How, What and Why to Give (it’s not about balancing the budget)

Adapted from a sermon preached on November 10, 2019 

From time to time people will ask me how much they ought to contribute to the church.

Some say 5%, some 10% – 10% is a number from the Hebrew Scriptures called a tithe.

However, 10% of one’s income when you are trying to decide which bill to pay, may not be realistic. In fact, there are provisions in the Hebrew Scriptures for those with less material means, indicating that not every person is expected to give 10%.

Similarly, if your job and caregiving responsibilities have taken much of your time, giving 10% of your time may not make sense for your mental or physical health.

While giving a percentage can be helpful, the exact number is more situational. The idea with a percentage is that the more you have, the more you can give.

What I suggest is giving enough of your time and treasure so that your soul feels joy –

Not so much that you are deprived of basic needs,

But not so little that shame haunts your soul.


There is a sweet spot where giving is a joy, a privilege,

a way to live a life of meaning and purpose.

A place where the giving feelings generous and joyful.


How do I know giving can be joyful?

Well, a conversation not too long ago shed light on just how important giving is. 

Awhile ago I found myself in a pastoral conversation.

A woman was sharing with me the struggles of living paycheck to paycheck.

With no prompting from me,

she began to express a sadness because she could not give.

I had to check myself for a minute –

Had I asked her for anything?

No. just listening with empathy.

She just wanted to be able to give.

Feeling unable to give was a yet another weight plaguing her low income life.

There wasn’t any guilt – like, oh I should give more because the Bible says 10%.

There was simply sorrow.


There is great sorrow in feeling we have nothing to give.

Feeling like we have nothing to give depresses our soul and strips us of meaning and purpose in our lives

In fact, I believe the opposite of depression is purpose.

A great number of elderly people suffer with depression.

I believe it is linked to a concern I often hear:

“I don’t want to be a burden.” Anyone else ever hear that?

Many older people valiantly attempt to stay self-sufficient, even when they no longer can.

I wonder if it is tied to the soul’s need to have purpose and meaning in life.

Many worry that if they are not self-sufficient, if they become a “burden”, or simply need help,

They can no longer contribute to the world and their life lacks meaning and purpose.

The struggle is not limited to the elderly;

Depression and low spirits can pull upon those who are in the midst of healing –

Healing from surgery, from illness, from an injury –

In times of physical healing one cannot contribute as they did before

And the fear of being a burden, the fear of not being able to do, takes hold:

The soul longs for purpose and meaning

Feeling like we have nothing to give depresses our soul and strips us of meaning and purpose in our lives


We need to be able to contribute to building up, making the world better, otherwise the hard realities of the world and life will suck us dry.

Howard Satalino shared with me a story and gave me permission to share it with you all this morning.

Vice Admiral Phil Quast was Howard’s ship captain while Howard was in the Navy.

Upon attending his funeral Howard heard many powerful stories attesting to Phil Quast’s character.

Phil’s son shared about his father’s time in Vietnam, commanding a river patrol division.

He and his crew saw heavy combat and many brutalities.

Most of us can only imagine.

Vice Admiral Quast knew that the soul can only bear so much destruction.

So he had his men “adopt” a nearby orphanage.

They provided food and supplies, as well as protection to the children.

He did this so his men would have something positive to focus on.

The soul has a deep desire to live with purpose; to build something up.

In the midst of a gruesome war, vice admiral Quast supported not only the orphans,

But the souls of the men under his command.

[Years later Quast returned to Vietnam with his family and met some of the older workers of the orphanage who still remembered him. We can only imagine how emotional it must have been.]

The ability to build up, to make a positive difference,

to have enough to share,

Is vital to our souls.

Without it, depression, sorrow and helplessness take hold.

As I listened to the financially poor woman share her sorrow about not being able to give,

I saw her face sink and her shoulders sag.

Luckily I knew her enough to gently remind her of gifts she does give –

Laughter, conversation, honest reality checks.

So she began to share how her actions were impacting those around her.

The more she shared the wider her smile, the taller she sat.

As she remembered the many ways she contributes to building a better world,

It was like she was coming back to life.


The devil may try to convince us that there is one way to give;

We may foolishly believe we need to be physically fit or wealthy or young or whatever to contribute to the world and have meaning in our lives.

That is simply not true.

Most of you know Paul’s metaphor of the church as a body –

Each person with unique gifts;

One a foot, one a hand, one an ear, and so on.

Like any metaphor, it goes only so far.

While a hand always remains a hand,

Our contribution to the church, to God, to the world,

Will change over time.

How we find meaning in our lives changes over time.

A college student may find meaning in volunteering to lift heavy boxes at FoodShare.

That same student at 30 with children may find meaning by teaching their children about growing food and inviting neighborhood kids to stay for dinner.

That same student at 50 may find meaning by contributing financially to the Food Bank.

That same student at 70 may find meaning by listening to the stories of those who are struggling and cheering them on.

Just as there are many ways to contribute to building up a better world,

How we do so will change as our lives change.

In the scripture reading this morning, from the prophet Haggai, the Israelites are caught in feeling despair and hopelessness. 

They have worked hard re-building the new temple for God,

But it doesn’t look nearly as grand as the first.

So they complain about what was.

The prophet Haggai assures them that their efforts have not been for naught;

This second temple will be grand, even grander than the first.

Provisions and honor will come.

Of course, the prophet turned out to be right.

The Second Temple was grand.

It was the center of commerce and worship for many years.

Yet, it too would last for a season before being destroyed.

Jesus, however, would proclaim that in three days he would rebuild the temple.

In three days he went from death on a cross to risen savior on Easter –

Resurrecting his body as a “3rd temple” of sorts.


There may be times we may feel like the Israelites,

Fearful of what might be and worried our contributions are not enough.

Hear the assurances of the prophet,

Take courage.

I the Lord am with you.

I delivered you from bondage and set you free.

My Spirit abides among you; do not fear.


After worship we look at a draft of the church budget for 2020.

It’s a prediction of what we are building here at First Church.

It’s an outline for the meaning-making mission of the church.

It’s a numerical way of explaining the purpose of the church.

Included in the budget is a line entitled “pledges” – it is what people pledge to contribute financially to the church in 2020. On a logistical level, pledges help the finance committee, trustees and staff plan programs and expenses for the year.

However, there is a spiritual reason why the church budget is based on generous donations instead of charging a set fee. Ever think about that? The Church is not like Planet Fitness: $30/month for four worship services! Pastoral Care sessions $55/hour!

For one, set fees exclude those who cannot contribute financially.

While there are creative ways non-profits will try to be more inclusive,

there is a deeper reason churches fund their mission on donations and pledges.

The theological reason, at least in my eyes,

for why the church budget is based on pledges and donations instead of attendance fees,

is because the act of contributing to making the world better lifts our souls.

The act of giving for the building up of our world is vital to our souls.

It is an important part of our spiritual lives.

If we are simply paying the bill, like you pay a doctor’s bill,

church becomes a service one is paying for.

If we are choosing to give – give our time, our talent, our treasure –

we are feeding our souls.

Vice Admiral Quast knew his soldiers needed to contribute to the orphanage,

Benefiting the orphans and lifting the souls of his men.

The woman who didn’t have the money, but certainly had other gifts,

Needed to remember she did in fact have a way to make the world better.

While sharing your gifts may help others – indeed it often does –

It is also vital to your very own soul.

In finding your way to contribute you find purpose and meaning in your life.

So may you take time this week to consider the gifts God has given you at this time in your life.

May we each be generous with the gifts given to us,

That our souls may sing with joy and purpose. Amen.