Matthew 6:19-21, 24-34
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you have been in and out the last few weeks, we are on week 4 of our seven week sermon series on the elements of worship. So far, we’ve covered communion, the sermon, and last week, we talked about music – why we bother singing hymns and listening to the organ. Today, we are tackling something different, something that might be uncomfortable for some to consider – and that is the offering. The blunt question today is this: Why do we pass around the plates once a Sunday and ask you for money? There are, of course, very practical answers to this question. Owning and maintaining a church building, for example, isn’t free, nor are the hours of staff time that are required to hold weekly services and to offer the variety of programs and fellowship opportunities we try to offer. It also takes resources to be the church God means for us to be in terms of service and outreach in our community. Of course, with this congregation’s commitment to ridiculous generosity, I know I am very much preaching to the choir on that one. But the unavoidable truth is that we, as a church, exist in the world, and virtually every part of that existence takes money.
But receiving offering during our services is much more than just a logistical solution to a practical problem. Offering is actually a deeply spiritual practice rooted in scripture and in our relationship with God. There’s a reason we pause to do it in the middle of service as opposed to simply charging admission at the door. It is part of our worship, of how we come to meet with God as a community gathered in his name. And it is this spiritual practice that our scripture speaks to today.
Our reading today comes from the middle of a rather famous sermon that Jesus gives in the gospel of Matthew: the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount in itself speaks about many of the practical aspects of how we try to live a righteous, faithful life. In it, Jesus takes many of the laws that the faithful tried to adhere to – don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, give to the poor, fast, pray – and he turns those laws on their heads. Sure, he says, you haven’t murdered anyone this week, but did you get angry at your brother? Because that amounts to murder in your heart. Sure, you haven’t been physically unfaithful to your spouse, but if you even thought about it, that’s adultery. Jesus’ whole point in this sermon is that it isn’t just about our actions. Instead, what it really comes down to is the state of our hearts. Are our hearts aligned with God or focused something else entirely? And nowhere in the Sermon on the Mount is this question more clearly asked than as Jesus speaks about our relationship with money.
You may have noticed that Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush in the way he approaches the money subject. He steps right up and says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” “You cannot serve both God and wealth.” “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I think we all have a caricature in our heads of the type of person who serves wealth instead of God, who puts their stock in earthly possessions. For me, it looks a lot like Scrooge McDuck from Duck Tales, with his stories-tall money bin that he likes to swim around in. This person is someone who puts profits over people, someone who is content with sitting on their big pile of money because it’s theirs and forget anyone else. There is no love in their hearts, no compassion for their fellow man, only greed. And with this sort of caricature in place, we all breathe a little sigh of relief, because that’s not us. We’re not horrible, greedy people clinging to our rolls of money. That’s not where our hearts are.
But Jesus, he is just too smart for us. Because the very next thing he talks about is worry. “Do not worry about your life,” Jesus says, “what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” The topic turns to worry because Jesus knows our motivations, and he knows our hearts. He knows that most of us are not just horrible, greedy people. He knows that when it comes to money, our concerns are much more basic and primal. What will we eat? What will we wear? Where’s the next paycheck coming from and will it be enough to pay the bills? Can I provide a stable environment for my kids, maybe even send them to college, or will they end up buried in debt with no way out? Will I ever have enough to retire? And if I do, will I have enough to survive if I live past the age of 80, 90, 100? What about my medical expenses? These aren’t trivial things, nor does Jesus present them as such. In verse 32, he says, “indeed, your heavenly Father knows that you need all of these things.” And yet, he instructs us not to worry, for God will provide them all.
It’s easier said than done, though, isn’t it? To just not worry and trust that God will provide? It’s just not realistic, we say. God’s not a magician, I’m not just going to wake up one day with all my bills paid and money to spare in my bank account. We need to think, we need to plan. We store up our treasures not because we just like looking at our big pile of money but because what if something goes wrong? We need to save for a rainy day. We store up our treasure because we worry about the future, what we will eat and drink and wear. And in doing so, we put our trust and our hearts in that stockpile that we made for ourselves, instead of the God who provided it to us in the first place.
So what does all of this have to do with the offering? Well, like I said, this whole trusting God to provide thing is easier said than done. It takes a lot of intentional effort for us to let go of the safety nets we have built for ourselves. We want to cling to our treasure stores. But through the offering, we have a chance to let go a little bit, even with just one little pinky. We can say, “Okay, God, here’s a little of my store. I trust you to take care of me, and I trust that you’ll use this money to take care of others.” When we drop our dollar bills into the offering plate, we practice putting our trust in God. And you know what they say – practice makes perfect. If today we let go of a little, tomorrow we can maybe let go of a little more. The spiritual practice that we do through the offering helps us to build up trust in God, to see for ourselves that we can trust God to provide. And through that practice, we grow closer to him and worship him more freely. So whether you are ready for a big risk or only a little one, I want to invite and encourage you to practice that trust today. Trust in the God that provides for our earthly needs and grants us a treasure that never runs out. Amen.