August 31, 2010

a realization

SHW and I are relatively new to the tithe thing. While I was in college, I subscribed to the 100% rule; as the plate came around, I gave 100% of the cash in my wallet (unless of course there was too much in there - which was rare - or if I maybe needed a couple of bucks to buy milk on the way home). Once we were married, and I was in discernment, we didn't have a home church and we didn't have much money, so we gave very little of it away. In seminary, we worked hard to convince ourselves that my $1100 a month tuition payment was our giving, but we did give some on top of that to St. James' where I served my field education. But once I was ordained, and, to be quite honest, once my livelihood depended on the giving of others, we made the jump to full 10% giving without much question. Now, three years later, it is just what we do; giving 6.6% to St. Paul's and 3.4% to other Christian groups of our choosing (most often it is to and the school our friend Adam started near Nairobi - check it out).

Some time last year, as we drove through our neighborhood on trash day, SHW and I noticed something. Even in our rather modest neighborhood of $130k houses, people seemed to have a lot of disposable income. 46" flat panel TV boxes, recycle bins overflowing with the cans of beers I only drink at an open bar, new cars, updated exterior fixtures, landscaping. These people had money to spend and they were doing it. But why didn't we? Sure SHW was not working so she was able to stay home with FBC, but I'm making decent money. But then we realized it, our "disposable" income was in the offering plate. And all of a sudden the sacrifice of the tithe made sense. We had never realized just how much we were giving away because it came straight off the top, we never really had it. Until we counted the opportunities lost, and then it all added up.

Jesus said, "none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." And we like to soften that up as much as possible. We reference his encounter with the rich young ruler later on in Luke and say "Oh, but Jesus meant that just for him, not for everyone." But here, Jesus clearly means it for everyone in the "now large crowd that was following him." And, OK, I'll soften it up a little bit. I don't think Jesus is affirming communal living. I don't think he meant sell it all and give it to the poor so that you too will be poor. But I do think he meant to hand over all your possessions (and possible possessions to him), by giving God that which is due him, everything, and by really taking notice of the sacrifice you've made. When it is just what you do, it is hard to learn from it. But when it is an intentional sacrifice, God can teach all sorts of lessons about patience, giving, care, love, sharing, etc. Oh, and when you save and scrimp and finally get that thing you've been waiting for, it is all the more sweet.

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