We Give to God out of Thanks and Faithfulness

[]How many times have you heard Scripture read from the Apocrypha? It's not typically part of the tradition in the United Church of Christ, but in our Bible Study we have been talking about the Apocrypha or the 'hidden books' which the early Protestant church deemed as non-authoritative but that have been reclaimed in most Protestant Bibles in the last few decades.

It is good for us to hear these other readings that have been named authoritative for centuries in the larger Christian church, but have been left out and overlooked by Protestants after the Reformation. So we read that passage this morning from the Apocrypha, from Ecclesiasticus, one of the 'hidden books' of the Bible, that begins, 'Do not appear before the Lord empty-handed…' And there is authority in those words. Authority for us as the church is to understand that it is good and right that we give to God, and that when we give to God we give not begrudgingly.

When we go somewhere, we often bring gift. Think about a dinner party that you may go to. When someone invites you, one of your first questions is, "What can we bring?" And some hosts will say, "Oh, nothing, just bring yourselves." And then you hang up and think, "Great, now I know I should bring something," because you can't show up empty-handed, right? For me, I usually bring a bottle of wine. That's usually a welcome gift. Or if I know someone is in Alcoholics Anonymous, then I bring brownies or something like that. But when we're invited to a dinner or a party, or as a guest somewhere, we usually bring a gift.

And it's not all that different in the church because it is God in Christ who invites us to come here, to worship God and to give thanks for the things that we have in our lives. So it makes sense that when we come, we also bring a gift. When we come to God's party, we bring a gift. And hopefully when we bring it, we bring it not begrudgingly, but we bring it with cheer in our hearts that we're able to give something.

And that something may not be the same thing every week. Some weeks it might be larger, some weeks it might be very little. Remember the widow who put the two copper coins in the plate? She gave all that she could even though some looked upon her scornfully. But the fact of the matter is that when we come into God's house, God does want us to give, and to give with open and cheerful hearts, not buying ourselves out of a sinful situation (what Ecclesiastes called 'a bribe'), but offering something to God because we are grateful that we have something we can give, something to help further the ministry of grace and love, something to help those around us in our society as the church often lends a hand by showing love for our neighbors. And so it's good that we bring that gift when we come.

Now, it's not always ten percent of the best of the fruit from the land, or ten percent of the milk drawn from the milking cows because those things just aren't practical for today's church. And in Old Testament times, that was where the temple authorities got their food. So it wasn't just an offering to God, but it was to sustain the ministry of the priests and the scribes of the temple as well. So there was more meaning beyond simply someone bringing a cartload of wheat or barley into the temple or a sheep or a goat or a fatted calf. Those things were given not only to God, but also to those who ran the church. So they had a current expense budget even back then; they just didn't call it that. But people brought those things as well as money, denarii or gold or silver, or whatever it was that they had, giving those gifts to God because that is part of faithfulness, giving back to God.

And it doesn't always come in the form of just money or things, but it can also come in the form of giving ourselves to God. And as followers of Christ, that is something that we should not overlook. The things that we do in the name of Christ are a way of our giving back to God. And quite frankly, it's by helping our brothers and sisters in the world that we're giving back to God in those ways, helping those who are less fortunate. And Christ calls us to that type of giving, and he also calls that discipleship.

So giving back to God is something that we do in the church and something that we teach and hopefully instill in the next generation because, yes, the money is important, but so is us investing our time, investing our full selves, and not doing it begrudgingly but doing it because we are able to, and being thankful we're able to offer that time or those resources for God's glory.

This morning, we are going to have a presentation from some of the youth and adults who gave back to God by attending the National Youth Event to have themselves re-energized in the Spirit, and they're going to talk about some of what that experience was like. And isn't it good that, through the efforts of the church, we were able to help send them, those who were willing to go? When we said, "Whom shall we send?" and they said, "Here we are, send us," we were able to send them. And that's something for all of us to be excited about and grateful for. I can't wait to hear their presentation because those events can be life changing and faith forming in ways we can never imagine.

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