The Abundant Harvest: Giving, Pledging, Tithing

Sermon notes from   October 9, 1988

Only by giving/sowing will we ever be able to reap a harvest, only by planting the seed will the seed grow and produce even more fruit. If we hold on to our seeds – to the blessings we have received and harvested – they can never grow and produce more. It is only in sowing the seed – giving it away, that it produces a harvest. In sowing seed, you get back more then you ever give. If you hold on to the seed, it will not produce a harvest, and will in fact die/become worthless, When we sow/plant our seed, only then can it produce fruit. In fact good is perpetuated through the abundant harvest in future generations.
In the 2nd century both St. Justin the Martyr and Tertullian state the church is to collect tithes to carry on in its mission. God promises to bless those who joyfully give the tithe (Malachi 3:8-10). God states that only those who generously give the tithe will be blessed by Him (Proverbs; 2 Corinth. 9:6-11). Tithing was the accepted method of giving in the Old and New Testaments and in the Orthodox Church starting back in the 2nd Century.

So, we can understand that proportionate giving and tithing are not something new in our Church, but have been part of Orthodoxy from the time of the apostles until now. Hundreds of saints in our church taught and practiced proportionate giving. It is a very small portion of our blessings that we are asked to offer to God. We are taught to offer a percentage of our income as a thanks giving offering to God. While everything we have comes to us as a gift from God, we are only offering a small percentage back to God. All of the blessings we receive rightly belong to God, we offer Him only a percentage of what is rightfully his.

Everyone should have received in the mail this week the pledge cards and letter from our church. In that letter there are listed specific guidelines for you to determine which percentage of your income that you are going to offer to God in thanksgiving for the blessings you have received. Those lists are given to help you determine what your weekly or monthly donations to the church will be. I ask you as your pastor and as a priest of the Living God to pray about your giving, and then to fill out your pledge card and return it to the parish.

As it says in Deuteronomy 16:17, “Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.” Our ancestors responded to the Lord’s command by tithing. Throughout my entire adult life I have given the tithe to the church. I have never lacked any good thing, and indeed God has richly and abundantly blessed us and provided for our every need.

As we are taught in Proverbs (3:9-10)
Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.

Lazarus and the Rich Man

Sermon notes      Luke 16:19-31                                            October 23, 1988

The Lord said, “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15)

Today, we heard Jesus teach us the story of Lazarus and the rich man. We learn many lessons from this story – about wealth, about justice, about life after death, and about hell. Take some time this week to think about this story and how you look on wealth and poverty and your own spiritual life.

Certainly Jesus indicates there will be eternal punishment and eternal rest in the life after death. Notice that the rich man remains nameless, someone who has no name before God. Lazarus on the other hand is named, and eternally remembered as a person by God. The rich man goes to hell when he dies, not because of any particular sin. Jesus says only that he suffers eternally because he had good things in his life time. Apparently, the rich man lived only for a comfortable life on earth, and God blessed him with his heart’s desire. Unfortunately for the rich man, the blessings on this earth turned out to be for a very brief and temporary time. Whereas the torment in hell was forever. We might say that the rich man was extremely near-sighted in his vision of life. The rich man’s wealth abandoned him at the end of his life and remained on earth. That poor man had no provisions stored up for the life after death. St. John Chrysostom frequently commented that the wealth we give to the needy here on earth awaits us in the Kingdom of heaven.

I hope you all know where I am leading. Brothers and sisters, it is extremely near sighted on our part if we follow the path of the rich man, and live only for a good time here and now. Our culture and society teaches us to value the things of this world. Even American media preachers often proclaim a religion of prosperity in life, while ignoring the full teachings of Christ on this issue. Certainly, the scriptures are full of promises that the righteous will be blessed with abundance. But we are given our abundance in order to meet our own needs AND so that we can share with others. There is no blessing in scripture given to those who simply want to become personally wealthy or wealthier. God gives us riches for us to abound in good works (2 Cor 9:9).
Do you believe that those who are wealthy, healthy and pleasure seeking are blessed by God?

The truth is that too many of us who are wealthy, healthy and able to enjoy the pleasures of life are just like the nameless rich man. Too often you and I live and pray for the temporary wealth and pleasures of this world. And these pleasures and wealth will abandon us when we die.

Do you believe in life after death?

Then know that the pleasures and riches of this world are temporary. They will give us neither pleasure nor hope in the life we will find beyond the grave. This world is transitory, but after death we enter into the permanent life of eternity. Now is the time for us to prepare for our permanent life with God.

It is vain and foolish for us to pray and seek only abundance and benefits in this world. They will not make us holy, just, loving nor godly. They will not ensure God’s favor nor will they give us a good sentence when we stand before God’s judgement seat.

Look again at Christ’s parable: The rich man did not deny God. Perhaps he even gave thanks to God for his abundance – something many of us even fail to do. The rich man simply enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh. What he did not do was recognize his spiritual life and nourish the soul. Perhaps also, he failed to see Lazarus as his brother, and failed to practice justice and charity. He should have cared for his brother who was in need. Instead he cared only for his luxury. Please take note, I do not think Jesus was teaching social revolution here. He was not talking about redistributing the world’s wealth. He was however issuing a challenge to all of us to rethink our values. We are to remember that life here on earth is temporary. Wealth is given for us to share and provide for others. It does not imply God’s favor, nor will it in any way insure eternal life.

So, don’t live for wealth. Remember this life we now have is temporary. We are mortal and will die. Life ever lasting is ahead of us, beyond the grave. This is the life in Christ that we are to live for.

Think again about our story. Lazarus who attains eternal comfort and life, while on earth hoped only for the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Lazarus did not spend his time longing for wealth, nor to win a lottery, nor for a nice home and comfort. Lazarus hoped only for crumbs – just enough to get by today. If we live and hope for more then this, then perhaps we are more like the nameless rich man then we are like Lazarus. And no doubt most of us have plenty of crumbs we can spare to give to the needy.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus called us to a new life. Jesus called us to walk in the life of the Holy Trinity. He taught us to reform our thinking so that we might enter into the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of heaven begins within you. In your hearts and minds, God’s kingdom and values will reign. Whether you are wealthy or poor, affluent or just making it, you have opportunity to conform your life to God’s teachings. Reshape your thinking about wealth and justice. Think about the poor beggar Lazarus and the rich man, and follow Lazarus to eternal life.