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Giving our Thanks and Praise, October 8, 2017

Giving our Thanks and Praise

Last year, I told you about a friend of mine. Whenever you asked Dave, “How are you?”, he would reply “I am grateful.” It’s a wonderful way to be, and it’s a good thing to be aware of all the blessings in your life.
I also am grateful. I am grateful for life. I am grateful for the people in my life. I am grateful for the goodness that so often catches me by surprise.
Even in the midst of very difficult times, I remain grateful. I have friends who lift me up. I have a church community which prays for me. I trust a God who keeps my life whole and good and joyous.
I am grateful.
But there is something else which completes what it means to be grateful. That’s the gift of giving. Gratitude leads to giving. And not just giving, but giving generously. I would go so far as to say that gratitude is not complete if you’re not giving.
I am grateful. I give. Generously. They belong together. They are part of one another. Just like the name of this weekend—Thanks. And Giving.
Let me tell you about a couple of folks—Baptist Bob and Anglican Angie.
Baptist Bob graduated from college and was looking forward to a good career. He grew up in the church, and he learned very early to give. His parents taught him. His pastor preached and taught about it. When he left college, even though he wasn’t making much money, Baptist Bob was tithing. He gave 10% of every dollar he earned to the church. Giving made him feel great.
When he graduated, he asked his pastor to pray with him to find a good job. He promised God that he would continue tithing.
Baptist Bob found a good job, and over the years he rose in the company, his salary increased and he became very comfortable. He bought a larger house in a toney neighbourhood for himself and his family. Life was good. He was earning $500,000 a year, and he was able to buy all the things they needed … and all the things they wanted.
But Baptist Bob began to notice that it was harder and harder to tithe. There were all kinds of demands on his time and his money. He had more obligations; it was hard to meet them all.
So he went to his pastor and told him the story. He asked his pastor to pray with him about this. They knelt in the middle of the pastor’s office, and the pastor prayed, “Dear God, please help Bob lose his job. Amen.”
Baptist Bob was astounded. “What was that all about?” His pastor said, “When you had less money, you didn’t have any trouble tithing. Now you’re rich and you can’t seem to give as generously. To help your soul, I asked God to help you.”
Then there’s Anglican Angie. Like Baptist Bob, she graduated from university and found a good career. She also goes to church regularly. She loves to sing and meet her friends at church. She loves the liturgy, and finds that the time she spends in worship every week refreshes her spirit and encourages her. It helps her be aware of all the blessings in her life.
But no one ever talked to Angie about giving. She knows she should give something … but what? How much should she give? She has never heard her priest talk about it, certainly not in a sermon. Anglicans just don’t do that kind of thing.
She went to see him once, to talk about giving. He only responded, “Gee, they never taught me about that in seminary. I don’t know!” She walked away, as confused as ever. She still didn’t know about giving.
Luckily for Anglican Angie, there was a new priest in her parish. He used to be a Presbyterian, but now he has seen the light. Apparently, he’s quite comfortable talking about money and giving. Even better, he just went to a Conference where they all talked about giving and stewardship.
They talked about this reading from 2 Corinthians. God loves a cheerful giver? What the heck does that mean? What’s a cheerful giver? Giving cheerfully? Gimme a break!
See here’s the thing about giving—it’s something we have to learn to do. It doesn’t come naturally to us. The first words out of our mouths when we are infants is “Mama” and “Dada”. The second word we learn is “No!” And the next word we learn is … “Mine”. Think back to your own kids. “Mine.” My toy! My seat! We learn very early to claim stuff as ours.
And that impulse doesn’t end as we grow up. We have to learn to give, and if we don’t learn it, we will never experience what it means to become a cheerful giver.
And honestly, there is such a thing. Luckily for Anglican Angie, her new priest has learned to be a cheerful giver. He has learned to give, and to give generously. Every Sunday, as the offering comes up to the altar, he puts his own envelope into the plate. He offers a prayer of gratitude for all God’s gifts, a prayer of gratitude for being able to give so generously.
He’s also learned some stuff about the Bible. The Bible mentions love 538 times; prayer shows up 529 times; faith and believing, about 414 times; joy, about 210 times. These are all pretty important things.
But do you know what’s mentioned most in the Bible? Money, wealth, and poverty. Over 2000 times. Four times as often as love and prayer; five times as often as faith. In fact, if you look at the gospels, Jesus talks about money and wealth almost 20% of the time.
It’s quite astonishing, isn’t it? Jesus talks about money more than any single other subject.
As I said earlier, giving is a learned behaviour. It doesn’t come naturally. What’s natural is to think, “Mine!” I worked hard for what I have … so I should get to enjoy it all.
Yes we do work hard for it. But if we keep it for ourselves, we will miss out on the joy of giving. I have learned that joy.
You will hear people say, “Give until it hurts!” What I want to tell you is, “Give until it feels good. Give until it feels great!”
It does. There is great joy in giving. In my first parish, I was talking about proportional giving—which simply means to give a percentage of our income. In that way, everyone is giving at the same level. After worship, a friend came up to me and said, “I’d like to talk to you about that sermon.”
I thought, “Uh oh. Now I’ve done it.” We met Tuesday. Frans said, “I teach Sunday School with others, and I’m an elder, and I work to help the church, right?” I said, “Yes you do. Thank you.” Then he said, “When you were preaching, I was figuring out what percentage of my income I give to the church. It’s just over 2%. That’s not enough. My church, my faith in God, is more important than that. Teach me to grow in my giving.”
It took my breath away. We set up a schedule so he could grow from 2% to 10% within two years. It only took him 9 months to reach 10%. He kept growing from there. The last time I talked to him, he was at 17% — and he was loving it!
Thanks. Giving.
I am grateful. I give with joy. I give generously. For me, I give 10% of my income to the church, and another bunch of money to other groups. My tax return last year showed that I gave 12% of my income. What a thrill!
I think the reason Jesus talked so much about money is that most of us are ‘in’ our money somewhere. It “represents our gifts and our work, the grace we have received and the effort we have added to the grace. Money is a storage device for grace, time, and energy. Money is personal. It goes into the world as an expression somehow of who we are. It discloses what we believe about ourselves.” (Michael Thompson)
What do we believe about ourselves? The way we use our money shows it.
So let me encourage you. Don’t give until it hurts. Give until it feels great.
I am grateful.
I give, generously.
Giving our thanks and praise.
Thanks. Giving.
Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
October 8, 2017, Thanksgiving Sunday
Deuteronomy 8: 7–18
2 Corinthians 9: 6–15
Luke 17: 11–19