The Jump Up, near Itjinpiri in the Pitjantjatjara Lands

Stewardship and Being Human

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I’ve been asked by Church Council to talk about stewardship; about giving our money for the mission of our church. People get uncomfortable with this kind of sermon. In fact, there’s a minister’s joke that says you can preach on sex,  and you’ll get less complaints than if you preach about money. So I’m not going to be subtle about it. I’m going to jump in and be blunt.

This is an important topic, not just for the congregation, but for each one of us. If we don’t give our money to the church, the church will not thrive. If we don’t give our money away, we will not thrive. I’m being blunt here; black and white; no subtlety.

First, the dollars. Let’s just be practical. If you have a church with a building, and a full time minister, and electricity bills, and so on, in today’s world there is essentially no change out of $100,000.00 a year. That is just a fact.

In our new congregation, and new equipment and stuff, if we want to do more than just sit there,  we might  need to be thinking $150,000.00 Per year.  Each year. So let’s just take that figure out of the air and play with it; $150,000.

This is how you don’t do stewardship:

What people are inclined to do is say, OK, we have 100 people who have an income. $150,000 divided by 100 people is $1,500.00. If you divided $1500 by 52 weeks in a year, that means we should all just pay $29.00 a week and the problem is solved.

That is stupid, and it is unjust. Some weeks some of our teenage members will barely get paid $30.00; you know who shifts at Coles work. And why should we expect Ellen, say, or a pensioner, to pay the  same as me. I get heaps more, and I could pay $30.00 several times over.

That’s pretty obvious. So we tend to take verses from the Old Testament and say people should tithe. That means, they should give 10% of their income. Then those who get more give more. That’s what God asked of people in ancient Israel.

It’s still unjust. Tithing was a system the people of Israel worked out when everyone was a farmer and had about the same income. It’s completely different today, when we have incomes that range ten or even twenty times more than each other.

Let me explain. Imagine if it cost $100.00 a week to live... that’s way too little, but it makes the numbers easy.

Ok, imagine Mary-Anne gets $100.00 a week. If she tithes, that means she pays $10, that’s a tenth, and it means she goes hungry, or goes without medicines, because she is ten dollars short.

Now imagine I get $500.00 a week. $500.00 minus a tenth leaves me $450.00. Then I pay my bills and I have $350.00 left; over three times more than what I need to live. How dare we as a congregation expect Mary-Anne to pay a tenth and go hungry, and only ask me to pay a tenth.

And so people get into things like graduated tithes... as you get richer you pay a greater percentage... and then arguments start about whether you tithe before tax or after tax, blah blah...... and it all misses the point about money.

The point is not to ask “How much I can afford to give?”  or “How much should I give?”

The point is to ask, “How much money can I afford NOT to give? How much money is it safe for me to keep? How much money will draw me away from God?”

We can understand what I am on about by going back to the very basics of who we are.

I am an animal. I eat, I drink, I sleep, and I ... well, you know. I share 98% of my DNA with the chimpanzees; I'm not so different. My brain and body have evolved to eat flat out when there is food, and to get fat, so that I can survive the winter living off the fat. I have evolved to fight to the death to survive. I’m no different to a dog in a fight.

All the animal stuff is there in the deep part of our brains we call the amygdala. This is why calm gentle people can go off their trolley and be a total animal. It’s why when people get drunk, when the alcohol depresses their inhibitions, they act like animals. We are animals.

What makes us human is that we have learned to cooperate. We cooperate in our family. We cooperate in tribes, and in nations. But nation to nation we can still be animals; my country right or wrong we say. It’s the old survive at all costs genes which come to the fore. We are still animals, built on the same stuff as our dogs and cats.

When we have money in our pocket, we have evolved to keep hold of it for ourselves, or to spend it on ourselves. Our deepest ancient genes and training tell us that the more we have, the safer we will be, and the more likely we are to survive the winter. All my instincts tell me to eat as much as I can, get as much money as I can, and not share it with you. If I share it with you, then I might not have enough to get through the winter, or next week, or whenever.

We are evolving from something which is the direct opposite of what Jesus says to us about being human.

There are two texts about this. One is about our trust in God. What Jesus is saying in this reading is that trusting God is what makes us human. Trusting God is what frees us from being an animal and grabbing everything we can.

Let’s read this in full from Matthew 6:

24 ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Let me say it again: What makes us human is to trust God.  Trusting in money, getting everything we can, eating too much, buying too much, hoarding our money for ourselves; all these things are making us non-human. They are taking a step back towards being an animal.

Every time I go to MacDonald’s and pig out, I am practicing not to be a Christian who follows Jesus, not to be a fully Human Being who follows Jesus, but to be an animal.

You notice how I keep talking about food and money. This is because we understand about food, and about how our appetites which we can barely control, make us fat and sick. There’s so much false advertising about nice things; clothes, iphones, and cars, that we don’t realise our love of money is exactly the same kind of appetite we need to control, or it will make also us sick. In 1 Timothy it says

for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;8but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.

Now I said there were two texts. The second one is a distillation of the essence of our faith in Jesus.

Basically there are two kinds of faith in the world. There is the animal faith. It says, “I am Number One. The most important person in the world is me.  I need to save my life, and my family’s life, and my country’s life.”

But Jesus said, “The one who saves their life will lose it, and the one who loses their life will save it.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

When we take up our cross we are doing the direct opposite of being an animal whose instinct is to survive at all costs. We are saying we are not the most important person in the world. We are saying the other person is. It’s this that makes us human. We will die for another person, and that’s where we gain our lives. Trusting God, and following Jesus, and living for others and not for ourselves is the complete utter opposite of living for number one, and getting that new iPad.

At the beginning of this sermon, I said it’s not about how much money we should give, but it’s about how much we can afford not to give. Basically, the more money I have in my pocket, and in my bank, the more tempted I am to trust the money, and keep hold of the money, and not follow Jesus.

It’s like Tim Tams. Some of you know that sometimes I bring Tim Tams when I visit. I used to buy packets of the things in bulk when they were on special.  And you know what happened?  I ate them... I know they are not good for me. I know they make me fat. But they are like a magnet. It is not healthy to have the things in the house. So now I don’t buy them ahead of time.

Money is the same. It’s a drug like alcohol and pot... and like Tim Tams. It is a drug that makes us dependent. It pulls us away from being human. Money that is not used correctly is the worst drug in our society; way worse than grog. We just don’t notice, because of all the advertising that tells us how good it is to have money, and how happy it will make us. Jesus says something completely different.

So maybe we should just put an appropriate amount of your wages in our super, where we can’t touch it. Then we pay the rent, or pay the mortgage, and pay our insurance and food. And then give the rest away. It is part of what Paul calls “working out our salvation.”

Is that the thing to do?

I have to be straight up front and tell you I am not real good at doing this.  I’m not taking just enough to live and giving the rest away. I’m not game to; I don’t have enough trust in God.  But... I have started. I’ve done it more at some times than others. And I’ve stopped looking to get the biggest income I can, and been satisfied with earning a lot less.

I’ve noticed something.

The more I give away, and the more I relax about earning a lot, the happier I am. I worry less. I have less stress.  It actually does make me more human and less of an anxious animal. I can only conclude that the bible knows what it is talking about.

So I reckon that when we think about supporting our church we should stop thinking about how much we should give. We should ask how much it is safe to keep while we are trusting God. That is being faithful and working out our salvation.

And while you’re working out your salvation, if you’re looking for a place to help, well, there’s a church here which is doing great things. They could really use your money well.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

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A non-guilt trip, hurray!
Clare 01-08-2011
That's the first sermon I've ever seen or heard about money that doesn't rely on a guilt trip to make people give. Most money sermons go something like this:"It's your duty to give some of your money to God. As a member of this church [or this missionary organisation, or whatever] it's your duty to give it to us because if people like you don't give us their money our wonderful good work can't continue." And it seems no-one ever stops to wonder whether perhaps God might want the contributions to dry up in order to send some kind of message to the church, or the missionary body, or the aid organisation, or whatever it is. Very refreshing to finally see a sermon that takes a guilt-free line. Keep talking, Andrew.

Re: Non Guilt Trip
Andrew Prior 01-08-2011
Yes... I'm not sure why we find it so hard to say we need money without laying guilt on people. It really begs the question if we can only get money by emotionally blackmailing people, doesn't it?

Stewardship and Giving
Carol Borland 02-08-2011
My husband and I just finished the 13 lesson course by Dave Ramsey called Financial Peace University offered at our church. His course teaches people how to get out of debt and stay out, how to save for education for the children and or retirement, and how to make money. His mantra is: Live like no one else (meaning sacrfice the goodies we go into debt to buy) so you can live like no one else (meaning live debt-free and giving out of our abundance). His last lesson has to do with GIVING like no one else, and it speaks very clearly of the things Andrew is addressing in this excellent sermon. Thanks, Andrew. I will share this on our church facebook page. Would you mind if I were to reprint some handouts for the literature table at our church?

Re: Stewardship and Giving
Andrew Prior 02-08-2011
Carol, please feel free to do reprints. Andrew

On not-tithing
Kathy Donley 03-08-2011
Andrew, I'm just starting to think about the traditional stewardship campaign I've been asked to lead at my new church in September. There's been an assumption, on the part of the well-churched folks, that I would teach tithing. I have mixed feelings about tithing, although I practice it myself as a minimum. I really appreciated how you laid out that concept and offered alternatives. I'd love to know what feedback you get from your congregation after this.

Re: On not-tithing
Andrew Prior 03-08-2011
Thanks Kathy. I will try and give some feedback. It happens next week in a congregation where I am a short term interim. I like your idea of the tithe as a minimum. Ronald Sider did some interesting work back in the seventies on graduated tithes that may interest you. "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger" was the book title. I think he was suggesting at tithe on a minimum amount of income and that as we earned more than that we should increase the tithe it a greater percentage. Eg, 10% of our first 20,000 dollars and then 15% of the next 5,000 and so on. Sort of like sliding tax scales. Andrew

Hacking the Brain Stem
Geoff Hurst 07-08-2011
Excellent Sermon mate. Perhaps an expansion on Wesley's "Gain all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can" Re: what happens in our brains... read Neale Stephensons "Snow Crash". Old but really really good.

Re: Hacking the Brain Stem
Andrew 07-08-2011
Thanks Geoff

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