Preached @ St. Christopher’s, Roseville, MN 10/2/11 Matthew 21:33-46
need to tell all of you something very personal. I need to “come out” so to speak. This is something about with I am quite proud and is a part of who I am, as a person, as a priest, as the rector here at St. Christopher’s. I’m …..a tither. Yes, I tithe. I give 10% of my financial blessings to God, and I get to keep 90%. In fact I have filled out the card with my pledge to St. Christopher’s reflecting this tithe, and will be joining your Vestry today when we present our pledge cards at the Altar.
When I joined The Episcopal Church, I had no idea what tithing meant, what it was, where it came from, or how this seemingly impossible concept would change my life. I know when I first started attending an Episcopal Church I would have found it helpful to have had explained to me what tithing was: the physical mechanics of it. Now, talking about money can make us feel uncomfortable. We need to get over that feeling and move on. We need to talk about it.
There are many definitions of what tithing means. Some say it is 10% of our gross income. Period. The end. But being Episcopalian, we know that very little in life is so black and white. Another definition of tithing is to work off of our net income (after taxes). Some work off of a figure derived from “non-spoken for” money: i/o/w after taxes are taken out, after fixed expenses are paid, like the mortgage, and from that figure we are to take 10% and give it to God’s church. I used to follow this latter approach, the after taxes and mortgage approach. For this pledge card, I looked at my pay stub, looked at the number that said “net pay”, multiplied that number by 24 (we get paid twice a month, so there are 24 of those pay stubs) and that figure I multiplied by 10%. The resulting figure is my yearly tithe to St. Christopher’s. I then divided that yearly tithe by 52 (for the number of weeks in the year) and found my weekly contribution to this place. Simple, direct….. and freeing.
How does this tithing “stuff” have anything to do with our Scripture readings today? As our Collect begins today, we acknowledge that God gives us more than we can either desire or deserve. God’s generosity is beyond our understanding. We acknowledge that generosity in our Collect today and we see that generosity made manifest in the parable Jesus tells in our Gospel from Matthew.
Not only do we see God’s generosity, but we see God’s trust and God’s patience with us in this parable. The landowner in our parable is God. And this landowner keeps giving and giving. This landowner keeps reaching out and offering help and assistance. And then God sends the Son, the only Son: this Son who represents the future. God is willing to give this only Son for the future. What are we willing to give for our future?
At the end of the parable, Jesus explains that God will move on if we do not grasp the future given to us, if we do not produce the fruits of the kingdom. Another translation of this verse is that God will hand over these opportunities “to a people who will live out a kingdom life.” Living out a kingdom life is what we are called upon today in this Gospel passage….a key part of that kingdom life is working for, offering ourselves for the future: offering ourselves, our talent and treasure, for the future. Talent, treasure……tithing…..all tied together.
We need to be clear, talent, the offering of our non-financial gifts is a critical piece of what we are called upon to do as members of the Body of Christ. The talent we offer, and which St. Christopher’s is so very blessed to be the recipient of in abundance, is not a substitute for the financial tithe about which we are speaking today. That financial tithe of 10%, however you define this amount, is a critical piece of securing St. Christopher’s future, securing this piece of the Kingdom, assisting in its growth and prosperity, its rejuvenation.
This financial tithe is a spiritual exercise, a spiritual discipline. I promise you, by tithing you will be changed at a profound level. The relationship with St. Christopher’s will grow deeper in a manner that will be surprising. The way that you feel about yourself, no matter the dollar amount of this tithe, will inextricably be altered. Tithers know this. They know the difficulty, the challenge, the reward. Tithers don’t often talk about it, for who talks about money in polite society…. but we should…..10% for God, 90% for us. 90% we get to keep! Granted, 10% is a lot to ask. But this 10% is not only a sign of commitment to this place, but more importantly it is living into a relationship with God, acknowledging God’s generosity to us, and making manifest our own generosity in response to all that God has gifted to us.
No amount is too large, no amount is too small. I am asking that every single person, or family unit, pledge this year. I am asking for a 100% response representing every member of this Church. I am asking this of you as your new rector, and as a sign of gratefulness for the search and discovery committees work in finding me, and in thanksgiving for the Vestry’s calling me here. I ask that you increase your pledge and tithe when you fill out this year’s pledge form.
Know that at our last Vestry meeting, I told the Vestry that I will tithe. Know that I asked…. well I more than asked, I told them I expected them to tithe as leaders of this church, or at the very least increase their pledge to be on the road to tithing in the next couple of years. What I asked of them, I now ask of you….. For what are we willing to sacrifice for our future? For what are we willing to give to make manifest the Kingdom life? I ask that you commit to the spiritual discipline of tithing to St. Christopher’s this year when you complete your pledge card.
Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Celebrating, 2011, jfd+