The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r149.htm
s149o03 Lockleys 7/12/2003 Advent 2
"bring the full tithe into the store house" Malachi 3.10
There are a number of observations I would make about our giving to the Church, and I suppose today is as good a day as any.
The reality is that we have a very sophisticated taxation system in Australia, where it is hard to avoid making some contribution in income tax - and rightly so. The motto of the Australian Tax Office used to be "building a better Australia" or something like that. It was, a perhaps vain attempt, to make us feel good about paying taxes.
Yet the reality is that much of the charity work formerly undertaken by the Church and other voluntary institutions is now done by the government, and so much of our "tithing" is actually part of our taxation. The whole social security and medicare system is all about caring for the poor and the needy, whoever they are. I was interested to hear Alan Jones speaking about Welfare on the "Today Show" (25/11/03) and when I accessed his words on the internet later, I found that he indeed made the statement that: "Next financial year we will spend $62.6 billion or 35% of all federal government outlays on social safety net payments to individuals." When people make the comment that Australia is not a "Christian" country or not a sufficiently "Christian" country, I begin to "see red".
Being "Australian" almost by definition means being distrustful of authority, and I cannot exempt myself from these feelings. We sometimes think of bureaucracy, by definition, as inefficient. Yet the reality is that money is never wasted. The only time money looses it's usefulness is when it stops going round. Everybody needs to live, even bureaucrats, as well as those who supply goods to them.
If I get upset about things, I sometimes get upset when I know that the rich generally pay proportionately less tax than the poor; but perhaps even this is inevitable because of the infrastructure that they are able to build.
For me it is important not to get too hung up about money. Traditionally the unpaid caring role of parents for their children contributes not one penny towards the GNP of any country, but where would any society be without that care?
I was interested to read (the Advertiser 27/11/03 p13) an Australian Institute of Family Studies report that "Older Australians are not the burden on society that many people believe, doing $43 billion worth of unpaid community work a year ... includ(ing) repairs and maintenance work for others, cleaning, cooking meals and doing laundry, gardening, shopping, paperwork, driving and caring for pets."
Some of those who make the most contribution to our society are the intellectuals, the artists, the poets, the musicians, the radical thinkers, and again they often are the least recognised. It is often only after they have died that their contribution is recognised - and then someone else profits from their genius - surprise, surprise! :-). So often the Church has persecuted the scientists for their theories, theories which are now accepted as fact.
Sometimes the claim is made that the Church is rich and that she ought to sell off some of her assets. I have a good deal of sympathy with this, but the reality is that, almost universally, people who give to the Church want their contribution to stay with the Church. So St Richard's is "our" Church because we have had a part to play in it being here. However if we want this to be someone else's Church as strongly as it is ours, we will need to let our contributions be eclipsed by the contributions others want to make.
It should be noted that if you want to bequeath money to the church, then you bequeath it to the Church and the Church will usually consider that it should stay with the upbuilding of the fabric or ministry of the church. If you would like to bequeath money for school chaplains or some ministry function where the money is spent, then you should specify this and it will be used as you direct. It is not up to others to give the bequest that someone gives to the Church - to a charity of the other persons predilection, or even a tenth of it.
So the difficulty with selling off the assets of the Church is that it is someone else's contribution which is being redirected. The story of King David and Uriah the Hittite should warn us that we had better make sure the sacrifices we make to the Lord are our own and not someone else's - otherwise there will be hell to pay.
Recently I have become an associate board member of a community non-profit organisation, and it was astonishing to see their attitude to money. It was all about spending it. And it made me wonder if we in the Church betray the fact that we really don't need more money, if we haven't actually got a use for what we get, when we get it. Do we actually think that God will abandon the Church in future generations?
And we are victims of our own technology and affluence. We live longer because of an amazing array of medications and machines which, of course, cost money. In the past we simply died and often died simply. MRI machines cost huge amounts of money and those with technical expertise to run them similarly need to be reimbursed adequately. All sorts of good things are done by all sorts of groups apart from the church and I know of no Church member here who wouldn't help out if they felt someone needed a hand and could use the help wisely. But we can't do it all ourselves.
So I actually look at the tithe as not the mark to which we must aim, but the maximum limit, above which we may well be neglecting our own welfare. I recall a person who provided a home for a multitude of cats some years ago, who needed a fridge because they were living out of an esky!
We are meant to provide for ourselves and our families, and we are supposed to use at least 90% of our income doing so. There would be very few of us who don't measure up here.
In my last parish I used to pick up the mail at the local post office, in my car each weekday morning, and I often heard a segment on investment advise on the radio as I drove there and back. I remember hearing the advise that people should put away a tenth to invest for their future retirement. But when I thought about it, I thought of the investment we as parents were putting into the education of our boys, which I thought was as important. After all, our boys will earn lots more than us and will be easily able to keep us in a manner to which we have not been accustomed :-)
Some of you will be aware that after my parents died, we bought a small house in which we can live after I retire. I readily admit that I thought at the time, that at least I will have some small thing to pass on to our boys. Yet the reality is that their paths in life will be much different to our own. They will need to buy property long before we are able to bequeath this to them. They have to live their own lives and no parent can make it any easier for our children than it was for us, despite all our efforts.
So we might care, in our better moments, to think of our taxes, not as something to regret, but similarly as an offering to God through other people and society at large. We do well to give thanks that we don't live in Liberia, or some other places, occasionally, and consider carefully how much that is really worth to us! I suspect that what we pay in taxes is a small price to pay for the peace and security we enjoy living in this country.
So rather than thinking that tithing is something we have to do which inevitably means we should be giving more money to the church, may I suggest that we look at tithing in its total context - of the blessings we enjoy that others don't, and how in our paying of taxes, in our giving to overseas and local charities as well as our giving to the Church - they are all approved of by God and bid God's blessing on the use to which they are made by others.
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