Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tithing is not a New Testament Biblical principle!?

Have you ever had the experience of thinking something to be true your whole life, and then someone will say something or phrase things differently and you will suddenly realize that what you used to think was wrong?
When it happens it is rather humbling, and in some cases rather freeing.
This happens to me all the time.
It is not that I am easily swayed, or at least I don’t like to think so, it is that I am open always to the possibility that I can be wrong.
Anyway, it happened to me again recently.
I was at the Bishop’s convocation at the guest speaker was talking about stewardship.
He told us that tithing is not a New Testament Biblical principle.
You see I had been brought up and told that tithing was a Biblical principle.
So this was cutting into something that I have believed for a very long time.
It was something that I had thought about a great deal.
At first of course I fought it.
It just could not be true this guy who was giving the speech was off his rocker.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right.
This morning I want to tell you all why tithing is not a New Testament principle.

First, notice that I use the word New Testament.
Surely, tithing is in the Bible.
In the Old Testament God’s people are commanded to give a tithe.
It is in the law.
For example in Deuteronomy 14:22 “Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field.”
Here is the problem.
We are not people of the law.
We are a people loved and forgiven set free by Jesus Christ.
The law was given to the people of Israel so that they could live by it and have a relationship with God.
It was God’s way of showing his love to the people and living in the covenant with them.
But what we discovered is that the law always fails to make us righteous before God.
So God did something even more miraculous, God sent his son to die for us.
God sent Jesus to show us the way, to set us free to give generously.
We live not by the law but by faith in this God who gave his son to die for us.

Notice in this morning’s Gospel from Mark the two groups of people who come to the treasury to give.
The first group is giving probably according to the prescribed law, they are bringing their tithe.
(it is interesting to note that in the law the tithe is just the starting point of one’s giving. On top of the tithe there is all kinds of other required giving.”
The problem is that we are never made righteous by what we do, only by our faith in Jesus Christ.
In contrast this poor widow brings her two coins, all that she has, and gives it to God.
She gives not just what the law demands but more.
Her act of giving is generous and reckless.
She does it not out of obligation to the law, but out of love and trust for her God.

We give not because of the law, but we give because of the love and trust we have in God.
We don’t give because the pastor tells us we should, but we give because we want to give.
We give because spiritually we need to give.

My maternal grandfather was a pastor and he told me this story about one time when the congregation he was serving was doing an every member visit for their stewardship campaign.
There was this one woman in his congregation who was always so grumpy.
She never liked anything that happened at the church.
My grandfather felt that she did not really care for him either.
Because of this no one wanted to go visit her.
And everyone was afraid to talk to her about increasing her pledge.
My grandfather being the pastor was eventually sent to talk to her.
He went to her house and they made small talk.
Eventually, the woman said, “Pastor aren’t you going to talk to me about increasing my pledge?”
He told her that he was but was nervous about it.
She said to him, “Don’t you think I want to give to my Lord? It is my joy to give to God.”
You see we all want to give.
We want to be part of something that means something.
We want to be part of growing in our faith.
I see this in the ministry of Concordia Lutheran Church.
Every time the congregation is asked to respond to a need people respond.
When asked to bring your spare change for world hunger and you did.
When asked to bring in clothing for the needy it arrived, when asked to bring in blankets for the homeless you did it.
When asked to bring in food for the food pantry, friendly kitchen, you responded.
Next week you will be asked to consider what percentage of your income you want to pledge to this ministry.
I have no doubt that you will answer the call to support the important work we are doing together in this congregation.
Not because you have to, but because you want and need to.

Think about the investment we are making.
We are making sure our children learn the importance of faith.
We are making sure the Gospel is preached and heard.
We are making sure people get visited in the hospital or at home.
We are making sure that God’s work is being done here in Concord.

All of that is possible not because of the law, but because you have faith Jesus Christ.
Jesus the one who notices were our money goes.
Jesus the one who gave his life for us, and inspires us to give to others.
Jesus is the one who we love and we want to follow.
Not because we have to, but because we want and need to.

Tithing is not as important as the principle that underlies our Gospel this morning.
Everything we have belongs to God.
Are we giving everything we have to God?
Are we being faithful in our lives to God?
Are we using our money in a way that would please God?
Not just the 10% that we give to church, but all of our money are we using it in a way that God would want us to use it.
Again not because we have to, but because we want to.
Because we are people freed from the law to give.
We often misunderstand what it means to be set free by Jesus Christ.
It does not mean that we are set free to do whatever pleases us.
No we are set free to give more, and love more.
The woman gave even more then what was expected by the law.
She gave more than tithe because she was free to know that money was not the end all be all of life.

I think we all know this deep down.
In a place that God put in our inner beings, we know that when we give we only reap the benefits of that giving.
Not in an I give money and God then gives me more money kind of way.
But when I give and my spirit is so uplifted from knowing the good that I do that I have a real peace of mind.

Tithing is not a New Testament principle.
But reckless generous giving is.
Giving that is about giving all we have to God is what Jesus did, and what is our joy to do.
So as we leave here today let us give generously.
Let us remember the generous act of God in Jesus Christ.
So that we are set free to give all we have to one another.

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