This fall stewardship season the good folks at “my” church asked if I would share with the congregation why I support the church with my money. They told me explicitly, “We don’t want you to say how much you give, but what motivates your giving.” I said I would and then realized the task was more difficult than I had imagined. I had preached stewardship. Staffed stewardship committees. Taught stewardship classes and workshops. But, I’d never given my personal stewardship testimony.
As I mulled over what I would say I had a few revelations and here is what I realized.
I would like to say I give because the Bible tells me so. Because it does. We are told to tithe. To give first fruits. To make our offering to the Lord.
I know this. We have tried through the years to even do it. But being dutiful only gets me so far. Besides, if following the rules is our only motivation, we quickly turn into Pharisees.
I would like to say I give because I love Jesus.
I do love Jesus. But honestly, Jesus requires my heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus requires I love my neighbor as myself. Jesus says feed my sheep and tend my lambs and whatever you have done to the least of these you have done to me and love your enemies and take up your cross and lose your life and so on. So, my putting money in the plate at church seems to me the smallest of Jesus’ concerns about me and the state of my soul.
I would even like to say I give to the church because I want to support the mission of the church. And I do. I want to participate in housing people and sending mission co-workers all over the globe and making sure immigrants are treated justly and I can’t do that on my own. I need the church, this church and THE CHURCH to share that load. Giving money helps me be a part of all that outreach and that makes me sinfully proud of being a Presbyterian.
But none of those reasons, I have realized, are at the root of why I give.
So, why do I give then?
Well, you know that passage where Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”? There is corollary to that truth that I think explains why I am compelled to give those first fruits and it is this: “Where your heart is, your treasure will be also.”
I give because, in short, I love the church. Not so much the abstract, universal, capital “C” church, but the specific, embodied Body of Christ church, the Coves and the Tizahs and the First Presbyterian Mt. Gileads and Greenwoods, the Unities and Shandon Presbyterians churches. I love the people who are the communion of saints who make up these congregations and I love them because they first loved me and then they loved my children, so how could I not put my treasure where my heart is?
I want the small “c” churches to be around for my children and grandchildren and great-great-great grandchildren, too, even though I have no idea if that progeny will care. But on the off chance, the smallest sliver of hope, that they might one day wander in and sit in a pew, I want to do all I can to make sure they have the opportunity to know the love I have known through the church, through you.
You are the ones who welcomed me into the adult choir when I was a lonely and scared kid in a new country where my peers told me I talked funny.
You taught me confirmation and fulfilled your baptismal promises to me in cards sent while I was in seminary and checks for books and even now in donations to the Presbyterian Outlook. Supporting every endeavor with your presence and your resources.
You visited me and my sick toddler in the hospital when we had no family nearby and through the years you brought me more casseroles than I can count.
You cleaned my house when I was overwhelmed with an infant and two young children.
You have walked with me through some of the darkest seasons of my life and allowed me the privilege to walk with you through some of yours, too.
You sat with my children in worship, taught them Sunday school and encouraged them in so many ways, becoming their surrogate aunts and uncles and grandparents.
You have said “yes” to every ministry idea I ever had and worked hard to bring them to fruition, even when you weren’t so sure they were good ideas. (And some of them weren’t good ideas!) You have forgiven my mistakes and missteps, gently held me accountable and mentored me into a pastor and, more importantly, a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I know I can call on you, day or night, for just about anything, even when I in no way deserve your care and I so love you for that.
That is why my heart is here, and my treasure, too, because I love the small “c” church, you, the Body of Christ who first loved me.