Through Moses, God liberated Israel from slavery in Egypt. As Israel entered the “Promised Land,” God said, “I gave you life, I set you free, I gave you this land. At the end of each year, give away the first fruits of all the produce of the land, the first 10%. Do that and you will learn more and more about who I am and how much I love you and this whole world” (to paraphrase Deuteronomy 14).
This is where these ABCs of giving come from. It was taught to me like this: 10-10-80. All you have and all you are is 100% God’s. So give away 10%, save 10% (or use 10% to reduce debt), and live on 80%. This way, all your money serves God and you receive more of the freedom and joy God wants for you.
Sara (my wife) and I practice “first fruits” tithing. I say so not to make myself a big deal but so you know, I practice what I preach. And it is possible. I’m by no means the only St. Paul person who tithes.
St. Paul as a congregation practices first fruits tithing for the “Listen, God is Calling” campaign, giving away $1,000 of every $10,000 received. For regular giving, St. Paul is wrestling: trying to both tithe and invest in staff to grow the church. Having fully tithed in the past, right now this year, we’ve given away between 6% and 7%. I expect the final year end percentage will be higher, but not fully 10%.
Giving is not God’s secret get-rich scheme, as many teach. It’s God’s lead-us-home scheme. To a “Promised Land” of freedom, hope, and rest, where all enjoy being and having enough and the greater gifts of God, each other, and our true selves.
Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
I’ve heard a bunch of sermons on this gospel passage about being more thankful, but many fewer about how God sees and celebrates the faith of foreigners and non-church folk. But the second was Jesus’ point: who gave thanks, not that he did.
It is the human ego that separates itself from others and plays superiority games. It draws lines and borders, then puts down people on one side and puffs up people on the other side.
When Jesus met these 10 lepers, he was on his way to the cross, walking along the border between put-down Samaria and puffed up Galilee. He walked the line in order to erase it. He noticed the thankful one was a Samaritan “foreigner” in order to stop the superiority games. It cost Jesus his life, but it was worth it. This dangerous border-erasing path was in truth the way to life that really is life.
Ask God to show you “foreigners” from God’s point of view. As we stop trying to “save” them or protect ourselves, how might we be healed?
Giving is not first about money. It’s about your relationship to God, the universe, yourself, and everyone else. Who is the Source and Center? Who am I? Who is my neighbor? Am I my neighbor’s keeper? What do I owe God and the people and community around me? I could tell you my ideas. But when you see how I actually deal with money, then you will know who or what I really trust.
Tithing is basic biblical wisdom for everyday life. Get your relationships right with God, the universe, yourself, and everyone else by giving away 10% of your income.
I hear the resistance now. “Pastor, there’s more to it than that!” “You don’t really have to give that much do you!?” To which I say, you gotta learn your ABCs before you can read. Don’t skip the ABCs of giving. For thousands of years, countless communities of Christians, Jews, and Muslims all around the world have taught and practiced giving away a set proportion of income and wealth (“tithing”). They’ve met God because of it! It’s been powerful! Given that track record, don’t you think it’s worth taking seriously?
Taking tithing seriously requires us, at a minimum, to do the math and consider the possibility. What do I give now, as a flat dollar amount and as a proportion of my income? What is 10% for me? What could I to do, be, or change to get there? What if I took one step and gave just 1% more of my income away this year? Or ½ percent this month?
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
Nearly everyone, in their innermost heart, wants to trust that all of this is going somewhere good.
“All of this” meaning everything from the many crises our country, climate, and world face to how this moment is going for ourselves and our circles of loved ones.
The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Jesus interrupts the apostles’ counting and comparing. Because faith and math do not mix. And Jesus invites them and us to marvel at what God can do when we give God even the tiniest of cracks into our hearts, lives, and communities.
Humanity gave God incarnate in Jesus Christ just a few nails to hang on and a grave to moulder in, and look at how God moved in all of that for good--for love, for the life of the world.
Ask God to help you trust that your faith is enough. What would be possible if you did?
“Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony,” said Abraham to the rich man in Jesus’ parable.
In life, the rich man held God and Lazarus at a distance, out beyond his wall, and he “feasted sumptuously everyday.” In death, he found that same distance excruciating; that same barrier, oppressive; that same feast, utterly empty. This is not punishment, as we usually think of it. God gave the rich man exactly what he wanted.
Heaven is union with God, pure and simple. Communion, because as we find ourselves in God, we also discover ourselves in community with all people and all creation. Communion, because union always includes sharing food and all of life’s material necessities.
“Life,” Richard Rohr says, “is all about practicing for heaven. … Everyone is in heaven when he or she has plenty of room for communion and no need for exclusion. … The more you exclude, the more hellish and lonely your existence always is.”
What is God asking you to do, be, or change, so it would be “on earth as it is in heaven”?
I celebrate the ELCA’s sanctuary decision. I’m convinced sanctuary means offering shelter, protection, and dignity to migrants and refugees. Sanctuary is what I found in the Lutheran church. Haven't you?
People risk the dangerous journey of migration because of crises of violence, corruption, and need in their home countries. Walls, mass deportation, dehumanization, family separation, denying asylum, and deprivation won’t stop migration, because they don’t address root causes.
Nothing better symbolizes resistance to the flow of God’s love than a wall. Our nation is stuck in either-or, all-or-nothing thinking, ignoring scripture’s calls for hospitality, feeding our fears and angers, while suffering people suffer more and die and a broken system stays broken.
Meanwhile, the ELCA works in Central American countries with young people deported from the U.S., providing psychological care, job training, and seed money. Roughly 90% remain in their home countries and don’t try to return to the U.S. May this kind of loving imagination take hold among all U.S. Christians and our civic leaders.
Becoming a sanctuary denomination is an invitation (never a demand) to refocus on reality and morality and to save our souls by giving away our lives.