Act II Scene III
Money, so they say.Pink Floyd, Money, 1973
Is the root of all evil today.
Our understanding of money and it’s purpose is flawed when our theology is shallow. Money isn’t the root of all evil. The love of money is the root of all evil. Money is such a pressure point in church life, just passing the plate causes many of us to descend into a whirlwind of moral and ethical questions.
In the narrative structure we have reached the midpoint of the story. The plot twist happens here; the point where the hero’s goal changes so dramatically it can feel like an altogether new story. It’s the point in Ghostbusters where ghost catching changes from a 9-5 job into a fight to save the city of New York from utter destruction. In Ground Hog Day, Phil realizes an infinite number of opportunities means infinite failed attempts to seduce Rita.
In the liturgical story we have done all the receiving up to this point. We have received forgiveness, God’s Word, and instruction and we are ready to take the next step of going into the world and obeying Jesus’ command to deliver the Gospel.
But here’s the plot twist; Before we go, we’re asked to give of ourselves.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.1 Timothy 6:10 ESV (bold mine)
The Bible doesn’t have a lot of good things to say about money. We see it destroy good people and lead them from desperation to oppression. Jesus tells a parable of a hardworking farmer who’s produce was so plentiful one year, he decided to hoard the profits and live large. That night he died. The story of the Prodigal Son isn’t a story about abandoning home as much as its a story about wasting money and by extension, God’s blessing.
The love of money is the root of all evil, but in the hands of wise people, money can be a tool bringing hope to those in need. For those in desperate times, through no fault of their own, money can break the financial fall and give them a chance to recover. Perhaps one day, when they are back on their feet, they’ll pass it on and help someone else.
We give to support the mission of God to the world. Giving money also helps pay the salaries of those who devote their full time to the mission. It supports the buildings where we worship and if the congregation is savvy, they’ll put those buildings to work during the week. A church building is a sanctuary for the faithful, but also a refuge for the lost.
We give to support other believers. Paul the Apostle frequently took up a collection from one church and risked his life to get it to another church. The offering was routinely reciprocated as the volatile winds of change in the early days of the church pushed believers further in to the margins of society.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV
Many of us have been burned by Pastors guilting us into giving. How often have you heard, “The church just wants my money”? Sadly, it’s not hard to understand why.
Televangelists made fortunes scamming the gullible in the 70’s and 80’s. In recent years, megachurch pastors have far too often told their congregation that if you aren’t tithing (giving 10% of your income) then your faith is shallow, or your not right with God. To get around this some pastors say, “We don’t want something from you, we want something for you.”
But what is it they want for me? God’s blessing.
How do I get God’s blessing? By giving them money.
Regardless of the intent, it circles back to guilt based giving and diminishes Jesus’ work on the cross.
A Right Spirit
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.Psalm 51:10-12 ESV
I believe most pastors and churches view giving from a grace based perspective: We give because God gave to us. My heart knows, but my head is slow to catch up.
Psalm 51 is David’s plea for forgiveness after being exposed as an adulterer and a murderer by the prophet Nathan. We sing verse 10-12 after we take up the offering and it’s taken me a long time to understand why, but I think I know now.
We ask God for forgiveness after we give because our hearts, or rather my heart, is hardly ever in the right place after I hand over a piece of my income. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, or you might say, the heart understands but the head is stubborn.
God gave to us all we need for life and salvation. In liturgical terms we give our offering and we sing for a new heart, a restoration of joy, and to be upheld by the Holy Spirit. It’s the plot twist, the mid point, and a chance for us to renew our faith and trust in God’s provision.
God’s provision is what we’ll need in the next scene of the liturgy: on the night Jesus was betrayed.