Updated: Jan 30
In an interview recently, presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson was asked about his tax plan to help America and Americans. He said it would be similar to tithing, where everyone would be expected to pay the same percentage of their income and earnings.
The common perception of tithing to a Christian church is ten percent. That figure is based on the laws of the Israelites [Old Testament law], where landowners were required to give 10% of their crops and livestock to the temple/tabernacle. However, according to an Internet search about where the 10% figure came from, “Got Questions.org” gave this answer that expanded that percentage:
“Old Testament Law required multiple tithes—one for the Levites, one for the use of the temple and the feasts, and one for the poor of the land—which would have pushed the total to around 23.3 percent.”
Dr. Carson’s plan [and all other candidates that would change the tax rate from the present 10% – 39.6% range, based on income brackets] would call for 15%, which would be added to the tithing people pay to their churches. Since he has not yet been elected, it remains to be seen if one might be able to deduct the amount of religious and charitable donations from the income used to calculate a national tax.
I guess one way to ease all the headaches that are associated with taxes and monetary responsibilities is to take a deep breath, count to ten, and then say the word “Stewardship.”
“Stewardship” is a word that sounds like a kinder and gentler way of reminding people about a financial responsibility.
“Stewardship” can be defined as “The state, quality or condition of one who manages another’s property, finances, or other affairs.” As Americans, we manage the property of America, so we justify paying taxes.
As Episcopalian Christians, we manage the property of the Episcopal Church [not to be confused with the United Episcopal Church of North America], which is specific to one property managed locally. Therefore, the churches make sure we get a card to turn in that pledges financial support, based on loyalty and a faith commitment.
We can even extend the “Stewardship” responsibility to each person’s family. In that case, each of us bears the burden of managing the property of one’s family.
One example of the many.
What happens then, when there are so many mouths and hands in one family that the responsibility of paying 26% Income Tax (joint return), added to Social Security withholdings, state and local taxes (ad valorem, school & property), health care mandates, licensing fees, the monthly costs for public utilities (allowing the cell phones and computers for every family member to work), tax on gasoline, sales tax … tax, tax, tax, etc. … Where does one begin to calculate a 10% voluntary tithing to one’s church?
What if there is nothing left after taxes?
How does one respond to the hourly pleas for charitable donations, seen on television … for our wounded soldiers, for our crippled children, for starving babies all over the world, for natural disaster victims all over the world … even for the poor in Israel who cannot even afford a box of Passover food?
How many times can one afford to hear, “For just 63 cents a day [$19 a month], you can help ….”
This is where the Gospel reading from Mark has been used as a “Stewardship Campaign” reminder, by most (if not all) denominations of Christianity. It paints Jesus as saying, “put in everything she had, all she had to live on,” for the purpose of casting guilt on congregations to give more than what feels safe.
Unfortunately, that is not the message. There is nothing material that Jesus demanded from any of God’s children.
I have remembered previously, some time back, about a steward of a large church who led a Lectionary Class I regularly attended. One of the readings discussed one Sunday was from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, where a man and a woman sold possessions to give to the church – Ananais and Sapphira. Instead of turning over all the profits, they decided to keep 20% for themselves.
When Peter realized that – a revelation told to him by the Holy Spirit, not by the rumor mill – Peter confronted the couple, one at a time. They both instantly fell dead.
Just like when Jesus said, “I speak for the Father,” think of Peter doing the same.
They “gave up the ghost” because neither was ever asked to give anything to the All Saints Church Peter and the other Apostles were building. They passed out zero tithing pledge cards. They lied to God about being All In, when they were only 80% in. Because they died, the deeper meaning is they were not allowed to go and live eternally in heaven, as All Saints get to do.
I asked the steward, as he was shuffling off to his preferred seat in the nave, prior to the main service: “Whatever happened to that “All-in church?”
He replied, “That didn’t work out too well,” and then scurried off.
That steward was (and I imagine still is) a lawyer, making lots of money. He gives more to that church than most, because he can afford to do so.
He is like a Pharisee, which was the unstated class of donors Jesus watched, “putting money into the treasury … in large sums,” “out of their abundance.”
The sad reality is this: Jesus never said anyone has to be a Christian. Being Christian is a way of living, not a club one joins and pays dues to.
Only 40 BILLIONAIRES have pledged to save the world after they die.
Jesus never approved any percentage of wealth that anyone had to pay-donate-tithe, in order to go to heaven. You either are Christian or you are not. It is much like being pregnant, but there is no device that one can buy and use, to show to others and say, “See! I told you I was filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Christianity boils down to one of two options: Christian or Non-Christian. Non-Christians are EVERYONE who is NOT ALL-IN, as far as following the laws of Moses and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are concerned.
That includes those of other religions, who serve other gods and lesser prophets. That includes all secular Americans, who serve philosophies and forked-tongued politicians. That includes the modern-day equivalents of Pharisees, who justify holiness based on amount of U.S. dollars pledged, not on a total commitment to God, through Christ.
The constant problem Christians face is so many want to believe it is okay to keep a little something (or a lot of something, based on just how wealthy one is) for one’s self. That simply is not allowed.
If you recall a couple of weeks back, we read how Jesus told his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) Same song, different verse.
This gate is named “Eye of the Needle” and you have to take off all the STUFF first, if you hope to squeeze a camel through that door. Same principle applies to rich men with lots of stuff.
In the Acts reading, where Ananais and Sapphira “gave up the ghost” for thinking it was okay to keep a little for themselves, the same message applies. It means Jesus never said you have to give anything at all. He certainly never said to the crowd at the treasury, “Hey guys! Go back home and bring back more, and be like the old widow lady there.”
You can be Jewish and give like Jesus saw the crowd giving to the temple. You can be Roman and “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” You can be like an American billionaire and buy politicians so you can pretend to be some god’s gift to humanity. You can be a billionaire and make a big deal about having pledged to give away all your money … to some social justice organization … after you die
But, none of that makes anyone Christian.
From the perspective of one suffering from Big Brain Syndrome, one can read the lessons today as if one was a male disciple of Jesus, hearing him point out all the flaws of others. One can say, “I give to the church out of love, just as I give to my family and charities because I care about others.” However, excuses that over-use the “I’ word are often blinding. The point is how often one fails to see one’s self as part of the crowd in today’s Gospel reading, as one of those “who are those contributing to the treasury.”
One is also blinded to seeing any comparison to the widow woman who is impoverished. The story of Ruth is only thought to be for the church ladies, with nothing whatsoever to do with big burly bread-winning male Christians.
Why can’t people see a poor widow as Jesus pointing out a model character that leads Christians to truly becoming Christian?
Look up and tell God why you are better than this widow.
If anyone who is a regular at this bus stop has a brain at all, one can recall how I have said the love poem of Solomon was about us longing for God in our heart. The “good wife” is each of us – male and female – because God wants us as His brides. The character Esther reflected our role as the wife of God to help save others.
Today, we are ALL named Ruth, regardless of our gender; and we are ALL widowed Gentiles, led by some inner voice to follow the path that takes us to the One God of the children of Israel.
We are nothing but Gentiles or widows without hope, grasping a few laws we memorized in our hands, saving a few morsels of Bible studies for ourselves … like the widow woman Elijah commanded to give him bread and drink, when famine had left her with only one last meal. She was waiting for death to come to her and her son, so she could be free of this world.
We lose hope if we do not follow the instructions of Naomi and marry God, as she told Ruth – a Gentile widow – how to be a “good wife.” We ALL need to know the commitment that Ruth had, so that each of us can hold our newborn selves to God’s source of nourishment in our bosom … each a new born Jesus.
In the Psalm of David, numbered 127, we sing, “Unless the LORD builds the house, their labor is in vain.”
In the epistle to the Hebrews, we read, “Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands.”
THINK ABOUT THAT!!!
God is not in the business of hammering nails into boards, nor does the hand of God reach down as a cloud and slap mortar on bricks. No bell tower was ever placed on top of a building, personally by YAHWEH.
A human being is not smart enough to manage the building of a baby via thought. It cannot even create death by holding one’s breath. God is our Creator.
While we read today that Jesus was “teaching in the temple,” in reality Jesus spoke what God told him to teach, because Jesus had the Mind of Christ within him. Christ was one with the body of Jesus of Nazareth, so that the human form of Jesus (carrying the Holy Spirit) entered into the Temple of Jerusalem … a physical building, made by the hand of men. Still, that building was not a sanctuary of God.
WHAT DOES GOD BUILD? WHERE DOES CHRIST SIT ON A THRONE, AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD?
I assure you there is no physical address that answers those questions.
God builds us, after our daddies and mommies leave the physical supplies for human-building in the hands of God. God puts each of us together and then fills that “building” with the breath of life and a soul extended from God.
ALL human beings since the Creation have been made by God … in His image … but simply being made by God does not make one a holy institution of God.
Jesus is the example of holiness. He is the model to which all human beings seeking salvation must become AND that means becoming a widow to the material trapping of the world and positioning you to be married to God. Your only option is to be reborn AS A HOUSE BUILT BY THE LORD THAT IS NOT IN VAIN.
From that marriage one then receives the Mind of Christ, from God … as a wedding gift. Thus, “Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands.” Christ entered a body housing the Holy Spirit, from the hand of God.
The marriage of one to God means total submission of the self to God, as a wife pledges to her husband. The pledge is then reciprocated. That union then produces new life, which is one’s self being transformed into a reborn Jesus. We are to be called Obed [meaning “Servant”] and held to the bosom of God’s love for nourishment.
In order to feel confident of this message that repeats, throughout the New Testament story of Christ and his Apostles, I ask you to re-read Hebrews 9:24-29. Do this slowly and after prayer and meditation. Ask Christ to open your eyes to see the truth that is written.
Focus on verse 26, which says, “Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world; but he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
The New Testament is not supposed to be like a Bill Murray movie, where one gets stuck in a repeating of events.
See if you can see yourself in that statement, as one part of the “all at the culmination of the ages,” one of those who have and will continue to come after Jesus sacrificed himself.
Then, see if you can see yourself as the intent, “to do away with sin by sacrifice of himself.”
The Greek word translated as “himself” is “autou,” from “autos.” The word can mean, “himself,” but also “herself, or itself.” The emphasis is more as a pronoun of “self.” It reflects being “the same.”
Knowing that, can you hear a voice leading you to realize that Jesus gave up his own “self” identity “to do away with sin,” by that “self-sacrifice.” Can you hear the call to make the same sacrifice as Jesus, by becoming Jesus reborn?
See if you can glimpse how Jesus died to cleanse us of sin by being the model that is repeated again and again, by us dying in self, being reborn as Jesus.
Following the lesson of All Saints, last Sunday, where the true Church of Christ only has members who are All-In, you have to realize that you are built by God to house Him in your heart.
However, you hold the deed to that building and it is up to you to decide what percent of yourself you let Christ control. Anything less than 100% means you choose you being you, over you becoming Jesus.
The jar with meal and the jug with oil, which was all the widow woman Elijah found had … it never emptied, due to faith. Likewise, one can assume the widow woman who placed three copper coins into the Temple treasury forever found three more pennies when needed to make a tithing installment.
Faith in God will not let one down; and the promise of eternal reward is much greater than anything this world has to offer.
Please … keep that in mind.
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