Stewardship and the Gospel
This is from the homily given on 12/9/07. This is good food for thought as we prayerfully contemplate our tithes and offerings to the Church this year.
All discussion on giving to the Church must begin with the Gospel. In the Gospel we hear many passages dealing with being good stewards of the gifts that God has given us. As Christians we are to be good stewards of everything: our gifts, talents, the earth, our families, our possessions, and yes, even our finances. Christian stewardship, as everything in the life of the Church, needs to be founded on the truths of the Gospel. We tend to think of our financial contributions only in material terms. The Church needs money and we need to make the budget, and no Orthodox Christian would ever dispute the reality of the fact that the Church exists in the world and needs money to conduct its business and operating costs, however, we need to make sure that this is not the basis for a discussion on Christian stewardship and giving. Christian stewardship is not "fundraising" and should not be thought of only in utilitarian terms. The Church budget should be seen as an opportunity to edify the body of Christ, an opportunity to grow givers hearts who generously respond to the Gospel.
The theology of giving rests in these two principles from the Gospel:
1. We are created in God's image. God reveals Himself as love and pours out His mercy upon us. He is a God who gives of Himself to us for our salvation. Then Christian stewardship is a loving response to a giving God. We offer up all of ourselves to Him in a loving response. The whole thrust of out liturgy is offering. We offer up ourselves, each other, and our entire lives unto Christ our God. "Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all." The center of the Liturgy is an offering up to God, a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that is returned to us as Christ Himself in the consecrated gifts. Thus, to give is to offer up all that we have in praise and thanksgiving to God for His wonderful mercy towards us.
2. We are subject to the law of love as Orthodox Christians. We have a need to give for the sake of others and our own salvation. Our giving benefits others. There are many places in Scripture where we see this. The Gospel is full of Christ's injunctions that we are to care for others and provide for those in need. We have a responsibility in love for our neighbor. But giving also benefits us spiritually. The Lord knows our needs and he promises to take care of us, but we need to give of what we've been given.
The Fathers often speak of the three pillars - fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. These 3 pillars are necessary for Christian growth. Christ links these three together in the sermon on the mount. One priest has commented,
This means that we give for the same reason that we pray or fast. We do not pray because God or the Church needs our prayers. We do not fast because God or the Church needs our fasting. Why then should we imagine that we give for the benefit of the Church's needs! We pray because we have a need to experience the communion with our heavenly Father that prayer provides; we fast because our development of Christians requires that foundation of discipline that fasting provides. W e also need to give because it is only through expressing our Christian love that this love can grow and mature. It is only through giving that we can cultivate the proper Christian attitude toward the world and toward that part of the world's bounty which God has entrusted to us, our material possessions.
Thus, we do not give only out of the need that the church has to "meet the budget", this would be thinking only in material terms. This leads to a "scarcity" mentality that only leads to emergency appeals and continually begging for money.
Giving is a spiritual discipline and we should give out of a need to grow spiritually. We rob ourselves of the benefit of spiritual growth by not giving. Thus, we see that giving is intimately connected to how we actualize the Gospel in our lives. It is part of our answer to the question, "Who do you say that I am?" that Christ asked His disciples. Giving to the Church is a participation in the mission of the Church which is to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." To think first of the Church's "needs" and then decide how much you want to give is backwards. We need to think first of all about the Gospel and our response to the salvation offered to us in Christ.
Christian stewardship is a loving response to a loving God. It is generosity based in response to a vision and faith. The goal of financial stewardship in the Church is not so much about "funding" as it is growing the hearts of Christians in response to the love of Christ. "Success" then should be judged on how much a Christian is maturing in His life in Christ in the Church so that their whole life becomes one all-embracing act of worship. Only growth in Christ produces true generosity.