Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"A Church Taboo"

Philippians 4: 10-14

Psalm 145: 10-21

There are some things we tend to be reluctant to talk about in church.  One of those things is

giving money to the church.  That’s a private matter; a personal matter; a matter fundamentally between

us and the Lord.  My parents never told me how much they gave to Mt. Calvary.  I do

remember that mysterious box of envelopes always sitting in the same spot on the desk where my

mom used to pay bills.  And I remember my mother faithfully taking one of those envelopes to

church each and every Sunday.  What I also recall are those occasions when we’d get home after

church, sit down for lunch, and my dad grousing, “Rev. so and so, asking for money, again.”  Money

is one of those somewhat taboo issues which we know is of vital importance in the Christian life,

and to the work of the Christian church.  But when it’s time to talk about money in church, the facial

expressions of finance committee members can grow grim.  Preachers tend to become apologetic. 

Church treasurers begin to sweat.  Church members may become tense and restless.

      Yet the need for healthy, well-funded ministry has never been greater; here at Central Pres, and

throughout the church at large.  If the church is to be the light of the world Jesus has called us to

be…… Well, let me make the point with a little story.  A father once bought a large table globe for

his children as a Christmas gift.  As they opened it, he noticed a hint of disappointment on their

faces.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.  “Don’t you like your new globe?”  “It’s okay dad, but we really

wanted one that has a light on the inside.”  Dutifully, the father returned the globe for an illuminated one. 

The store clerk joked with him:  “Well dad, what have you learned?”  He replied, “I’ve learned it costs a lot more to light the world.”

       In a critical time of growing costs to proclaim and spread the light of the gospel, we seem to be

at a spiritual and practical impasse.  But one truth remains the same, in whatever economic climate

we find ourselves. Money is, has always been, and will always be a substantive issue for the Christ-

ian journey, and for the journey of the Christian church.  Bear in mind that Jesus spoke more often

about money and possessions than about any other subject.  Depending on who’s doing the

counting, there are around thirty-eight parables of Jesus recorded in the gospels.  Half of them are

about money and/or possessions.

       Yet Jesus’ teaching isn’t so much about money and possessions per se, as it’s about the under-

lying attitude toward money and possessions.  What we learn is that depending on how we view

things, having a lot can be a blessing, or it can be a curse.  Likewise, having a little can be a blessing,

or it can be a curse.  What is of ultimate importance in the spiritual life, and what determines blessing or curse,

is our attitude, whether we have little or much.  Paul seemed to have a pretty good attitude regarding the issue

of money and possessions.  He writes in his letter to the Philippian Church: 

“I am not complaining about having too little.  I have learned to be satisfied with what-

ever I have.  I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of

conditions.  I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little.  Christ

gives me the strength to face anything.”

      So on the practical side of the ledger, there’s no getting around the fact that money is a vital

means by which the church and its members extend Christ’s ministry and mission; that funding of

the church’s work is an important responsibility in the life of every Christian, however much or

however little we’re able to contribute to the cause.  In practical terms, as a dutiful dad once

learned, it does indeed cost more these days to light the globe with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

      I’d like to spend the rest of this message attempting to negotiate the impasse; bringing to the
surface a few spiritual principles undergirding the practical.  Especially in this season when we

 

emphasize stewardship, it behooves us to consider a theology of stewardship.  And stewardship is

not just about money and possessions, although that’s our focus this morning.  It’s about offering

our entire selves as stewards – sharing our talents and ability; sharing our time and availability.

      Theologian John Cobb writes this of the great 18th century Anglican preacher John Wesley: “One

of the topics most central to Wesley was the relation of human responsibility to grace….. He wanted

to emphasize human responsibility, but only, emphatically, in the context of the primacy of grace.”

This leads us into a first spiritual principle underlying money and possessions, and our attitude

toward them:  All we have, however little or much, is a gift from the hand of Almighty God.  We

could say that money and possessions are evidence of God’s grace. We have received because God

has given.  Our very life, then, becomes no less than a response to God’s grace.  Another way to say

it is that our thank-you card to God for God’s gifts is how we go about managing or using these

gifts.  Because of grace, we are called to responsibility.

      Methodist pastor Brian Bauknight writes this about Christian giving:  “For people of faith, giving

is not really charity or dues paying.  Giving does not happen because of a financial campaign, or

budget appeal, or fund-raiser.  Giving is not an itemized deduction on schedule A.  Giving is responsible

living in light of that grace which is truly amazing.”  So principle number one is simply that a Christian gives

offerings of treasure, as well as of talent and time, in response to a question both practical and theological:

What is my duty in recognition of God’s goodness toward me?

      A second spiritual principle is this:  Giving is a matter of discipleship.  Jesus clearly said in the

Gospel of Matthew:  “Go…make…disciples” That is the church’s fundamental mission: to go and

carry the good news of Christ from the walls in here to the world out there, in order that others

might be drawn to the One we serve; disciples making disciples.  I would suggest that financial giving

is a vital part of that discipleship package.  A stewardship teacher once observed:  “The primary aim

of stewardship is not to finance the church’s annual operating budget, but to transform lives.”  That

really hits the nail on the head.  The giving of our support to the church enables us to carry out the

task to which we are called; enables us to light the world with the good news of God’s grace and

love to all humankind.

      We need remember this:  Grace is a gift; discipleship is a choice.  Jesus Christ through His church

calls believers in all times and in all places to choose a life of discipleship; a life typified by learning

and teaching things of the Lord.  People of faith yearn to know what tangible and practical responses we

can make to our decision to accept Jesus as Lord.  Giving of our resources, along with our abilities and availability,

shapes one piece of that response.  So the questions to ask are not “How much does the church need this year?” or

“What will it cost to pay the utility bills?” or “What is the percent increase in budget over last year? or

“What is the average pledge?” The deeper and far more important question is,

“What does God expect of me as a part of my discipleship journey?”

That’s a question which we must all ponder, pray over, and answer for ourselves.

      A third spiritual principle is that giving is a matter of personal growth.  In my dentist’s office, a

poster featuring a lush, tropical jungle hangs above one of his chairs which reads: “Growth is the

only evidence of life!”  Personal transformation and growth are at the heart of who we are and

what we do as a church.  But so often, same old, same old is the norm.  A Presbyterian pastor went

to visit a member who was recovering from surgery.  The patient was just coming out from under

anesthesia, and couldn’t quite discern the shadowy figure at his bedside.  “Who are you?” he whispered. 

“I’m your pastor,” came the reply.  “And I’m here for you.”  The patient blinked his eyes a few times then responded,

“Oh yeah, well, put me down for the same amount as last year.”  Same

old, same old is not progress.  Spiritually-speaking, growth means moving from where we are to

where God is calling us to be.  It means giving of ourselves in increasing proportion as the Lord has

given increase to us.  And again, this is not just about money.  It’s about growth on every level.

      Biblical teaching, particularly in the Old Testament, speaks of something called “tithe.”  That

word has historically been about as welcome in the Presbyterian church as a squirrel in a hornet’s

nest.  We leave tithing to the Baptists.  Sadly, tithe has gotten a lot of bad press, regarded as a rigid

legalistic, formula for how much God expects us to give.  But I don’t believe tithing is meant to be

either a legalistic mandate, or a rung on the ladder to sainthood.  Tithing is a tool for progress; a

gauge of growth; even a measure of spiritual health. 

      Two mice were out for a stroll one morning when they were confronted by a cat.  Just as the cat

prepared to pounce, one of the mice let out a mighty bark at the cat.  The cat was so startled that it

ran away.  The mouse turned to his companion and said, “In times like these, it’s good to know a

second language.” Whereas tithing is a second language for our Baptist sisters and brothers, tithing

is a foreign language to those who are new to the Christian faith, and to many who’ve been around

a while.  It’s a language which has long carried dogmatic connotations; a language which we’re as

willing to learn as Hebrew.  Well, it’s time to remove the legalese from the language of tithing, and

to recognize it for what it really is.  The language of tithing is not the language of final arrival, but rather

the language of being on the way.  And being on the way – the process of growing from and

into – is what it means to be a Christian disciple.

      Fourth and last, but certainly not least: Giving is joy!  We return to our passage from Philippians

wherein Paul speaks of contentment in whatever his lot.  However much or however little, in all circumstances,

Paul teaches by his own life’s example: give joyful praise to the Provider.  This is the

attitude which gives life to our giving.  It is an attitude which rejoices in God’s grace, by which and

through which we can “face anything.”  Paul further encourages this joyful attitude in giving when

he writes to the Corinthian Church:  “Each of you must make up your own mind about how much

to give.  But don’t feel sorry that you must give and don’t feel that you are forced to give.  God

loves people who love to give.  God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always

have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others.” Paul is not speaking superficially.

He announces a foundational joy. 

       Too often, we clergy apologize for messages from the pulpit about money and giving.  I’m really

sorry to have to talk about money today, friends.  But you know, it is that time of year.  I understand

this is uncomfortable for some of us, but we do have to have a budget.  This morning, I make no

apology.  Instead I say, let joy abound!  Rejoice in the Lord always!  Don’t give until it hurts.  Give

until it feels good.  Give as a celebration of and response to the gifts God has given to you.  Let’s

allow a new light to shine on the all-too-often taboo subject of money and possessions.  And all the

while, let’s get happy doing it, for giving should be an occasion for joy!

 

Lord our Provider, in this season as we discern and settle on our commitments of support, guide us

by Your Spirit of grace to give as You have prospered us.  May our giving reflect our desire to grow

in our discipleship.  May our devotion be to the proclamation of Your gospel.  May our every act of

charity and benevolence help others to see Your love in action, and draw them alongside us in this

journey of faith.  Inspire us, instruct us, and bless us that we may bless others. 

It is in Jesus’ name that we give, and that we pray.  Amen.

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102