Give All You Can… With Integrity
Let us Pray. Beloved God, I pray that you would take these words shared today and inspire them with your love and hope for our world. Where they go astray, I pray that no harm would be done. Amen.
So, we’re on our third and final week of wrestling with John Wesley’s sermon, The Use of Money. I hope that you have had a chance to read it either online or with the hard copies we’ve made available in Epworth Hall. Once we’ve wrapped up, I would be delighted to talk with anyone about further thoughts on his message and how it might apply to our individual lives.
As we go into the third part of his message, I want to read from the conclusion of his sermon - which nicely summarizes it all for us. John Wesley says:
“[1.] Gain all you can, without hurting either yourself or your neighbour, in soul or body, by [diligently] applying [yourself], and with all the understanding which God has given you;
[2.] Save all you can, by cutting off every expense which serves only to indulge foolish desire; to gratify either the desire of flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life; waste nothing, living or dying, on sin or folly, whether for yourself or your children;
and then, [3.] give all you can, or, in other words, give all you have to God. Do not stint yourself  to this or that proportion. “Render unto God,” not a tenth, not a third, not half, but all that is God’s, be it more or less; by employing all [of] yourself, your household, the household of faith, and all [hu]mankind, in such a manner, that you may give a good account of your stewardship…”
Wesleyan economics worked well for the people called Methodists. From John Wesley’s time onward, Methodists started becoming wealthy. The wisdom of earning and saving made Methodists some of the wealthiest in their towns and territories. But Wesley lamented that his Methodists seemed to be a little selective in their memory for the third part. Give all you can.
How many of you, like me, get a little squeamish when you hear that line: give all you can? Am I really giving all I can? Was it ok that I went out for dinner last week instead of donating that money to a charity or church? Did I really need that new sweater I bought last month? What about the vacation we took as a family? Did we indulge too much? What is too much?
I think the squeamishness is not a bad thing. Now, I don’t believe that we should get bogged down in guilt or second guessing our every financial decision ad nauseum, but I do think that this should give us pause from time to time. If all that we have is God’s, comes from God, is a gift from God that we thank God for over each meal - how are we being good stewards of these gifts?
Interestingly, and contrary to every stewardship curriculum I’ve ever seen, I don’t believe in a blanket 10% tithing. I not only don’t believe in it, I fervently oppose its teachings. I will tell you why (whether you like it or not… where’s my soapbox?)
I don’t believe in teaching 10% tithing because I have come to understand that the people most susceptible to its teaching can least afford the financial burden and those who have the most capacity for following it are the least likely to meet it when in actuality they should be exceeding it.
Let me break that down. Poor people are taught that God will bless their finances if they give ten percent of their income to the church. This is manipulative hope for people in despair. The prosperity gospel has no place in the church of Christ. Convincing people who do not have enough to feed their families that they have the chance at prosperity if they give more to the church is oppressive theology.
I want to read you a few statistics from 2018:
“For Christian families making less than $20,000/yr, 8% of them gave at least 10% in tithing. For families making $75k+, the church tithing figure drops to just 1%.” (https://www.kennyjahng.com/facts-church-tithing-clearly-defines-generosity-gap/)
"The lowest-income fifth (of the population) always give at more than their capacity,...The next two-fifths give at capacity, and those above that are capable of giving two or three times more than they give." (https://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/article24538864.html)
Now I’m not going to try to definitively define what middle class is in our helter-skelter culture, but let’s assume that it is what it was once thought to be: a house, two cars, and the ability to pay for your children’s college tuition out of pocket. What would that be today? $150,000 to $300,000 combined income for a family of four? Let’s call that roughly middle class. Not making that much? Me neither. If you make less than that but more than, say $45,000 annually, we are the working class and we work hard to make ends meet and must be extra careful. As my dad used to say, one paycheck away from missing the mortgage payment. The federal poverty level for 2019 is $25,000 for a family of four, but I’d like to see anyone try to find housing in Barre plus be able to feed and clothe your family for that - so we’ll draw the line around $45,000. Less than that and you can receive state sponsored benefits to keep yourself and your family afloat.
So, do I think that anyone should give 10% or try to give 10% of their income? Yes, people who are in that $150,000 to $300,000 range. Making more than that? I would assume that giving everything to God means that you give much more than 10% back to help provide for your neighbors, your church family, those in need in the world.
But if you, like me, are making less than that. Please be careful. Giving our all to God includes, according to John Wesley, feeding our families, keeping a roof over our heads, and making sure that our children will be able to do the same for their families someday. Our church family does, in fact, begin at home. That doesn’t mean we don’t give anything, we just better make sure that we are budgeting our charity and making sure that we won’t end up needing charity because we gave away what we need to pay the bills. I do actually have personal experience with that. It can get… awkward.
So let’s go back to that paragraph on feeling squeamish… Did the dinner date that I went on with my partner, Kurt, last week nourish only my culinary appetite or did it also nourish our relationship? Did the vacation that we carefully saved for and found bargains to make happen just make us look good in the eyes of our peers or did it bring us together as a family? Did we learn something while we were away? Did it bring us closer to God? That sweater that I bought? Well, I probably didn’t need it. No, I definitely didn't need it. Maybe the impulse shop was actually the best indication that I can give more. I'm certain that someone on the street needs a warm sweater more than I need just another one for my closet. After we earn and save, are we budgeting for what we give back to God and God’s kingdom work? Let’s seek to be intentional.
I want us to be intentional about our money. Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. There should be joy in the giving, not guilt. We should strive to give our all to God, not because our finances will flourish, but because when we have abundance it is joyful to give!
Think of the church like your family. Gain all you can for your family. Save all you can so that we are good stewards together. And then, be happy to provide for this family and have fun together, build relationships and nourish one another and our community. Amen.