When I was a little girl, my mother brought my brother and I to St. John the Evangelist Church in Schenectady, New York. For a small child, it was an imposing structure – a cathedral with floor to ceiling Italian marble, angels and gargoyles around the circumference of the building looking down at us with wide eyes and open mouths. Filled with stained glass images of the life of Jesus and large statues of St. John, Mary, and Jesus, it was a dark building that made me feel like those in the heavens were watching everything we were doing. Though sometimes the singing felt joyous, there was only one moment in the service each week when I always felt good – when my mother handed me the weekly envelope to place in the basket. I felt proud to contribute.
As a child, I also noticed the devotion with which my maternal grandmother and great aunt set aside money each week to put in the church envelope. Auntie, as we called her, wanted to be sure that we were clear about the principles of giving. It was something to watch her on a Friday night take her pay from the local mill – which she had cashed – and literally make different piles of money on the kitchen table. After her bills and taxes were paid, cash was set aside for church, for household emergencies, for retirement, for holiday and birthday gifts; and then, anything leftover, for fun. Always in that order.
Though some of you may remember similar scenes, none of us likely manages our money in this way today. Auntie and many of our fore-bearers understood that the way we use our money represents our values and our responsibilities. She was conscious and intentional about every dollar she had. Deeply content with her life, she was happiest at home. I can only remember hearing about one trip she took – and that was for three nights in Boston for her honeymoon. She liked to go out once a week for dinner, especially when she could treat me and my son. Hardly a spender, she reveled in saving and giving. Auntie was for me a model of stewardship as a spiritual practice.
Unlike the rich young man from our gospel story two weeks ago, Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, is willing to cast off the only possession of any value that he has so that he can follow Jesus. His cloak not only kept him warm at night, but was used to collect money from passersby during the day. Once Jesus calls him, Bartimaeus recognizes that he no longer needs to make his life’s priority begging for money. As a disciple of Jesus he joins a community of mutual care, mutual sharing, and mutual responsibility. He no longer needs to be preoccupied with taking care of his own needs, because he has joined a community committed to caring for everyone – in body and in spirit.
Today marks the beginning of our church’s Stewardship season. Over the last few weeks, as we have traveled with Jesus and his disciples on the way to Jerusalem, we have been offered lessons about being willing to give generously what we have in the service of God and for the needs of others – especially the least, last, and lost.
Blind Bartimaeus was willing to set aside the only thing he had of value and the only thing he had that would help him earn money – his cloak – so that he could be with Jesus. The rich young man was not willing to give anything.
The choices we make about how to use our resources – our time, talents, and treasure – are not separate from, but an extension of, our spiritual lives. What we give to this church and to those other organizations doing God’s work in the world is an expression of our discipleship; it embodies our trust and our love.
Our relationship to money is not separate from our relationship with God. There were a number of times, when I was worried about whether or not David and I would have enough money to pay our bills. When I would get agitated about this, David would say to me, “You say you trust God in all things. Do you actually mean – all things but money?”
I know what it is to have fear about money. I also know that David and I have never gone under. But for me, that fear lurks close to the surface. Whenever it rears its ugly head, I know that I need to invest some extra time with God in prayer, to remember that God is the source of all our blessings.
I also know what it feels like to be in a really good financial place. It is incredible to be at a time in life when I have more capacity to be generous. It’s the best feeling in the world to be able to do more for the family, more for the church, more for the community and world. (Like helping my son – with the support of Colgate University – be able to pay for college.)
Proportional giving is a concept of generosity rooted in scripture. The first creation story in Genesis reveals that everything we have is a gift from God. This is the message that meant so much to Martin Luther and the other reformers. Because all is a gift, we need not do anything to earn God’s favor in this life or the next. We give to the church not out of duty or fear, but because we are grateful for what we have and we understand that through the church God can transform our gifts to be of even greater service to others.
In proportional giving, those with less means are invited to give a smaller proportion of their financial resources than those with greater means. I suspect you have heard that the Biblical standard for giving is 10%. For many people today, that is not possible. With proportional giving, the person making less money is invited to consider offering 2 or 3% of their income; those earning high incomes invited to offer a higher percentage.
In other words, in ancient times, what the rich young man from the Gospel story of two weeks ago was asked to give would be different than what a widow would be asked to give. We have all heard that God loves a cheerful giver. So, when it is time for you to consider your pledge to the Village Church for 2022, make it a spiritual practice. Be conscious and intentional about your giving. To do so, you might prayerfully keep in mind these questions:
How can your giving be an expression of gratitude for what God has given and gives you and an expression of trust in how God will provide?
How can your financial contribution to this church reflect what it means to you?
How does your financial giving reflect who you say you are and who you want to be?
How is your gift an embodiment of love in action?
Bartimaeus’ whole life changed when he realized that becoming a follower of Jesus would allow him to go from a life of isolation and poverty to a life of community and true riches – a life in the presence of God. May we remember that the choices we make about how we share our resources are an expression of our love God and others as ourselves. May our giving be a true spiritual practice; our stewardship a gift from the heart. Amen.