âHow much should I give to the Church?â
This is the dilemma faced by most Episcopalians each year around this time as they consider their pledge and annual giving to the work of the church. As a Sunday bulletin insert from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center explains the issue, âPeople are often asked to give the church a tithe, a tenth of income. But a tenth of what income? Gross income? Net income? Earned income? Investment income? Itâs just too confusing.â
So here is a radically different way of going about this. Why not give it all â 100% â to the church, or better yet, to God?
Yes, you heard that right. Give 100% of your income, your treasure, to God and the work of the church. While you are at it, throw in your time and talent for good measure. Certainly makes stewardship a lot easier. You do not even need a calculator or a 1099 for this one. Hold nothing back.
How can you and I possibly do this?
Well, when you stop to think about it, we really do not have a choice. As the old saying goes, you canât take it with you. There are no pockets in burial shrouds. That same Stewardship Center insert reminds us forcefully, âEverything will eventually be returned to God as its rightful owner anyway,â including our very lives. So why not be gracious about it and give it all back right now â lock, stock, and barrel?
Truth be told, probably only one person in all of Christian history has ever come close to succeeding at this. That is none other than the humble Saint Francis of Assisi, whose feast is celebrated in many churches today, on October Fourth. Having turned all of his possessions and great family wealth over to the poor and downtrodden of his community, Francis literally stood at the cathedral steps shivering in his skivvies until the mortified bishop came along and covered him with his robes.
Francis gloried in what he called holy poverty and even spoke of âLady Povertyâ as his bride in Christ. Unencumbered by worldly distractions and possessions, he experienced the utter freedom and abandon of âthe little childrenâ mentioned in todayâs gospel account. Others soon came to join Francis in a life of simple community and prayer. They became known as Franciscans.
While such radical gospel living may have worked well enough for Francis and his followers centuries ago, it might prove a bit more problematic for us today, as well intentioned as we may be. So here is a suggestion.
Letâs pledge 100% of our income, and ourselves, to God.
But then, letâs make an honest inventory of what we need to survive â and even thrive â as a child of God. The Lord will understand this, as all the things we need come from God to begin with. We might want to keep that roof over our heads, so we will need money for the rent or mortgage payment. In todayâs world, most of us will probably need a car to get to work and church and practically anywhere. So better put aside something for the car payment and gas and occasional repairs.
Then there is the matter of eating. Since we no longer live in an agrarian society as did Francis, we will need grocery money to feed ourselves and our family. And of course these days who could dare forget to figure in the high cost of health care and education? But after we have calculated out what we truly need and added in a little more for entertainment because âGod loves a cheerful giver,â the rest will go to God and the work of the church. For most of us, this will probably come out somewhere around 10%. For a few, perhaps more.
Why go through this exercise? Why not just give the 10% in the first place and be done with it?
Well, you can certainly do that if you want to. And God bless you for it! But for the rest of us, it can be a worthwhile exercise to inventory our lives at least once a year, remembering that we âall have one Father,â as our lesson from Hebrews tells us. We are all Godâs children.
Jesus demonstrates in todayâs gospel account that it is to such as âthe little childrenâ gathered in his arms âthat the kingdom of God belongs.â Little children of course know implicitly that âthe kingdom of Godâ is the only treasure in life worth having â at least until the example of grown-ups teaches them otherwise. Alas many folks today, children and grown-ups alike, stand little chance of finding the kingdom amid the clutter of their busy lives filled with playthings and possessions too numerous to count. Like Francis, we all need to simplify. We need to remember the kingdom.
So if some Sunday morning you see your clergy and fellow parishioners, like Francis, standing around in their skivvies in front of church, you will know what happened.