Sermon transcript, 19 April 2015

Where is your heart? by Fr. Dana


The topic this morning follows on from our men’s fellowship yesterday: “Where is your heart?” It comes primarily from Matthew 6:19-21. This applies not only to men. Where we spend the best of our time, talent and treasure is where our heart is. That could be football, television, our work or career, our family, or the Lord. For each of us last night, God and our family were at the top; that is very good. God wants to build on this foundation.

God owns everything. If God owns everything, what do you own? – Nothing; and I don’t either, despite what the taxman says! Read Psalm 50:10-12. You mean all those blood sacrifices barbecued on the altar weren’t because God was hungry? No! That’s not why they were established. God does as He wills.

How God established the tithe

God blessed Abraham in battle, and Abraham offered back to God (Genesis 14:18-20). Salem means “peace”, and a tithe is a tenth, ten percent. God had blessed Abraham with the spoils of battle; and Abraham – not because it was law: the Law had not yet been given, but because He wanted to do it – gave to the High Priest of the Lord, Melchizedek, ten percent of everything that he had gained. That’s a sign of where his heart was. Eight chapters later we see an even clearer picture of where Abraham’s heart was. God said to Abraham, “Sacrifice your son.” We’re not talking about ten percent now. At that point Isaac was Abraham’s only direct heir (he also had a son by the maid Hagar, but that’s not where the promise was to be fulfilled): it was a hundred percent of his legacy. Abraham went up the mountain; he even had Isaac carry the wood for the fire on which he was going to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham was willing; [Genesis 22:1-10] but just as he was about to do the deed… read Genesis 22:11-12. Abraham was willing to go way beyond the tithe!

Generations later, Abraham’s grandson Jacob had a dream of angels going up and down on a ladder, and he was so impressed that he made a vow (Genesis 28:20-22). The Law had still not been given; Jacob voluntarily said, “From this day forward, of everything I get I will give a tenth to You, because I trust in You to give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and you’ll take me back to the place You’ve sent me to.”

So we have two examples of men who gave willingly to the Lord. Then the Law was given, and it embodied the tithe (Leviticus 27:30, 32). Now God establishes the tithe, not because He needed the land, the produce, the plants or the livestock – because He owns everything – but to reveal where each man or woman’s heart is. Where is your heart? The tithe is worship, just like dance, singing, and participating in the Mass: you’re giving your time and your talents; the tithe is just giving your treasure.

How is the tithe to be used?

God not only established the tithe, but He also made it clear how it was to be used. It’s not so that the Rector can do whatever he wants and have a big house and a fancy car. God commanded the tithe to be for the Levites. They were one of the Twelve Tribes, but they were different: when they came into the Promised Land, each of the tribes received a big parcel of land to divide among all their families, and it was theirs forever. The law of the Year of Jubilee said that if you sold your land, the price depended upon the number of years to the next Year of Jubilee, because every fifty years the land went back to the family that originally owned it [Leviticus 25:10-16, 23-28]. All the other tribes got a really valuable inheritance; the Levites did not. The Levites were the paid ministers: the Priests, singers, and anyone who was paid through the temple through their ministry (Numbers 18:21-24). The Levites were never to acquire land; God is their inheritance: all they have is the tithes of the people. If the people don’t tithe, they don’t get anything. If they are unfaithful and the people wander away and the faithful disperse and there is nothing coming in, guess what? – the ministers don’t get anything. That seems right: if you neglect the people, why would you receive support?

That’s how it’s supposed to be. When I was called to be Rector of St. Stephen’s, we gave up having our own house. We sold our house and paid off most of our debts. If some day St. Stephen’s leases or buys a house for us to live, in it will not be in our name: it’s not our house – it will be in the church’s name. It will not be an inheritance for our children – it will be an inheritance for the church’s next generation. Our inheritance is the Lord.

Without the tithe, ministers have to seek outside employment, and when they do that they can’t devote full time to ministry. I’ve tried working and being involved in ministry, and I hate it; but God provides. If that’s what has to be done, it’s what we do. But the idea of the tithe is that the minister doesn’t have to.

That doesn’t let the minister off the hook, because the Levites have to tithe too, as everyone else does. The other clergy’s tithes go to the church, but my tithe and each Rector’s tithe goes to the Diocese, to support their ministry to all of us.

There are also offerings: anything beyond that ten percent, whatever the Lord leads. You can look up examples of those in II Kings 12 and 22. The offerings were for the maintenance of the temple. The tithes should go to support the ministers: first the Rector, but then as we get a little bigger perhaps we will have a paid worship leader or a paid administrator… or whatever it is. We’re not there: offerings by themselves couldn’t pay the rent. These are the principles God set down, and how we should be using them: that is our goal.

We are stewards

The point is: God owns everything. I own nothing; we own nothing. But He has put everything in our hands (Psalm 8:4-8). We’re given all of this as stewards. A steward is not someone who owns something, but someone who manages things on behalf of the owner. I’m not a “tree-hugger” – I don’t believe you should sacrifice people to save a tree or a fish – but I absolutely believe that the earth was given to us to take care of, to be a good steward of. That means I need to make intelligent choices, and I need to do things that leave the earth in a good state for the next generation. To use all the resources and say, “Sorry, guys, you’ve got to figure it out yourself” is not being a good steward. A steward is responsible for what he is given. Paul describes a steward, in terms of the Apostles as stewards of the Gospel (I Corinthians 4:1-2). To be a steward, one must be found faithful. In fact, Jesus told a parable about an unfaithful steward, where the master said, “Give me a statement of accounts, because you will no longer be the steward”. [Luke 16:1ff]

We are all stewards: it’s not about how much we’ve been given; it’s not about whether we’re rich or poor. One who’s been given a lot is not more valuable than one who’s been given a little. Jesus described it in Matthew 25:14:15. Some of us are great administrators; some of us aren’t. Some of us are great musicians; some of us aren’t. It’s likely that those who are great administrators aren’t great musicians – although sometimes they are. The point is not “Oh, I’ve got five talents: I must be special.” No – He gives us what we can handle where we’re at, and looks for faithfulness. Later on, to the two who were faithful He said the same thing (Matthew 25:21, 23). He didn’t make a distinction: they were both faithful.   Yes, there is another telling of the same parable, or one very similar parable, in which the one who gained ten more got ten cities, and the one who gained five more got five cities [Luke 19:12-13, 15-19]; but the point is here that it’s your faithfulness – it’s not how much you got in the beginning. If you need any further proof of that, look at Mark 12:41-44. Like Abraham, the widow put in a hundred percent of her inheritance. “This is all I’ve got: without this I don’t have any worldly hope; but I’m putting it in.” God’s not interested in how much we have – He’s interested in where our heart is, whether we have little or much. He says so in Luke 16:10-11. I ask God for all kinds of things, and He says, “If you haven’t been faithful in the small things, who will give you more? Why would I give you more, if you’re pouring out what I give you on the ground?”

Give your first and your best to God

And so I ask each of you as I ask myself: it’s a question that I have to ask myself all the time, because it’s not a one-time deal; it’s like Jacob: it’s a lifestyle, “from now on”. And so I ask of you, “Where is your heart? Where do you put the first and the best of your time, your talent and your treasure? When do you pray – is it when you’re awake and alert and you can focus on it, or is it that last two minutes before your eyes close? We all have to answer that question.   But I would like to challenge you – and me: give your first, and your best, to God. Put Him to the test [Malachi 3:10], and just see if He doesn’t provide all the rest for you the way He promised He would (Matthew 6:33).

I could try to bribe you by quoting all the Scriptures that say “If you give, you’ll get good things back”. I’m not going to do that, because God doesn’t want to bribe you into doing the right thing; God wants you to do it because your heart is in it. That’s why it says, “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7). God wants us to be like the woman: “I don’t know how You’re going to do this, God, but You said both the coins, so here they are.”

That doesn’t mean that every time for every person He says put it all in. This is not a formula; this is not magic. This is, “What’s the Lord saying?” Maybe the Lord is saying, “I know you can’t do ten percent right now; start with five; start with six; work up to ten. Do five for six months, and see if I don’t come through; and if I do, then make it six, make it seven. Test Me.” Give God a chance to be faithful. – “Oh, well I’ll tithe when I get rich.” He who is faithful in little will be faithful in much: if you don’t tithe when you have a pound, you won’t tithe when you have a thousand pounds, because that thousands pounds will look much better than the pound did.

God desires us to give out of love because He gave out of love. God asked Abraham to give his only son because God would give His only Son. He’s not asking anything more than He’s already done. And He’s not asking you to give a hundred percent and then you never see it again. He’s saying, “I gave you all this; I’m just asking you to give ten percent back to Me to deal with, and you get to be a steward of the other ninety percent.” What kind of deal is that? You won’t get that from your employer. It’s amazing. But He wants our heart. It has to come from the heart. And I pray that all of us can make that choice, and our hearts will be open and giving, because this city will be impacted by us if we can do that. That’s what happened in the early Church: they weren’t afraid to give. I don’t mean just money, but their lives: that changes the culture; that changes the nation. We can do that – not by might, not by power, but by His Spirit [Zechariah 4:6].