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There's the Joy
September 25, 2022

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto

MATTHEW 6:19-21

When I was about 12 years old, I decided to save my allowance and buy Christmas presents for my cousins. On Christmas Eve, we gathered with my mother's large family. I had lots of cousins, and I gave each one a gift. It wasn't much—a comic book or something similar. But, I had fun shopping, wrapping, and giving. I remember the joy yet today. Do you remember the first time you made or bought Christmas presents for your family all by yourself? How good it felt? The joy? That is the kind of child-like delight Jesus wants us to feel. 

In 1920 a Methodist layman gave $100,000, which was a great deal of money then, to build a Methodist university in Liberia, Africa. By 1940, 20 years later, the Liberian university had grown and was meeting the educational and spiritual needs of many Africans. The university decided to hold a special 20th Anniversary celebration and thought it would be appropriate to thank the benefactor. The Board of Missions had difficulty finding him, and when they did, he refused to see the representative. He was now broke. He had lost everything in the depression of 1929.

But, the school insisted he come, and he was flown to Africa for the gala event. When the benefactor, now bankrupt, walked through the campus, admiring the buildings, meeting the happy, hopeful students, his heart swelled with joy. There’s the joy! And he said to the college president, "The only thing I have is what I gave away.”

What we have is what we give away. Clench your fist, try to hold on, and it will be taken away from you. When you hold your breath, you lose it. You make a friend by giving your friendship. You receive love by giving love. When you give, you receive joy. What you have is what you give away. In our lesson today, Jesus said, Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. Invest your money in heaven! There’s the joy! Try to keep it for yourself, you will lose it. Try to hoard it, money will become your god because that is where your heart will be, and your heart will become stingy, narrow, puny and small. 

Jesus said, vs. 21, For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The Good News translation is even clearer, For your heart will always be where your riches are. Talk is cheap. What really tells who you are and what is important to you is your checkbook. Your heart—the center of your life, the priorities of your life, your relationship with God—is revealed in how you spend your money. 

Most of us here this morning are serious about our discipleship. We are serious about our relationship with God. We want to do what God asks. We want to be faithful managers of what God has given  us. Our campaign theme is God’s Church, Our Future. Our future depends on all of us together.

Yet we have needs. How do we balance what we need and what we give to do God’s work? How do we store up for ourselves treasures in heaven? How do we get our values and priorities straight?

The Bible has a very practical method. Our Christian faith is practical. There is a very practical method by which we get our priorities straight. There is a very practical method by which we store our treasures in heaven. There is a very practical method by which we trust in Christ, not in our riches. There is a very practical method by which we relieve our guilt and discover joy! 

This morning I commend to you the biblical tithe. Ellie and I tithe 10%, plus love offerings. I’m sure there are tithers in our church. For those who do not tithe, will you consider tithing? There’s the joy! I recommend tithing for five reasons.

1) Tithing is what a manager for God does. If your income last week was $1,000, how much of the $1,000 belongs to God? No, not 10%! 10% of $1,000 does not belong to God. All of it belongs to God! God is the owner, not you. You and I own nothing. The earth is the Lord's. We are tenants, renters. We come and go. We are not long on this earth, and whatever we accumulate, whatever we think is ours, will not go with us when we leave this earth. We own nothing. God puts us on this earth to take care of it. We humans are the managers of the planet. It's hard to understand why God doesn't fire us. Can you imagine the owner of a company putting up with managers who manage the way we manage what God has given us?

God blesses you with all you have, and lets you use it for awhile. God blesses you with intelligence, education, opportunities to get ahead, to do something with your life. For what purpose? So you can accumulate things that moths eat, rust deteriorates, and thieves break in and steal? No, God blesses you so you can do God’s work. God is the owner; we are the managers. Another word is stewardship, but I like the word “manager.” 

God lets us use 90% for our own needs. Such a deal! 90% for you and 10% for God. A comment heard often from tithers is their surprise at how their needs are met. I doubt if there is a magical correlation! Not that what we keep for ourselves magically stretches, but what does seem to happen is that tithers manage what they keep for themselves more efficiently and effectively. Effective managers for God become effective managers of what is kept for their needs. 

2) Tithing is fair and equitable. The rich receive no more glory for their big gifts than the widow who gives her mite. In fact, those who tithe their little are better managers than the rich who may give more, but do not tithe. Tithing breaks down all class and status distinctions. Children can tithe. Youth can tithe. Tithing is for everyone. Tithing is fair. Tithing is not an arbitrary assessment. It is based on actual earnings. Tithing is 10% of your income, whatever that income may be.

3) Tithing puts God first. It is easy to say, but difficult to know how to love God. It is easy to say, but difficult to put God first in decision making, values. Tithing is a practical, easy to understand method of putting God first in your spending. If God is first in your spending, God is more likely to be first in your life. Jesus said, For your heart will always be where your riches are. Tithing puts God first. 

4) Tithing grows faith. It takes faith and commitment to give the tithe. Tithing teaches us to put our faith in God, not in the economy. Tithing teaches us to trust in God's resources, not in our own. Tithing teaches us to trust God, not our own abilities and ingenuity. Tithing is an act of trust.

5) Tithing deepens joy. There’s the joy. Some say, give until it hurts. No, give until it feels wonderful. There is great joy in being faithful. There is great joy knowing you are doing your part. There is great joy working in partnership with God. There is great joy and satisfaction placing your tithe on the offering plate. There is great joy knowing you are fulfilling your responsibility as God’s manager. There’s the joy.

I encourage you to tithe! Tithing is not about money. Tithing is about trust. Tithing is what a manager does. Tithing is fair and equitable. Tithing puts God first. Tithing grows faith. Tithing deepens joy. Begin now. Take a leap of faith. Jump to 10% right now. Reflect your decision to tithe on the Estimate of Giving card you will fill out in October. Note that it is an estimate of giving in case your income fluctuates. But, don't wait until January 1 to start because by then you will have thought of a beautiful excuse. Begin tithing your next income check. There’s the joy!

© 2022 Douglas I. Norris