UNTO GOD THE THINGS THAT ARE GOD’S
Matthew 22: 15-21
It took thirty-three years; just over the number of years Jesus walked the earth. That’s how long I have sought to not talk about money in church … until this year! Last March I told you that we did not have enough money to function, and you responded generously! Since then my heart has been filled with joy as we’ve restored the ministries Jesus called us to do! Money for the Lord’s work is always needed, and your gifts make us grateful!
Jesus talked about money more than He did Heaven and Hell combined.
Jesus talked about money more than anything else except the Kingdom of God. 11 of 39 parables talk about money and 1 of every 7 verses in the Gospel of Luke talk about money.
The word money is actually used in connection with Jesus (whether He uses the word or it is used in connection with Him) approximately 25 times throughout the 4 Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
So I’ve known that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also!”
In spite of that, I didn’t talk about money. And of course, people bought into my reticence. They would say, “Preacher it is good that you do not know what people give; that’s between them and God.” Dr. Clif Christopher, author of Whose Offering Plate is It? says people who say that mean: “Preacher, I’d rather not have you see what I give!” Hmmm. Over the years until 2008 we were able to create a church budget based on people’s “secret amounts” that they gave. But now I wonder how much more ministry we could have done had we challenge one another to give more generously! As of 2012, there were 1,500,000 tax-exempt corporations in our country; every one of them asks for and depends on the dollars of others. But mainline churches, including our own, have done a poor job of showing others how we are changing lives with their money, how we are living within our means, and what we could do with more. We have been especially poor at showing you how your gifts of tithes and offerings are changing lives. Peter F. Drucker, author of Managing the Non-Profit Organization writes this:
A business has discharged its task when the customer buys the product, pays for it, and is satisfied with it. Government has discharged its function when its policies are effective. The ‘non-profit’ institution neither supplies goods or services nor controls. Its ‘product’ is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its product is a changed human being.
Our ministry is, yes, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the world. But our mission, our task, is now changing lives for the better. Our theme this year is: “Changing Lives, Shaping Hearts.” That’s what we do really well. But we only started reporting our changed lives in May! We don’t sell groceries; we don’t fix cars. But what we do we need to do well. And if we do it well, you might join me in thinking that this ministry, this life-changing ministry, deserves your support. United States donations to non-profit groups went from 239 billion in 2002 to 316 billion in 2012, but mainline churches have received less and less of that pie. People may instead give online to a child who has a disease or to a family whose house has been burned; they may give to an organization advertised on television that helps children who need food, or they may give dollars to their alma mater. All good caused. But I propose that if we are in the business of changing the hearts of people, feeding and re-directing their souls, inviting them back from the cliff of temptation or addiction, and sending forth missionaries to do what Jesus would do there is no better ministry to support. So today I ask you to support the ministry of Jesus Christ here at our church. You have a right to know if I support our church, because, as you know, we have gone more than 29 years without telling each other! Mary Ann and I tithe from our gross income because we believe God asks us to do and our hearts are invested here! In 2015 we have pledged just over $10,000 to Westminster-By-The-Sea Presbyterian Church. We are not wealthy but we believe in changing lives the way we do! In addition to that we have made a three-year pledge to our Building Fund, but we’ve paid it all up front since we know contractors will want payments in the next 6 months. This is not to brag; this is to show that my family is “all in” for this ministry we share. We also give to church or neighborhood youth and children car washes or cookie sales and the like as we choose to do so. But when other charities call, it is so easy to say: “All our charitable giving goes to our church.” And that’s what we do. I give because I love to help pay for our music leaders and to buy the music for our wonderful choir. I give because my money helps allow youth to have a class every week, to meet as a youth group on many weeks, and to take a mission trip every summer. Lives are changed there. I can tell you many formative things that my own Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, and pastors taught me. My giving and your giving pays for Bibles we present to third graders. My giving and your giving pays for Dutch cradle crosses and certificates when a child is baptized; and we mail a year of lessons in faith formation for children ages two and three. My giving and your giving help us to get poor or broken people back on their feet. And my money and your money has created a beautiful lighthouse of faith on the south peninsula that will call people toward it on every darkened night. Your pastors will come to your home, or your hospital room or your nursing home to see you, counsel you, or pray with you. You will never get billed for those services. We even take communion to people in the home: it’s a concierge-type service that health care is only considering again.
When Jesus said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” it was not a 50/50 split. Tithing is about giving 10% of God’s money that we get to use, back to God as a thank you note. That’s what tithing is: giving 10% of your gross income back to God to say thanks. Governments, we know, force citizens to pay taxes. The Romans did that in New Testament times, and Americans do it today. No one likes it. And so we tend to tighten our grip on what we can control. Governments take some of our money through taxes. But the rest of it is God’s. The rest of it is God’s, and God gives us as much as 90% of it so that we can have life and have it abundantly! Yes, some spend it foolishly and run short of money; yes some have limited incomes and have trouble making ends meet. But anyone, no matter if they are rich or poor, can strive to give what God asks to be given, and to be generous with their gifts. (10%) is a tithe; more than that is an additional offering. If people use God’s 90% gift for what they need, and give their tithe to their church, they will be “giving unto God the things that are God’s! “ If people that, as many of you did in March this year, then we could not just dream about new ways to reach others, we could do them! I believe in this church’s ministries, this “investment in guiding the souls of others.” The best agency for guiding the human soul is the church, if the church knows what it is supposed to be doing and practices it: “preaching the Word of God rightly, teaching Christian Education, reproving vice and encouraging virtue, and going into the world as Christ bearers.” No other agency is charged with doing that. But we are; and so we do. We have a staff that is beyond compare and they are not just “overhead expenses!” They carry out ministry! Look at the back of your bulletin: our secretary in our front office has helped hundreds of people have hope again with bus passes, grocery store gift cards, and the like; she is very careful but gracious … with God’s money! Our music director and organist work every week to bring music that lifts up our hearts and feeds our souls. Our Christian Education Director and her committee have reached every age of people with classes, Inspired Together Dinners, and Bible Studies. I am the envy of our presbytery for having the Webmaster that we have; he sees that visitors and those who cannot attend get the good news of any particular week! Our Congregational Life group creates countless Christian fellowship opportunities. And as our housekeeper has been working through cancer and our custodian working with a back injury, our facilities are cleaned and tables are re-set daily in fellowship hall. Each elder pours his or her heart and mind and strength into honoring God here with their caregiving, fellowship, maintenance, and mission.
Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Taxes will always demand that. But everything else is your choice. This year since March, your extra gifts have made this time the most joyful months I’ve had in recent years, not because extra gifts came to me, but because extra gifts came to God; enough to do what I think Jesus wants us to do! Thank you!
Where do you see God? As I told the children: I see God in our sweet-faces of children; in the inquisitive faces of our youth, the hopeful faces of our young adults, and the wiser faces of older adults. I see God right here!
Will you join me in tithing, or giving more, like some of you did last March, so that we can keep making a difference? For the first time in a decade, we weren’t crippled by a deficit over the summer! I’m giving more because I can tell how we changing lives for the better! Almost every week we have verbally or in writing told you another story of the lives we’ve changed. From the youngest in pre-school to oldest members, we are changing the lives of children, youth, and adults. In God I trust, but in the way we are reaching out, I believe. 2015 will be the 60th year of Westminster By-The-Sea Presbyterian Church! Will you join others who have already decided to give more and give to the best place I know for the careful use of money and for lives that are being changed daily?
I will “Render unto God the things that are God’s.” Will you join me?
Jeffrey A. Sumner October 19, 2014