Reformation Sunday: October 28, 2012

Malachi 3:10-12 – Bring the full tithe into the storehouse and see if I will not will not open the heavens for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

Psalm 112:1-6 – It is well for those who are generous, who conduct their affairs with justice.

Acts 2:42-47 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone. They shared. This is worship.

Luke 19:1-10 – Zaccheus gives away half of his possessions.

These texts are chosen for Five Practices series. The epistle reading is the same as the last two weeks.

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations

We are on the final week of a five-part series called Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. We have participated in daily devotions. This week we are reading chapters 29-35 in Cultivating Fruitfulness. We took part in weekly small group gatherings and weekly worship. Last week we did service projects together. And today we are tying it all together with a big party after worship. We hope you’ll join us. All are invited. All are welcome.

The five practices are:

  1. Radical hospitality
  2. Passionate worship
  3. Intentional faith development
  4. Risk-taking mission and service
  5. Extravagant generosity

Are you growing in hospitality, worship, faith, mission, service, and generosity?

Extravagant Generosity

Malachi says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse and see if I will not will not open the heavens for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”

Tithes were a 10% offering of cattle and crops in the Old Testament. Those resources were given to the Levites. They were stores in the Temple storehouses. This food was used for the priests, for the religious festivals, and for orphans, widows, the poor, and immigrants (Aliens in some versions; sojourners or strangers in others.) These stores could also help in times of famine. It was a good system. If we used it in the U.S. today, we could not only feed our whole country, but the whole world.

The problem was corruption of course. That’s always a factor. Any good system will be abused. The Levites at times in Israel’s history neglected their duties. The Levites shirked their duties, so the prophet Malachi chastised them. God promised to purify the sons of Levi.

Likewise, the people find ways to cheat the tithe, so that they can have more. It’s basically an honor system anyway. It was probably not that hard to hide how much you had really harvested. Malachi 3 says,

Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me!
But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings!
You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you!

It is then that God promises, through Malachi, the messenger, that if people will give generously, there will be plenty. Here is the good news. We have enough in this world for everyone. Be generous and see what happens.

Have you ever regretted being generous? I’ve been taken a few times by people posing as though they were in need, but were not. Even still, I did not regret being generous. A member of my church once said to me, “I don’t have the time or enough information to figure out who is in need and who the few cheaters are. So I give when asked. Didn’t Jesus say to give to all who beg from you pastor?” Um. Yes, I’m afraid he did.

Even in those circumstances, I have never regretted being generous. Have you?

In Luke 10, Jesus approaches a man in a tree. He is likely the richest man in town, and perhaps the shortest. He has been collecting taxes for an occupying army. He is a collaborator. Despised. Jesus goes right over to him.

Zaccheus was needy too, just in a different way. He had been choking on his own greed. Tax collection was a seedy business. A tax collector bid for the rights to collect a certain amount of taxes. He could get them however he needed to, and he could charge whatever he wanted over and above to meet his expenses and pay his salary. It was shady. Zaccheus admits as much, “Anyone I have cheated, I will repay four times…”

Jesus approaches rich Zaccheus and invites himself over for dinner. Would pastors be so bold? We don’t know what they talked about, but Zaccheus ended up giving away half of his possessions and agreeing to repay those he had cheated at 400%. When he does, Jesus says something stunning:

Today salvation has come to this house.

Zaccheus’ generosity is equated with salvation. Generosity is a sign that the kingdom of God has broken in. It is a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus knew salvation had come because of Zaccheus’ generosity.

We all want to be generous. We just have to make the decision to do so, and to plan our giving. Giving doesn’t happen by accident. It is a discipline lived out with every paycheck, like saving.

What will you be giving in 2016? What will your tithes be?

This coming year at Grace/Faith/First/St. Paul/St. James… Church, our vision is to…

This is the time when you share what you are doing as a church that matters. What are you doing that is worth me giving generously? Are you serving those in need? Are you caring for orphans, widows, and strangers? Are you boldy and intentionally going to proclaim the gospel near or far? Are you building wells, alleviating hunger, and fighting disease? Are you running AA groups or divorce recovery? Are you serving your community? How? Pick no more than three things that tell the story and touch the heart. If what you are doing matters, then don’t be afraid to make your case to Zaccheus or anyone else who comes along.

This morning we will be estimating our giving for the next year. In your bulletin is an estimate of giving card. At the end of the service, we will have some time to fill these out. When you are done, you can bring your envelope up and place it on the altar; then head to lunch. (You’ll want to repeat all this at the end of the service.)

Whatever you do, I implore you to give generously, because there is incredible joy in giving of ourselves. Discover the joy of making a difference in the world. Discover the joy of bringing the full tithe into the storehouse. Enjoy the peace that comes from giving what has been given to you, remembering Jesus’ words:

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

The Five Practices are:

  1. Radical hospitality
  2. Passionate worship
  3. Intentional faith development
  4. Risk-taking mission and service
  5. Extravagant generosity