July 16, 2017 Sermon
Exodus 35:20-29/ Luke 20:45-21:4
Stewardship as a Spiritual Practice
I’m sure we all know what a tithe is, although we don’t practice it here. Tithing is, however, a common practice for Korean Christians. Every month, every Christian with any income offers one tenth of it to church. When young Christians get their first job, they offer tithe to church and buy long underwear for their parents to thank them for raising them well. Tithing as a commandment can be found in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Leviticus 27:30 indicates that all tithes from the land belongs to God. The purpose of offering one tenth of the earnings is for the Levites, who were chosen to be the priests and didn’t inherit any land. Since the Levites didn’t inherit any land and offered religious service for a living, one tenth of other people’s earning was like a paycheck for them.
Korean Christians are taught and encouraged to give tithes every month, but there is another offering practice of Korean Christians that may seem quite strange to us. It’s called Thousand Offerings; When a Korean Christian has a prayer request, he or she gives a special offering a thousand times with a prayer. It is based on 2 Chronicles 1:6 where King Solomon offered 1000 burnt offerings. But if it’s based on what Solomon did, Koreans are doing it wrongly because Solomon offered 1000 burnt offerings at once, while Koreans give offerings 1000 times. One problem with this practice is the Korean mentality that if you pray hard enough, you can make any wish come true, and if you don’t get what you want, it’s because you’re not praying hard enough. In this mentality that came from our traditional Shamanistic practices, God is like Father Christmas or Genie in the bottle who can grant us our wishes. Of course, when we are in a desperate situations like serious illness or other serious problems, it is normal and healthy to pray hard, but the problem is, a lot of Christians who practice the Thousand Offerings tend to ask for wishes that are for their selfish desire; such as, “Let my son get accepted by a top notch university.”
The Thousand Offerings, however, have a potential to be used as a healthy spiritual practice. If, for example, we were to offer a thousand offerings while praying for the health of the environment, praying a thousand times will keep reminding us to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle. With a thousand prayers and offerings, we can change our lifestyle and teach others about it too; because the true purpose of prayer is to change ourselves, not to change God’s mind about not giving us what we want.
I didn’t tell you about these offerings to urge you to start, so don’t worry. It is to show you that offering our material possession is a part of our spiritual practice. The Catholic Church teaches three spiritual practices for Lent, which are fasting, prayer, and giving. The Christian Church teaches giving as a part of our spiritual training/ practice.
The Exodus story we read today shows us how joyfully and willingly the Israelites brought their offerings for the building of the tabernacle in the desert. They were so grateful that God saved them from the slavery in Egypt that they were willing to offer what they had for God; to build a tabernacle in the middle of the desert so that they can worship and praise God. I kept mentioning that our service to God and God’s people is our response to God’s love and blessings; material offering is a part of this response.
In our gospel text, Jesus praises a widow for offering two small copper coins while others gave more. This passage is actually connected to the passage that comes before; chapter 20 verses 56 to the end of the chapter. Jesus says, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayer.” Jesus is contrasting these pompous and greedy law teachers and a widow who gave everything she had in her poverty, because scribes “devour widows’ houses.” The widow was praised not because of the amount of money she offered but because she gave everything she owned; Jesus saw her heart and not the amount of money, and praised her. Other people gave more, but they gave a small portion from their abundance.
Giving as a spiritual practice is about our heart, not the amount of money we give. We give because we are responding to God’s love and grace that we have experienced. Israelites in the desert wanted to thank God for saving them from Egypt. They had a chance to offer something to build a tabernacle for God. The widow in our gospel story was poor but wanted to show God her love and gratitude, although 2 copper coins was all she could give. This widow with two copper coins was much more pleasing to God (and Jesus) than the others who gave more in their abundance, because her heart was the sincerest. Jesus used this widow as an example for the disciples to follow. The heart is more important than the amount we give, because offering is a spiritual practice.
We are all like the Israelites who were saved from Egypt; we have experienced God’s grace and goodness in our lives, and we feel grateful. That is why we worship and participate in different ministries to serve God. That is why we try to live by the teachings of Jesus. As the Israelites could not have built the tabernacle in the desert without the material offerings and willing hearts, our ministries are not possible without our material offerings and willing hearts. This church and our diverse ministries are operated by our offerings and services. This is what stewardship is; dedicating our time, services, and material offerings. Stewardship is our spiritual response to God’s love for us. We are experiencing some financial troubles at the time, and our Property and Finance Committee has prepared a letter for us. I ask you to prayerfully read it and let God guide your hearts. Whether you volunteer in a committee and participate in different church events or not, as a part of this congregation, we all participate in the ministries of our church with our offerings and prayers. Prayerfully read the letter and see where God leads your heart. And if your hearts are moved, review your offerings and consider increasing the amount a little, as you are able. Personally, my heart is moved to increase 5 dollars a week. I pray that you will all participate so we can continue God’s work in our community.
Rev. Sunny Kim