"Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full-pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back." Luke 6:38 (NLT)
You know it's stewardship season when twice in the same week you have two unsolicited conversations with church members about tithing! Tithing is the biblically-based principle of giving to God ten percent of our income. It goes back to agricultural days and the practice of "first fruits," offering God the first ten percent of your crop. It was more than a response of gratitude. It was a sign of trust. Sure, the farmer does the work to yield a harvest, but without the conditions God provides, all the work in the world would be futile. Tithing was a sign of trust in God's promise and looking to God as the true source of our provisions. So, back to the conversations...
Ken Beckley is a member of St. Luke's. He and his wife, Audrey, moved to Bloomington a couple of years ago. Ken has been in broadcasting and business most of his career. He and Audrey watch the services on the internet regularly and every now and then he sends a note to share something that spoke to him. Our MORE series got Ken to thinking about a conversation he had years ago with a fellow broadcaster when he was working in Asheville, NC. Charlie Hill was a down-to-earth, "good" good ole boy. Ken shared that one night after dinner Charlie asked him if he tithed. Ken frankly admitted that he never felt he could. "Ken, you won't believe this," Charlie said with all sincerity. "My wife and I have found that in tithing we still have more to spend. It's amazing. The more we tithe, the more the amount is replenished, and then some. Obviously," Ken wrote, "I have never forgotten Charlie's eye-opening words. They have always impacted our giving."
Charlie's words are an example of God's promise. Jesus said, "Give and you will receive. Your gift will return in full - pressed down, shaken together to make room for more." In both Jesus words and Charlie's, that word MORE stands out. The more we give in generosity the more God provides us.
Now for the second conversation... I was with another member this week, a successful attorney. He had always been generous, but he shared that it's just been in recent years that he and his wife started tithing. His response was the same. While it seemed a daunting practice at first, it is amazing how you don't really miss it. It's just one of those findings you don't find until you try it.
As I reflected on these conversations I thought about a gesture I have unconsciously been making in the sermons in this MORE series. I fold my arms toward me when describing the temptation to hold onto more. I open them wide when gesturing my openness to God's power to give. It's really a way of demonstrating how much more I want in life - the more I can hold onto, or the more God wants to give me. I don't know about you, but I believe the latter. One can hold a lot more than I can, and it's His nature to share! In that respect, it's not much of a decision as to which way to hold my arms! When I let go, I avail myself to more.
Next week we will all have a chance to demonstrate our trust and devotion when we commit to supporting God's work through St. Luke's in the coming year. You will be receiving a letter with a pledge card you can use to bring back that morning. At the end of the service we will bring our cards forward and place in a basket. As an added treat this year we are giving all those who turn in a card a gift. You will be the first to receive a St. Luke's coffee mug that will be given to visitors in 2017. It's part of our "mugging ministry." Now, if you are in a place where it is impossible for you to pledge a financial amount, that doesn't prevent you from turning in a card. You can still commit to praying for the church, being involved in worship and fellowship opportunities, and stretching to give as you are able. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 8:12, God accepts our gifts based on what we have! We still want you to be the first to get your 2017 St. Luke's mug!
Thanks for being such a wonderful congregation that inspires me to trust God in all my ways.