2 Corinthians 9
Now it is not necessary for me to write you about the ministry to the saints, for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you may not prove to have been empty in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be; otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—in this undertaking. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
So, how about money? I know that there is no topic more beloved in all the Church. Money is the sort of thing that we all get very touchy about. Ecclesiastes tells us that “money meets every need,” and I struggle to argue against that. At least in terms of our survival, we are able to eat and drink and find shelter because of the money which we have. That money may come from work, it may come from social security, it may come from a retirement fund that we have set aside. No matter the source, it is money that sustains our physical well-being in life. We all need it, we all use it, and to a certain extent most of us wouldn’t mind a little bit more of it.
There are people in this room of course who remember a time when money was not the end all and be all for subsistence. Doctors used to take payment in produce as often as they would take it in cash. I know ministers who can remember getting chickens as an honorarium for doing a person’s wedding. For some of us, life was not always about dollars and cents. There have always been a need to have money of some kind, but it seems at least anecdotally that our current total dependence upon income for survival is a product of modernity – a natural consequence of labor being tied so specifically to capital. The money we make is the food we eat and it can be hard to scare up either.
We live in a partial food desert here in Clarksburg. While Price Cutters and a few dollar stores remain open in parts of downtown, the larger grocery stores are in Nutter Fort and on Emily Drive. This means that, if you do not have a car, you cannot reliably get food from the store. Access to food is one of the primary ways a person can find any security in life, and it is access to security that allows a person to move on and flourish beyond mere survival. For many in our community, it is impossible to imagine finding consistent housing or jobs that allow for upward mobility because day to day you have to struggle even to get somewhere to buy food for your family.
Jobs are another difficult thing to track down right now. All of us have seen signs all over advertising positions available, so it might be strange to hear me say that work is hard to find. Firstly, we return to the problem that without consistent transportation, it can be hard to keep a job. No car? Then you cannot work anywhere but downtown. No clothes appropriate for the work? Better hope a clothing closet has the right clothes in the right size. Even if you can find a way to work and the uniform or outfit you need to work at that job, not every sign is truthful in the wages and conditions they are offering. Many people have applied in recent months only to find that the offers of full benefits and a living wage are contingent on a contract of several years, and that they will only be given it if they struggle through a prohibitively lower wage,
In a time where costs are going up constantly – largely from a refusal by companies to hire workers for anything other than decades old wages, from international oil cabals refusing to release from their reserves, and from a boom of post-2020 consumption where demand is higher than ever even as supply stagnates – money is more precious than ever. Everyone eyeballs each other with suspicion these days. Every action is seen as an attack on livelihood or on the supply chain. In the midst of an abundant life, we all find ourselves tightening the hold on our purse strings. We are all of us worried about being able to afford what we need, but also, I think, concerned of losing a standard of living which we are accustomed to.
With rare exception, I think most of us in this room have more than we need to survive. We are blessed with the ability to have comforts, to have opportunities for leisure, for hobbies, for entertainment for its own sake. We are blessed with more than we could ever need and cursed with a desire for more than we could ever truly possess. We plan out our lives based on our consumption. We are always looking at out accounts to see when things go in and go out, saving for big expenditures and trips and purchases – some of the more exhaustively detailed of us doing so on spreadsheets. Yet, for many of us the various costs of life do not actually infringe on those core and necessary expenses – we do not have to worry about food on the table, clothes on our back, or heat in our houses.
The money that we have is only ours insomuch as it provides for our essential needs. Every dollar beyond what we need to survive becomes increasingly dangerous for us to hold onto. Scripture is clear that attachment to money ultimately destroys a person. Christ went so far to say that money was one of the chief “Gods” that competed for people’s attention. (Matt. 6:24) You can serve God, or money, but never both. While I do not think that it is wrong for people to make money, or for people to set aside money to be comfortable or to invest in things they enjoy, I do think that we need to think of our money in terms of what it can be best used for, and not simply what we would like it to go to.
When we receive our money, the first person to have any hand in it is usually the tax man. Some money is withheld before it crosses our hands, thrown into the pot to be paid out to current social security recipients and to other government programs. Then once a year, or quarterly depending on how you pay, we send still more money off to the IRS. With all that money gone, we must subtract from our income our food, our utilities, our clothing, and all other necessary expenditures. Then with what is left, any number of things can happen. What we must always be intentional about is giving our money to those who need it and prioritizing helping people even above and beyond prioritizing our own pet comforts and entertainment.
If you think that here is where I’m going to pitch giving to the Church, think again! Obviously, we need contributions from our members to keep moving forward as a congregation. We do not receive money from anyone but the members of this church and the occasional grant to fund our operations. The return of our egg fundraiser this year will fill a gap or two, but the expenses of this church are paid primarily through the generosity of this congregation. I will speak more to that before our time together is done.
No, outside of funding the operations of the Church, I encourage people to discern how they give their money based on their own individual calling. I stive to give about 15% of my income to charity in a normal year. I confess that this past year, due to one of my previous appointments bungling my tax documents, I have been unable to do that as I paid two and a half years of taxes in a single year (I do not recommend this.) However, that is something that I am very intentional about normally. Every month I choose a charity I would like to give to, or if I know someone with a Go-fund-me I might give to that. I lift this up, not to say that I am some saint for having this model of giving, but just to say that giving works best when we are intentional about doing it. We need to plan to give, not just waiting for a whim to lead us to it.
I’ve seen the generosity of this congregation in action. We have given Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners to people in need, we have provided breakfast to the warming shelter, we have raised money from love offerings to help people in need – we are a people who are unafraid to give to a cause when it presents itself. The charge laid upon us then is not that we should become givers, no one here is not already giving to worthy causes, but that we grow better at giving through intentional steps to give more regularly and more liberally. Open Heart Ministries, the United Way of Harrison County, Homes for Harrison, and many more are in need of financial help to keep their work going and to expand it further than it has ever been. Our community dinner, funded by the congregation but also often by generosity of its organizer, would benefit I think from regular contributions, and I know our pantry would.
I am equally, if not more concerned with giving beyond the walls of this church as I am with anyone’s tithe. We need support, as I said it is what keeps the lights on, it is what pays me, and it is what allows us to fix our building up and expand our ministries above and beyond what they have been, even in the past. We passed out our budget with our Newsletter last month, and anyone who read that will know that we are not doing anything reckless or extravagant with the funds we receive. With the egg sale later this year, we hope to get a little more income than we might otherwise. However, I believe in planning our budget based on giving, and planning fundraisers as things that allow us to expand our ministries beyond our current projections,
For us to meet our budget, something we have not done since the pandemic began, we need to increase giving. Let me be perfectly frank about that. We’ve managed to keep the lights on the past two years, but beyond that we cannot expect any growth in programs as long as we are only able to survive. Add into that the need to put a new roof on this building, to repoint the outside bricks, to finish all our interior work. It is going to be an expensive year. Last year we would have required $3,098.36 a week to meet our budget, this year with the cuts we were able to make that number drops to $2,792.42.
Thirty people giving one hundred dollars a week, would cover our budget completely. Is it realistic to imagine that is possible? Maybe. What I encourage us all to do is to take a moment as we begin compiling our documents for taxes and calculate out what a tithe would look like for your household, do it before or after taxes I do not feel strongly either way. Then calculate what that looks like weekly or monthly. That is the aspiration we all should have, to give that money. Some months it might not work, because life happens and unexpected expenses creep in. However, those of us who are able to give more, by giving that full amount, will make up for those who are unable to. If only we commit to that regular act of giving.
I am someone who usually says, “We,” in preaching because if I have something to say to you all I probably need to hear it myself. My salary is public knowledge to you all, and so the math I’m about to do is something you could do yourself, but I want to be perfectly transparent as I do it. My salary is $40,000, when you subtract the amount that goes to pension and that goes to health insurance that leaves me with $35,568.84 of income that physically crosses my hand. Move the decimal one place to get my tithe amount and that would be $3,556.88, divide that by twelve and my monthly contribution to this congregation becomes $296.41, but we’ll round that up to an even $300.
Today I have that amount here but going forward I am going to do this giving through our online platform. By using tithe.ly, I can give a monthly amount that will be taken out automatically from my bank account – that will make sure that I don’t forget, something I’m liable to do. I recommend that those who want to be more consistent with their giving think about using tithe.ly, it makes life a lot easier. I’ll help anyone set up their giving through it that wants to. We are in this together, and now that I am square with Mr. Tax-man, I’m going to be giving alongside you all to make sure that we make our goals to fund this church’s operations and its ministries.
The goal, as Paul lays out in his letter to the Corinthians, is not that we force people to give, but that we all are willing to invest in one another. We invest in our community, the people in need all around us. We invest in our Church, the place we organize our ministries and recharge the faithful to go out and work. We invest in all aspects of our life, cutting away the fat from our life to make sure that those in need can live in the same comfort we have accepted as the default for our own life. Maybe it means we have one less trip, or that I buy one less new release for the Switch, but if it means this church keeps running and the hungry are fed, I think that might just be worth it. – Amen.