The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

THE "T" WORD

Delivered 11/4/01
Text: Malachi 3:6-10

The "T" Word. I will keep you in suspense no longer. The "T" word is TITHE. No surprise on Pledge Dedication Sunday. As you know, the tithe is ten percent of income. The concept goes back to the earliest pages of the Old Testament and was God's way of reminding us that we are here as managers - ownership belongs to God. The deal God made was that we could keep ninety percent of that with which we were entrusted for our own use - we were told to return just ten percent. It was not that God needed the money - it was all God's anyway and God could take every penny in a skinny minute. The tithe was simply a reminder of the source of our wealth. It was an extremely generous offer. But, even from the earliest days, folks have been tempted to skim even that. Thus the question posed in our lesson a moment ago: "Will a man rob God?" And then God's heated answer, "You ARE robbing me. But you say, `How are we robbing you?' In your tithes and offerings." The "T" word. We NEED that word occasionally, because it touches the most sensitive nerve in the human body...the one attached to the pocketbook.

I recall reading of the fellow who was annoyed when a definitely intoxicated man boarded a bus at a late hour and slumped into the seat right beside him. The passenger's apprehension increased when the drunk asked thickly, "Got any money?"

Seeking to head off a "touch," the man replied brusquely, "No."

Giving him a long look, the inebriated one leaned forward and intoned loftily, "I should try to get some if I were you. You would find it very useful."

Indeed. Jesus preached about money...a lot. Fully one-third of his parables deal with the proper handling of money and possessions. A problem in his day, a problem in our own.

Our lesson says, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house [or that the work can be done and the bills paid]. "Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." That DOES seem to be the way it works. I cannot explain it but can only say that tithing is the closest thing to magic I have ever found in our faith. Somehow, the folks who tithe seem to end up with more AFTER they give than they had before. As I say, I cannot explain it. In all of scripture, this is the only situation in which we are invited to TEST GOD. But as everyone of you who is a tither will testify over and over and over again, you cannot outgive God. I have never, never, never, never, NEVER talked with anyone who regularly tithed who was sorry about it.

Now, I have been around long enough to know that only a minority of American Christians tithe, and I realize that some of you would have difficulty going from the level you are currently giving to immediately beginning to tithe - you are already over-committed. You know you SHOULD do better and you WANT to, but are terrified about taking such a giant step. Let me offer a "baby" step to get you on the right road: take the amount you are currently giving and add one percent of income to it - that would mean $100 per year for each $10,000 of income. Next year, add one MORE percent, and do that each year until you get up to the level God intends. Be clear about this: until you get to ten percent, you are not doing what God has commanded, but at least this graduated approach will start you in the right direction.

Another suggestion. Since we know that the tithe is God's standard, set yourself up a TITHE ACCOUNT; your bank will arrange it for you if you ask. I was first introduced to this some years ago by an insurance agent friend of mine. He and his wife had just sent a generous contribution to a special fund to purchase and renovate a manse for the small church I was serving (and they were members of another church). The printed information on the top of the check indicated not only name, address, and phone number, but also a line that said TITHE ACCOUNT. I asked him about it the next time I saw him. He said this was an account that he had set up separately from his regular household and business funds. As income came in, he took ten percent right off the top, deposited it in the Tithe Account, then he could use the money to respond to needs as they were presented. That way he was never tempted to weigh between something for himself and some worthy cause, but rather simply between one cause and another. Neat idea. And good Biblical stewardship.

One question that always comes up concerning tithing is do we base it on the gross or the net? Before taxes or after? The best response I have heard is this: suppose God were to change the plan for one year and, instead of asking for a tenth, were to give you an extra ten percent based upon the income which you received last year. What figure would you suggest to God to describe your income? Gross or net? Then, you be as fair with God as you would expect God to be with you.

Personally, I believe that the tithe should be placed in the hands of the church, and that is the practice in my household. Other appeals, other charities, are over and above. If you are not at that level, I suggest (and I bite my tongue as I do it) that you allocate at least five percent to the church and divide the rest among the other needs that you wish to support. If everyone did at least that, this congregation would be able to get its work done with no difficulty and you would be more faithful disciples.

One of the things that has struck me over these past weeks of televised terrorism, anthrax anxiety, and worries about the war is the sense that we as a people are just a tiny bit less materialistic than we were just a few short weeks ago. In the face of some of the horrors we have witnessed, we are less concerned about STUFF than we have been. And that is a good thing. So saying, regardless of what has happened, the commercials, the billboards, the newspaper and magazine ads remind us that we have come to a particularly materialistic time of the year. At no other time are we confronted more with questions about money. In the weeks approaching Thanksgiving and Christmas we are deluged with opportunities get rid of it - to merchants, to beggars, to bell-ringers, even to the church to take advantage of a tax break by the end of the year. And the result, of course, is the best chance ever to feel guilty about it. No need...if day in and day out, week in and week out, we handle what God has given us properly.

Take the "T" word out, dust it off, and set it in a place of honor. Give to God what belongs to God...the tithe. Then get ready...the generous Lord who invites us to be nourished at the table adds, "See if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." Let it be, Lord, let it be.

Amen!


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