses hides his face in fear (Exodus 3).
- When Isaiah has a vision of God on the throne of heaven, he realizes the utter inadequacy of human words and cries out, “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6).
- When Zechariah the priest saw an angel, he learned he would father a son named John – but he couldn’t share his good news because he was struck silent (Luke 1:22).
- When Paul encountered the risen Christ on the Damascus Road, his eyes and mouth are glued shut for three days (Acts 9).
And so it goes.
“When one finds oneself in the presence of one’s god, the first human response is silence.” That ought to make us think twice when we argue that finances are a private matter, one that shouldn’t be spoken of in church.
So then what should the church have to say about money?
First, I think we need to admit that money has power over us. Jesus knew it: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” he tells his disciples, and us (Matthew 6:21). Not, “where your heart is, your treasure will follow.” But, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”
In other words, the way we use our money will shape our hearts and souls. We like to think it is the other way around: we use our money to support causes that we care about. We “vote with our dollars.” Our money expresses our heart.
But the Bible warns us that our heart will follow our money, not the other way around. If we spend our money on excesses that go far beyond our needs, our heart will turn toward luxury and excess. If we spend our money on things – whatever they are – then those things will be precious to us.
That is why giving is so important. The point is not that the church needs money. The point is that we need to give! Giving changes us, because our heart is trained to follow our treasure. Giving loosens the power of possessions in our lives. Giving may also be the very first step that some of us take toward “loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.” Sometimes, we give because we love God – but often we give out of obligation and find ourselves falling deeper in love with God as a result.
Let me tell you a bit of how giving has changed our family. A few years ago, Rob & I attended a fundraising dinner for Imagine No Malaria – the United Methodist effort (working alongside the World Health Organization and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others) to eradicate deaths from malaria on the continent of Africa. We knew the purpose of the banquet before we arrived: to raise money for disease-fighting efforts in Africa. We went knowing that we would be asked to give. And we discussed, ahead of time, how much we could give.
That night, we heard that a woman or child in Africa dies of malaria every 30 seconds. We learned that malaria is treatable, and that a combination of proper infrastructure, medicine, education and communication can eliminate the effects of this deadly disease. We heard stories from people who had contracted malaria while traveling, and how it impacted their lives. We saw video of mothers nursing their sick children and crying out for someone to help them.
And then the pledge cards were distributed. And since we had already discussed, in advance, what we were prepared to give, I excused myself for a moment and left Rob at the table to fill in the card.
When I made my way back across the room a few minutes later, he handed it to me and said, “Is this okay?” I glanced at it, thinking he was asking if he wrote our new phone number correctly, or something like that.
I soon realized that wasn’t what he was asking. When I got to the “Pledge amount” line, he had written an amount that was SIX TIMES the amount we had agreed upon. I stared at the number. I stared at him. And I said, with a deep breath, “Okay. If you want to.”
God moved Rob’s heart to give that night, and he responded. I just kind of came along for the ride. But here’s the thing: since we made that pledge, my attentiveness to the needs of people across our globe – but especially in Africa – has multiplied at least as much as our pledge did that night.
Ten years ago, when I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to go to Africa with my roommate, to visit orphanages there and to gather with other Christians. I frankly did not want to go. I wasn’t all that excited about visiting an unfamiliar country, with foreign foods and language and culture. Africa – Zimbabwe, to be exact – was her passion, not mine.
But now, I’m invested. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In the last three years, I have spent time with Zimbabwean clergy who have visited Western Pennsylvania. I’ve learned more about the political struggles of some African nations. I pray for peace and health on that continent. And someday, I will travel to Africa, and I will be honored to visit their churches and share the struggles and the joys of lives so different from my own. It won’t happen until my kids are a bit older – but I certainly won’t turn down the opportunity if it comes again. My heart is there, now, because my treasure went there three years ago and my heart has gradually followed. I have learned to love my neighbor by first giving to my neighbor.
Of course, I should say that we also give to whatever local church we are a part of. As members of the United Methodist Church, we promise to support this congregation with our gifts, and we do.
The Bible holds up a tithe – 10% of our income – as an example of faithful giving. I know that there are all kinds of questions we could ask about tithing. Do we tithe on our gross or our net income? Do we tithe strictly to the church, or can we direct some of our tithe to other worthy causes? What if we can’t afford 10%? Or for that matter, what if we could afford to give more than 10% – shouldn’t we do that, too?
Those are questions we need to talk about in the church – and you can join in those sorts of conversations in Sunday School and Disciple’s Path home groups. But beyond all the specifics, this truth remains: We need to give, because in the act of giving, our hearts are softened toward God and other people. So we support this congregation with our prayers, and our presence, and our gifts.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”