11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
22Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field 23In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always 24But if, when the Lord your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, 25then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; 26spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together. 27As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you.
28Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; 29the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
Leah and I have established a bedtime routine with young William. Bath time, book time, bottle, and bed. General in that order, although sometimes Sir William decrees that he will feed before we may read. So a couple of months ago, we are in that process, and are moving him towards sleep, we're about to put him down so we can have a few minutes together before we fall asleep ourselves, when all of a sudden, my phone rings...
My phone doesn't spend much time on silent, because I want any church member who has a pastoral emergency to be able to reach me. And the ringtone is intentionally loud so that I can hear it over any background noise.
In a house full of hardwood floors, with a baby who is trying to go to sleep, that loud phone is...somewhat disruptive.
So now I've got a wriggly infant who is excited about this new noise, and I'm digging my phone out of my pocket because I'm just sure it's an emergency, and I answer.
"Hello this is Joseph."
"Hi, my name is Sandra, and I'm a student at Columbia Seminary. Do you have a few minutes to talk about our annual fund?"
It's that time of year. Non-profits around the country are asking us to reach for our checkbooks to support their good work.
But sometimes, when that time of year comes around, we’ve got a lot on our minds. Perhaps a fussy baby needs to be put to bed. You know, hypothetically…
Perhaps our budgets are tighter one year than in others, unexpected medical bills, or a large family gathering that took a chunk out of our resources. Perhaps there are changes at work, or our retirement looks more thin than we’d like. Or maybe it’s just that the idea of making another sacrifice, of giving up one more thing, is too much.
So I got to think about what tithing is meant to be.
“Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.”
Our tithe is not meant to be “one more thing.” It’s not an obligation or a checkbox on your spiritual report card. In the old testament, tithing was building up to a feast! A huge meal where people would gather all around to learn to fear the LORD our God always.
Tithing is meant to prepare us to journey to a feast.
I think that’s wonderful! We’re headed to a party, so we’ve got to set aside the first tenth part of everything God gives us. That’s going to be quite the party.
Of course, things have changed since this passage was written. Our 105 member congregation does not have as many farmers, vineyard owners, or shepherds as those who first heard and read Deuteronomy. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ also changed our relationship to the law, and so for Christians, tithing is not a requirement, but instead a spiritual discipline.
But even though thousands of years have passed since Moses gave the law to the Israelites, having received it himself from the LORD our God, our lives are still shaped by the Old Covenant, and the ways we have inherited its traditions and wisdom.
So we don’t bring grain, wine, oil, or the firstlings of our herd and flock. Very few of us have those. But we do bring other gifts that have grown up in us by the hand of God. “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” We bring ourselves to the covenant community who have gathered in this place for nearly seventy-five years, and we bring our gifts with us.
Those gifts include our time, our abilities, our skills or even just our willingness to show up. There is a legitimate ministry in just attending a Bible study and giving a teacher a chance to lead a class.
Sometimes those gifts grow in professional settings, and are converted into money, which goes to keeping up the property our church family calls home, or to supporting our personnel, so that the four of us can do the ministry to which God has called us, or to more direct support of the mission of this congregation.
In response to God's call, the Presbyterian Church of Lowell seeks to worship God, grow in faith, and show God's love to everyone.
That's our mission statement. It shows up in a few places around our church, often on the cover of bulletins, newsletters. It's on the official church letterhead and is how we structure our budget. It's a really great mission statement, and I'm grateful to the people who put it together years before I even got here.
When God calls believers together, he does so for a purpose. Their is a task, a mission, for each community of faith. The community working together is what makes a church a church. Worship God, grow in faith, show God's love to everyone.
This stewardship season, we are going to challenge one another to grow in faith. We are going to challenge one another to put that faith into action. We're going to challenge one another in building up and reaching out.
We are going to challenge one another to remember that gifts are all given for a purpose: "To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ." We answer that call, we fulfill that purpose, by building up and reaching out.
We will build up the body of Christ not by providing luxury for ourselves, but by growing in faith, by learning to fear the Lord our God always, to be awed by his holiness. We will build up the body of Christ not by seeking our own comfort, but by equipping the saints, young and old, for the work of ministry. We will build up the body of Christ not by preserving ourselves, but by trusting the LORD our God to lead us out into the world even at great risk.
God is choosing to reach out to the world through us. We are one of the places that God has chosen as a dwelling place for his name, so that all peoples will know that the LORD is God when he displays his holiness through us. Through us! God is active through us! Building up, reaching out, through us!
That’s no small obligation, it’s a cause for amazed celebration. So in our tithes, as we fill out our pledge cards, as we focus outward, we will learn to fear the LORD our God always. We are preparing to journey to a feast.
Stewardship is about joining the messianic feast with all the saints. We join with those in our own community: “You and your household rejoicing together.” We join the saints who are in far-off places, even if “the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you.” We also are stewards alongside the many saints who have gone on before us.