By Rev. Heather Blais.
While I am a lifelong member of the Episcopal church, the first time I remember hearing a minister talk about faith and money I was 22 years old. Jason and I were newlyweds. I had just started seminary and was working part time as one of the Diocesan Youth Ministers. We attended a small, family sized church in Hallowell, Maine.
During the church’s annual pledge drive, the priest did the craziest thing. He actually talked about the tithe. This biblical idea that we are called to return our first fruits to God as an act of thanksgiving. It is typically defined as ten percent of one’s annual income. Even more startling than the fact he was talking about money during the sermon time, was that he ended his sermon by asking each of us to prayerfully reflect on whether we could strive to tithe.
I am sure some folks were annoyed or tuned out, particularly given the Episcopal Church’s history in recent memory to function more like a country club than a branch of the Jesus Movement. Yet his sermon piqued my curiosity. Some of you may have picked up on the fact that anything considered taboo for the Church to talk about tends to be what I am most interested in exploring. Because if our faith is who we are when we are fully alive, then surely it must influence our understanding of money, politics, sex, climate change, and so on.
That Sunday, Jason and I took our pledge card home and we started a conversation about our understanding of how our faith and our money intersected. We talked about what our minister had to say. We prayed about it. We talked about what we wanted to do, and then we looked at our incredibly tight budget. We realized we could only spare 2% of our annual income if we wanted to responsibly fulfill our other obligations. And yet, it was a defining moment for us. We made a commitment to one another and to God, that we would actively strive to tithe.
Each Sunday, we gave what we could, always offering that gift to God before paying our other bills or other discretionary spending. There were times the math should not have worked. For all intents and purposes, our bank account should have been in the red. Yet somehow, we found that whenever we began with our thanksgiving offering, our pledge, there was always enough to fill the gas tank, to pay for groceries, and even to pay the unexpected bills that arose. Every year since, we have reexamined our commitment and increased our giving little by little.
It has taken thirteen years, with many highs and lows--which have ranged from managing medical, consumer, and student debt; to career changes and job losses; to pay cuts and pay raises-- but in 2020 we were finally about to reach a tithe. Our giving continues to be sacrificial giving, and it still comes first and foremost when we handle our monthly expenses. Yet somewhere along the way, our giving has shifted from living into a biblical expectation to truly joy filled giving. It was almost as though the more we gave, the more we sacrificed; the more peace we found within ourselves and our relationship with God.
The reason our giving has become a joy, is because with each passing year we’ve come closer to realizing nothing is actually ours. Everything that our culture might define as belonging to us, in reality, belongs to God. Our thanksgiving offering, our pledge, is one small way we can thank God for the abundance of blessings in our lives. Along the way, we’ve taught our children the same values; and part of the practice of receiving an allowance in our family is that they offer their first fruits to God, too.
Now, there are a lot of avenues where one could offer God their thanksgiving offering, but we have always started with our local church. Then we make extra gifts above and beyond to other organizations that are important to us.
Here is why we give our tithe to the church we belong to:
Because the local church understands that those the world cares about the least, are those whom God favors the most. Just as Matthew articulates in today’s gospel--God favors the poor in spirit, those who are mourning, and the meek. God stands alongside those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness. God blesses those who are merciful and pure in heart. God’s attention is on the peacemakers and those who are persecuted.
There are a lot of organizations in our community and beyond that do good and important work. Yet for us, it is our local church- it is Saints James and Andrew that aligns with all our values and we want to offer our tithe to ensure that work can continue for as long as possible. We give to our local church because you are doing the counter cultural work of bringing about God’s dream here on earth. We want to be a part of making God’s dream come to fruition, and we believe when we give to our local church, to you Saints James and Andrew, that we can be a part of a movement unlike anything else in human history.
For next year, we longed to give more, to go above and beyond a tithe. Yet we were also faced with the reality that if we wanted to responsibility fulfill our other obligations, we needed to keep our giving level at ten percent. So we have committed to trying something that Bishop Fisher introduced several years ago. In addition to our regular pledge, we have promised to offer ten percent of any unexpected money we might receive--whether that be a gift from a loved one, payment for an odd job done, stimulus funds, an inheritance, whatever it might be.
Because nothing belongs to us. It is all a gift. And we want to thank God for the generosity and blessing that we have experienced in this life--particularly in this strange season of coronatide.
So, I want to follow the example of my minister all those years ago. I want to invite everyone to spend some time reflecting on the relationship between our faith and our money. How might God be inviting you to shift or grow at this season in your life? What might it look like for you to strive to tithe? Amen.
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