I’m a stickler about a few things.
One of them is tithing.
It is not a cool thing to talk about, especially not in my circles, but I was raised to take tithing seriously, and so I do take it seriously. When I was little, I’m pretty sure I was made to tithe off of my allowance and even off of the money we got in birthday cards. Yes, growing up, there was a strong sense of this money not being mine to begin with and so we gave back to God a portion, a tenth, in order to remind ourselves that it really all belongs to God, that none of it really belongs to us.
In today’s world, I think most of us could use a little more of those reminders that what we have is not really ours. That it is all gift. That we deserve none of it.
It might help us stay away from the what’s-mine-is-mine mentality that not only keeps us from helping our neighbors but also makes it difficult for us to see them as equally deserving of our own way of life.
It’s not polite to talk about money though, so I don’t say these things out loud, don’t say them in public.
But let me tell you a story.
The eldest has been joining us for “big church” for some time now, and I was reading an article recently about the importance of children seeing their parents–literally seeing us–give of our time and our resources. The article specifically mentioned letting children see their parents put money in the plate at church, if the family attends a church that passes the plate. It talked about the potential correlation between children who witness their parents giving of time and talents and tithes on a regular basis and those who grow up to be regular givers themselves.
After reading this article, I realized that it probably didn’t send the best message that I was often passing an empty plate. As I said, I do tithe, but I write a check once a month, because it’s our habit, instead of once a week. So the majority of weeks, we don’t drop something in.
As a result, I decided, if it’s a symbolic gesture for you anyway, I’ll start giving you a little bit of cash to put in the plate yourself. In the past, this always seemed a little silly to me.
And that brings me to the story for today.
On Sunday, I had grabbed some cash from my wallet that was all folded up on itself. I pulled two dollar bills off of the wad–there was only ten dollars in the wad, but it looked big to you–and I handed you the two single bills. You saw that I was putting the rest back in my wallet.
“But why not all of it?” you whispered to me.
I tried to shush you.
“WHY NOT ALL OF IT,” you whispered louder, assuming I hadn’t heard you the first time.
I tried to shush you again, and gestured toward the plate as it approached.
You really didn’t want to let it go. “But why? Why not all of it?”
And it was about that time that I heard those words in a new light, not as a literal question about that wad of cash, but a question to me about life and what it means to offer ourselves to the Kingdom of God.
Why not all of it?
Why are we not willing to give all of ourselves?
Why are we so quick to pull the two easy dollars off the wad and toss them in the plate and assume we’re good to go, that we’ve done our part?
God isn’t asking us to do our part. God is asking us to give our lives.
Why not all of it?
When we get mad about politics, we think it’s enough to start calling our representatives. But God wants all of us, not just our phone calls and emails.
When we get frustrated at broken institutions like our school systems, we think it’s enough to just protect our own interests and make sure we (and ours) succeed. But God wants all of us, not just our feeble attempts at safety and provision for our own families and neighborhoods.
When we look around at our empty sanctuaries, we think it’s enough to lament the absence of young people and resolve to make our services more relevant. But God wants all of us, not just our work to make Sunday morning more fun. God wants us to to be loving people, offering our whole selves to our relationships, inviting people into our lives, not just our sanctuaries.
When we look around and see that all of our friends look just like us and live in houses just like us, we think it’s enough to go serve in a soup kitchen or donate our leftover and used goods to a local shelter. But God wants all of us, which might hurt a bit. Actually, it will hurt a bit. I promise. It might mean selling that house. At the very least, it means inviting people who are different from us into that house and joining together over food and fellowship. It will take all of us.
Or, let’s take it to the real, everyday annoyances of life. Because that’s where we can really get uncomfortable. It’s too easy to shrug off the general, big problems.
What about when I get frustrated at the frequency with which the neighbors’ dog has been escaping their yard? I want to think it’s enough to put him back in the yard and grumble about it to your dad. But God wants all of me, all of my relationships, all of my time, not just my mediocre attempts at community.
What about when I lose my temper with you? I think it’s enough to say, well, that’s the way life is with young children, right? It’s tiring and exhausting and mind-numbing, and you really should have just listened the first time. But God wants all of me, not just my good days and prayer times and Bible reading. We should be growing in those tough moments too. We should be learning grace and offering grace.
What about when the stranger walks by our house in the middle of the day, when the kids with heavy backpacks get off the bus down the street and look discouraged, when the neighbors have forgotten yet again that it is trash day: am I just doing the minimum? Or am I offering my whole life?
Why not all of it? you asked.
And I guess what I’m trying to say is this: you’re asking a good question.
The Gospel requires all of us.