4th Sunday in Lent 2011
April 3, 2011 WELCA Thankoffering Sunday
It is no accident that this Sunday’s special collection is called a Thankoffering. The Bible is full of stories of God’s gifts and God’s mercy. The Bible is also full of stories about giving back as a recognition of the gifts and blessings which God has given.
In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Leviticus contains specifics about how gifts should be brought and what gifts and offerings are appropriate thanksgiving for everyday, for harvests, for special events and occasions. The underlying premise is that the land belongs to Yahweh, who brought the people out of Egypt and brought them back to the land which had been promised to their ancestors. Every first-born child and animal are God’s, and the first fruits of the land are God’s also. There is a set price for redeeming your child or your heifer, and if you cannot actually bring the produce of the land, the priest can determine what the equivalent in money will be, so that you can bring that.
Among those requirements are also the requirements for assisting those who cannot support their families because of hard times, or because they are widowed or strangers in the land. Anyone who cannot bring his or her tithe should be cared for by the community until they are able to fend for themselves again. There is to be no shame in such help – God’s people are to remember when they were strangers without resources and that God helped them, so they will be willing to help each other. “I am the LORD your God.”
The tradition of giving to God is as old as scripture, a reflection of God’s requirement that God’s people will give back. It is recognition of the fact that all we have is a blessing from God. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus promises, “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” We are quick to claim Jesus’ promises in so many other areas, especially when we ask for healing and when we bury our loved ones and claim the promise of life for them. Why are we so hesitant to claim this promise in our giving?
In 1954, my father ended up in the hospital with a viral infection that just ran away with him. They gave him aspirin to bring down his fever, but it just kept going up and up. He was delirious and shaking. His fever was so high the doctors were patting my mother on the arm, preparing her for the worst. She said that she sat by the phone all night, crying and praying for him to be restored to her, to us. She went to the hospital as early as they would let her in, and everyone was all smiles. He was sitting up in bed, eating breakfast, as if nothing had ever happened. The doctors could not explain it, but my parents were always convinced that God granted the miracle of healing for which they had prayed. Although we had always been regular church-goers, and both my parents taught and volunteered at church, they had never committed to tithing. It was just too scary. But they felt that they had to do something daring to acknowledge God’s amazing gift of healing. And so they began to put 10% of every paycheck into their contribution envelope, no matter what. I’d like to tell you that we got rich and had everything we ever hoped for. It isn’t the way it happened. But they said that they had struggled to make ends meet in all the years they had been married, and once they began to tithe, it never happened again. Financial worries became a thing of the past for them. Each of them told me the story at different times, and each of them claimed the same result. I didn’t realize that is what was happening at the time – they didn’t talk to me about their money. But it became the way we were taught to think of our own money: the first part of your check goes into the church’s coffers, where it supports the work of the congregation and from the congregation it goes on to support the work of the larger church.
There are many among us who have given our tithes and offerings all our lives and now find ourselves in the position of not being able to give any longer for many reasons. Thank you for all you have given to God’s work in the world. Now it is your turn to give God’s work your fervent prayers and to support those of us who can give with your prayers as well.
We have been talking about waking up to God’s presence in the world, to bless what God blesses and to see the blessings which have been granted to us. Giving is another form of waking up to that presence and those blessings. Jesus gave all he had for us, giving up his Godly privilege to live among us, meeting evil face to face and suffering a horrible death for it. But he buried death and rose to new life granting us the freedom to live a new life as well. We owe him everything, but he asks so little in return, he asks us to do his work of blessing and saving the people of the world, he asks us to see him in each other, and he asks us to remember through our giving that all we have comes from his love for us.
Now may the peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen