Sunday, January 8, 2017

Blessings Upon Blessings Upon Blessings; Malachi 3:10-12

Rev. George Miller
Malachi 3:10-12
Jan 8, 2017

It seems like our President-Elect and the state of Florida have once again made the news.

Trump has selected Paula White, the pastor of a mega-church in Florida to give the prayer at his Inauguration.

Though we should celebrate that a pastor from Apopka gets to participate in something so historic, many people are unhappy with the pastoral pick.

Why? Because Rev. White preaches what is called “The Prosperity Gospel”, a message that says if you give enough money to her church, God will return your investments.

The Prosperity Gospel is a movement that has been around for decades, made popular by the preachers you see on TV.

As with anything faith-based, the Prosperity Gospel is more complex than it sounds.

I know some people are bothered by it. But as someone who has had my own share of financial struggles, I’m not that bothered by the notion that God wants to bless us.

So today we are going to talk about tithing. Today we are going to talk about giving.

Soon we’ll be entering into our Stewardship Season, and I wonder- have we been approaching stewardship in the wrong way?

Often times we talk about giving as a problem to be solved, as opposed to it being an opportunity to be blessed.

Every year we try to create a bare-bones budget with as little fat as possible. Every year we have a Stewardship Campaign. Every year we stress out over raising funds through the Spaghetti Supper, Yard Sale, and Harvest Home.

Every year we ask that you give give give to the Meet the Budget Match.

It makes it seem as if giving is chore, not a joy. As if giving is an obligation, not an opportunity. As if giving is a punishment, as opposed to a blessing in disguise.

I realize that I have not fully preached on giving, I have not preached on what stewardship means; I have not preached about the biblical notion of tithing.

Yes, we teach these things in our new member class. We talk about them during Bible Study. We worry and debate about it during Council meetings.

But have we really talked about tithing from this pulpit, during this holy time, in this holy place?

If we don’t talk about tithing, how can we expect people to know what tithing means?

Tithing is the spiritual principal in which God calls us to give 10% of what we have back to God.

It’s the idea that for every dollar we earn, 10 cents goes back to our Creator.

Tithing is based on the notion that God is the source of all, therefore all things belong to God. The fact that God only asks for 10 percent back is actually amazing.

But there are also other elements, deeper elements behind this act of faith.

The act of tithing, the act of giving 10% back to God, is an act of trust. It is an act that says “I am willing to believe that God will care for me; I am willing to trust that God will not forsake me.”

Tithing is an act that says “In you, O Lord, I have enough; in your grace I have plenty.”

Tithing is the means through which kindness and justice are carried out in the world, in which hungry are fed, the Gospel is shared, and the needy are cared for.

Tithing is a way in which God is able to teach us, mold us and to ultimately bless us.

I truly believe that our God is a God of abundance; God wants us to live fulfilled lives in which we can marvel at Creation, living in contentment and community.

My beliefs rest in God the Creator who wants to love and bless us, and who wants to be loved and blessed in return.

Why else would we have stories of God sending manna from heaven, Jesus feeding the masses, or keeping the wedding party going with the choicest of wine?

Some say that God is a punishing God who gets angry at everything we do wrong. I say that our God is a loving God who is happy when we show our trust and do what is just, humble, and kind.

Today’s reading gives us a glimpse into the giving nature of our Lord.

Here we have the prophet Malachi, sharing a message from God to the people. More than a message, it is a faith-based challenge.

The people have been wondering why things are not as good as they can be. They wonder why they seem to be stuck in a rut. They wonder if God is aware.

To which the prophet says “God has never left you. God is right here. God is waiting to bless you.”

“But,” says the prophet, “You don’t seem to want to be blessed. So God is giving you a challenge-

Stop holding back your offerings, stop holding back your tithes. Stop thinking you’ll go broke or worry that you can’t do without.”

Speaking through the prophet, God says “Give 10% of what you have been given, and watch- see how I am going to bless you. Watch how I open the windows of heaven and pour down blessings upon blessings upon blessings upon you.”

God says “Put me to the test and see how I will watch over you, I will make sure you have what you need. Watch how by tithing 10% you will live in a land of delight.”

…Land of Delight.

I like that expression. So poetic. So beautiful. So true.

I think of my own experience in becoming a faithful tither. It was roughly 21 years ago, back when I was living in a studio apartment in snow-filled Minneapolis, working 2-3 jobs at a time, making about $8 an hour.

No matter how much I worked, no matter how much over-time I did, or double-time I earned, it was barely enough to pay the bills.

Things seemed so hopeless, so dead-end, as if I would spend forever in that 3 story walk up, trudging through 2 feet of snow.

But the church I attended talked about tithing. The members discussed the spiritual meaning behind giving.

We’d hear testimonies about what God had done for them: unexpected checks that came in the mail; bills that got miraculously paid.

This was not a rich church, but a church located in the poor part of the city.

Still, people came to worship in their best clothes, singing praises to God, finding ways to support the mission in Haiti and the local community, testifying that when the praises went up, the blessings came down.

I thought this was foolishness, until I decided to give it a try. I began to set aside 10% of every check, putting the money into a coffee cup on the shelf.

I never gave it away all at once, saving some in case an emergency happened. Funny thing- an emergency rarely did occur.

I set aside that 10% and what I discovered was that as tight as the money seemed, I was somehow always able to get by.

Sure, I could not eat at McDonalds as much as I used to. Or immediately buy that music CD I wanted.

Truth be told, I didn’t really need that fast food or extra entertainment anyway.

Then, I discovered that when I walked down the street and someone asked for money, instead of getting upset and saying no, I could give them a dollar and take it out of the coffee cup when I got home.

I discovered how good it felt to give; that although I was still struggling, my struggles weren’t so bad that I couldn’t help another.

Then, those blessings people talked about actually started to happen. Somehow, someway, an unexpected check came in the mail, an extra shift opened up, people gave me things for no reason.

Soon, tithing became natural. Soon, the offering became my favorite part of the worship service, because it was a testimony to the ways God was blessing me.

This does not mean things have always been easy or financial struggles still did not exist.

But through the 20 years of tithing I have zero regrets, and I can testify to all the ways God has blessed me- from seminary, to Emmanuel, from this community, to my Cozy Cottage, to the reality that soon I may have my own family.

I know that God has blessed me, and I want you to have the chance to feel that God is blessing you too. So taking a cue from Malachi- here is a challenge extended to all who are here today.

You are invited to take this morning’s scripture to heart. It would be wonderful to see each of you put God to the test and to experience just what happens when a tithe is given back to God.

Here’s what you are invited to do: take 3 months. See if you can set aside 10% of what you get, whatever comes your way.

What you decide to do with that money is up to you. Give some to the church. Give some The Shepherd’s Pantry.

Give some to your favorite charities, like the Humane Society or Boys and Girls Club.

Give some to that person on Thunderbird who is always asking for help. Give some to a friend who is having financial trouble. Give some to a grandchild who wants to take a special class.

Or use that money to buy a ticket to a fancy local fundraiser in which you get to dress up; or bring two rolls of coins to Quarters for a Cuase and bid on everything you see.

But find a way, anyway to give back 10% of whatever it is you earn or receive.

Give…and watch how God will bless you. Watch…how you will not miss what has been released. Experience… how joy and love will fill your heart.

See… how through the act of tithing it will indeed seem as if the skies have opened and blessings have come pouring down.

If after 3 months you haven’t experienced the overflowing of goodness or felt transformed, then you can stop, and reevaluate what it is you feel called to give.

Today’s scripture calls us to experience an overflowing of blessings. I wonder who here is ready to faithfully put God to the test.

I wonder who is ready to experience what it means to live in the Land of Delight.

For that, we are invited to say “Amen” and “Amen.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

George, I am so glad to have access to your sermons on line. They always have a message for me personally and I always find something to think about for at least the next week. Thank you.