We just finished a worship series about stewardship at HERITAGE. As I worked through the series, I kept wanting to appeal to scriptures that demonstrate the importance of bringing our offerings to God.
But, as I combed the scriptures for lessons about our offerings, I noticed something surprising. When the Bible speaks about our offerings, it mostly mentions them to say that God doesn’t want them!
That’s right! Over and over again in the Old Testament, the prophets teach that God doesn’t want our offerings if our actions and attitudes are not aligned with God’s will (See Isaiah 1, Micah 6, Hosea 6, Psalm 51, Psalm 40, Jeremiah 7, I Samuel 15, and many others).
We tend to think of our offerings as a pre-condition to living in a right relationship with God. In scripture, though, our offerings are ALWAYS an outgrowth of living in right relationship with one another.
And that’s a REALLY important thing to remember right now.
We live in trying times. All of the economic, political, religious and social trend lines seem to be moving in directions that put increasing pressure on our relationships with one another.
As Christians, faced with increasing division, our first inclination is to enter God’s sanctuary with fervent prayers and faithful offerings, hoping for God to give us the courage and strength to win the ideological battles of the day.
That's natural. It seems like the faithful thing to do.
We’ve started to think that our worship and our offerings are things we give to God to curry God’s favor so that we can defeat our political, religious and economic adversaries—both within our faith and beyond it.
But EVERYTHING in scripture teaches the exact opposite!!!
Somehow we’ve gotten our order of operations hopelessly reversed. In scripture, our offerings are not what reconcile us to God and God’s will. Instead, our offerings flow naturally out of our ability to be reconciled to our neighbors and their needs—first.
In the Old Testament, we are told that we are to work cooperatively for justice first and then bring our offerings to God.
We are to stand up for the widows and the orphans first and then bring our offerings to God.
We are to be merciful first and then bring our offerings to God.
We are to rid ourselves of idolatry—which then and now often looks like nationalism—first, and then bring our offerings to God.
If we are to be faithful to scripture, we must repair what divides us first. Then, and only then, will our offerings be acceptable to God.
And it’s not just the Old Testament prophets who teach this. Jesus has something to say about our offerings, too.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that if we come into the sanctuary prepared to give our offerings and remember that we are in conflict with someone, we should “[f]irst go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:21-26).
In challenging times our first inclination is to turn to God, gifts in hand, fervently hoping that God will provide what we need to win the fight as we stand in opposition to one other.
God’s primary teaching on stewardship, though, from the beginning of scripture to the end, is to remind us that in GIVING ourselves to and for one another we have made our most significant offering to God.
Our most significant achievement as Christians in the days to come will not be the battles we win. Our most significant achievement will be the battles we avoid.
Go and be reconciled. Then imagine the celebration as together we bring our offerings into the sanctuary.
See you Sunday.