I get it. Talking about stewardship of our time, talents, and resources makes us uncomfortable. We like to claim that money and church just don’t mix - and that’s where I stop understanding. Stop getting it. Because Jesus talks about money and wealth a lot. Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, but there is no shortage in either testament in addressing money. And if Jesus talked about it, so do we.
I grew up in a tithing family. I remember watching my dad write out his tithe check every Sunday before I could even really know what a check was for. The story goes that around the age of six I came out to my dad while he was writing his tithe check and asked for an envelope. Dad gave it to me, and I disappeared into my room, returning with my name printed in large letters on the front in crayon. I handed it to my parents and my dad asked me what it was. I told him it was my money for church, just like his - and when he opened up the envelope he found $1.00 - a treasure for someone that age. I have tithed and given to the church ever since.
Now maybe its easier to give when we are children. We aren’t all wrapped up in the fear of what is to come. But I also think that children understand the wisdom of today’s gospel lesson in a way that we forget when we grow up. When we are children who are well cared for, we don’t worry where our next meal is going to come from or if we will have clothes to wear. We simply trust that we will be provided for. Trust our parents. Trust our grandparents. Trust those who are our caregivers. But then we grow up and think that we need to make it all on our own - we start to fret over not just having food and clothing, but having the best. We start to fear that we will not have enough instead of trusting God to provide. We start to sum up our lives not by God’s grace but by what we have accumulated. We start to worry that God doesn’t know what we need or that God won’t come through for us. We fear that if we give to the church, give back to the work of the Kingdom of God, that our quality of life will diminish. We start to wonder if we will need that money for something else. As we write out the check, we hesitate, wondering if we are saving enough for future, unknown needs.
As we grow up we lose confidence in the belief that we will be provided for and that brothers and sisters, takes all of the joy out of giving. I remember the joy of giving as a child - whether it was giving to the church every week or wrapping up one of my favorite books to give to my cousin on her birthday. I remember the joy of celebrating my birthday, not because of what I would receive, but because then I got to put a special offering in the birthday Sunday School bank for missions. What happened to that joy? The joy of simply giving unto God because we have been provided for beyond our wildest imaginations?
Life. The drain and worry of living. The worry about things that we cannot control. The worry that Jesus is talking about in this passage. In his book Fields of Gold, Pastor Andy Stanley tells the story of one man, Jeremiah Clay’s, worry. Maybe you can identify with it...
Jeremiah was a farmer during the Great Depression and was lured west by promises of fields being ripe for the harvest. So he packed up his family and headed out to a new life - only to find out those fields were more like a dust bowl. From year to year he didn’t know if there would be enough water for his crops, or if they would be flooded out, or blown away. Each month, for five trying years, he could spend an entire salary on seed - seed that he didn’t know would take or not. Jeremiah was now finding the courage to replant hard to summon. He hadn’t made a profit in five years. He found himself worrying each day about the next storm that may come and blow away his investment. He wondered if he should even bother planting another bag of seed.
When we start to worry about things that we cannot control - we let our anxiety drive us to be irrational. We stop seeking the most important thing, the Kingdom of God, and become fixated on the immediate, and on us and on our own needs. But that fear is mis-placed, brothers and sisters. If God intends for us to sow our financial resources for the Kingdom of God, shouldn’t we more aptly fear under sowing for the Kingdom? Shouldn’t it bring us to our knees that we may be spending our lives worrying about food and clothing and only sowing a few handfuls of our finances for God as a result?
The truth is that the Christian Church doesn’t like to hear stewardship sermons because it makes us face our fears about money. Our fear of not having enough. Our fear of owning up to the fact that we are watering down our giving. In the Untied States only one-third to one-half of church go-ers give in the offering plate. Give anything. And out of that percentage only three to five percent actually give God ten percent or more. In the United Methodist Church it is even worse. We are among the lowest of all denominations in giving. And for those that do give, they often give only one percent or less of their yearly income.
We get anxious when we start to talk about stewardship or pass the offering plate. We start to hear only what we want to hear or let our anxiety and fear lead to anger, instead of allowing God to speak into our hearts. But there is good news, brothers and sisters - fear and faith often go hand in hand. We become fearful when we trust God to do something grand amongst us, but when we trust and take that step of faith, we get to see who God is and why we can stand on the promises of God.
Our finances allow us to proclaim what we believe - and make us come face to face with the questions of if we really believe that God will provide and if we trust God enough to faithfully give? When we give to God, boldly, we get to see Jesus Christ at work. Its not about keeping the doors of this particular church open or continuing the mission and message of this denomination, though I believe that both of those things are good and pleasing to God. At the end of the day its about trusting that we are sowing for the Kingdom of God - here and now and in the future. Its about setting aside our fear, and having a conversion about our wallets, in order to proclaim the Kingdom message.
I know that doesn’t make the message about finances any easier to hear. Too many of us feel that we are drowning in our debt and are caught on the hamster wheel of worry. When we talk about money we need to confess those spending habits that we have that keep us away from God, keep us in debt, and render us ineffective for the Kingdom. And after confession we need to repent and turn around in a way that fully releases all of our resources - time, money, and talents - for God’s purposes, instead of only looking to and trusting God when we personally are in need.
That is a hard message to swallow. To cease worrying is a challenge unto itself. To cease worrying about money and the future - that seems insurmountable. And yet, this conversation also gives us a chance to dive into the heart of the question - what do finances reveal about our commitment to God? Are we striving and seeking after the Kingdom of God, first, foremost, and forever? Or are we worrying about what tomorrow may hold. Amen.