BISHOP DIANE’S TITHING STORY BLEW MY MIND (AND WORSHIP INFO FOR SUNDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2021)
by the Rev. Christopher Potter, Vicar
Trust in God with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge God,
and God will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
As many of us are considering how and how much we promise to support the work of God at St. John’s, I am drawn once again to think about the place of trust in this decision.
I revel when I hear Bishop Diane tell the story about repercussions of the decision she and her husband Steve made about tithing. It goes something like this: years ago, they committed to contribute 10 percent of every dollar they make to their church. When, in one month, their contribution made it impossible for them to do some necessary repair work on their roof, they remained faithful to their promise and wrote the check to the church nonetheless. Within a week or so, they received a check in the mail from a surprise source (I recall it had to do something with an old insurance claim). As Bishop Diane tells it, “The amount of the check we received was exactly the amount needed to complete the work on the roof.” (She may have said ‘freakin’ in one part, but, you know.)
This is one complication people imagine developing from the promise to give regularly to the work of the Gospel. “What if” haunts us as we consider how much we promise to give back to God. • “What if I don’t have enough to complete my grocery shopping?”
• “What if I cannot pay my car loan this month?”
There are innumerable versions of these questions. They confront our ease in committing to anything, let alone our promises to God.
So, we make a small promise – one that doesn’t stretch our level of comfort. Sure, we could also make a much bigger promise that looks good, taking comfort that neither the Church nor God employ debt collectors.
But there is an essential, spiritual component required when making a promise to God: TRUST. We trust that God will take care of our basic needs. We trust that God’s love will extend to us when we make room for it. Such trust requires something else, too. What is TRUST when there is no RISK? Trust without risk is just an ambiguous relationship. In human terms, can there be real love of another if there is no risk of rejection, or loss of self, or a risk of redefining my place in the world?
I am no expert in the trust/risk formula in human relationships, but I learned from my first days in the Episcopal Church how to risk a level of financial security in the interest of developing trust with God. In a very real way, this risk brings thoughts of God to the highest levels of my awareness. When I pray and meditate each morning, I actively place my trust in God and repeat, “In you, O God, do I place my trust.”
If I took no risk in my relationship with God, why would I need to trust? Sure, living is itself a risk, but it is a risk we create. A risk isn’t a risk unless I surrender a part of me. Comfort, security, well-being, reputation — something of me is on the block if trust is my pursuit.
A natural outcome of developing a trusting relationship with God is the developing trust with the members of my faith community. If having a trusting relationship with a community of faith is important, then just as in our relationship with God, risk is required.
There are many ways of risking in community; service to others, listening and communicating with integrity, extending membership to participation, and being personally present as much as possible. People who approach community membership with risks like these are easy to spot. They give their heart, their time, their effort and their dreams – risking vulnerability and rejection.
Pledging support to the work of God has benefits way beyond Sunday mornings. Exercising our call to trust, and taking risks, makes the Gospel of Jesus more understandable and more important. It will forever change the future of the community, of our families, and of the human race.