Scripture: Malachi 3:10-15
Sermon: “Why Give” by Pastor Todd Buurstra

Is this money season? asked someone struggling with faith, but wanting to return to church.  I know you have to do it, but I don’t like money season.  It makes me feel guilty, and I don’t need that right now.  Maybe I’ll come back after money season. Or, those exploring a commitment to our church are sitting with me in the Discovery Class upstairs, and in telling their faith/church story one says, All that church wanted was our money.  I mean, we hadn’t been there in years, and the only communication we got from them was not, Hey, how’re you doing?  We miss you, but where’s your money! I’ll never step foot inside of St. HandItOver again!

So what can I say to that?  Frankly, if I make you feel guilty today, then put a big goose egg on your commitment card.  (And, if you’re a visitor, you don’t need to give for you are God’s gift to us.  But Stewardship Sunday gives you a good opportunity to see how we handle money.)  And besides guilt, if in 15 minutes you decide that all this church wants is your money, then put another big goose egg on your commitment card.  I say this because the Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver, and your guilt or a church’s money obsession won’t bring cheer.

So, why give?

First, give: what does the Bible teach about giving?   Malachi is the last writer of the Hebrew Testament, and so he is preaching in a day when the temple is falling into disrepair.  I don’t know, was the ceiling plaster falling down and were the lights needing new bulbs?  (I told them to fix the bulbs later for effect—just kidding.)  Probably the Levites (one of the 12 tribes who were commissioned to serve in the temple as choir members, instrumentalists, altar boys, sextons, etc.) were having to forego the temple work to farm because there wasn’t enough money.  So Malachi was trying to motivate the Jews to give by preaching the blessings of tithing.

The phrase, “Tithes and Offerings,” that we use in our worship service comes straight from Malachi a few verses back.  Tithe means a tenth, and it was given of produce (Leviticus 27:30), and it was intended for the Levites (Numbers 18:24), who then in turn gave a tenth of that to the priests (Numbers 18:28), and the extra went to the widow, orphan and sojourner (Malachi 3:5).  Offerings, meaning gifts over and above the tithe,  amounted to a portion of their animal sacrifices that went to the priests (Exodus 29:27), and extra gifts that went to “capital campaigns” to fix the temple, etc.  But it all must not have been coming in because Malachi preaches, Bring the full tithe into the storehouse…

Many of us also struggle to bring the full tithe, a full 10%, into God’s house because of unemployment, or underemployment, or overcommitment to other good things.  We’re not alone in this in the history of God’s people.  Even recently a Branchburg Rotarian was standing in line in front of me at the cash bar at a Rotary fundraiser to build homes in poor Ecuador.  He turned around and asked me, What are you drinking? I said, Don’t worry, I’ve got it.  No, he said, I haven’t been to church in a while, I feel guilty.  Oh, I said, in that case, a Merlot. But if we give whatever we give out of guilt, we’ll miss the blessings that many of the tithers here have found.

Then why give? Why do I tithe, for example?  Because I get a greater blessing out of giving that 10% than spending it on, say, a nicer car.  In fact, Malachi 3:10 is a favorite giving passage for results-oriented Americans.  For we, with the ancient Hebrews, ask ourselves:

What do we profit by keeping his command?

Now some folk, especially televangelists, have taken this to an extreme and acted as if God will drop a December to Remember Lexus in your driveway, complete with bow atop, if you tithe.  Tithing isn’t a way to magically manipulate God.  But on the other hand, generosity’s blessing is no mystery either.  For the ancients, that blessing meant better crops and happier people.   That’s no mystery because the generous take better care of land, and tend to feel more fulfilled.

For us, happy is good, but we don’t necessarily need better crops.  What are our tithing blessings?  They’re the stories that you’ve heard this month.  If you were here, you remember:

Patti Helwig sharing how her voice, robbed by church tension, was given back to her here;

Jamie DelRocco telling how God may be calling him to further service thru NBRC; and

today, LeeAnn Gattone speaking of how Jesus moved her from atheism to faith.

Now those results of your tithes may bore you, but they thrill me.  I want to give my whole life and 10% of my money to a God that gives voice to praise, faith to a call, and hope for health.

But just in case you need greater profit on your money I asked Mackenzie Farrell to tell her story of how she was recently surprised by God’s love through our Senior High youth group..

Thank you for what your generous gifts have accomplished by God’s Spirit.  Thank you for topping the budget in 2010 by $36K and this year by over $20K so far.  Through that amazing generosity in tough times, I hope you are satisfied with the profit from your eternal investment.  And more than you, I trust God is happy to bless your generosity with these results.