My church, Fremont Presbyterian Church, is currently in their Stewardship season where people are encouraged to commit to giving for the next year. When churches and pastors start to talk about giving, things can often get a little weird. Many pastors hate talking about money and asking people to give. Those attending church often are uncomfortable when they are asked to give. Words like “stewardship” or “tithing” can cause even the most devoted member to check out. Everyone has to balance their own checkbook which brings it’s own amount of stress. Most people don’t respond well when it feels like the pastor or the church is asking them to squeeze a little bit more out of an already tight budget.
I think most people understand that giving is good and that we should try to give often and with as much as we can. So, I am not here to talk about why you should give or even how much you should give to your church. Both of those questions are often personal questions that you have to answer on your own. What I would like to explore a bit is what happens when we give to your church. What should we expect to happen with our money and our time that we offer to support the church?
I think one of the parables Jesus told will be helpful to open up what we should expect to happen with what we offer. In the midst of teaching about the Kingdom of God, Jesus tells this parable in chapter 4 of the Gospel of Mark:
“What’s a good image for God’s kingdom? What parable can I use to explain it? Consider a mustard seed. When scattered on the ground, it’s the smallest of all the seeds on the earth; but when it’s planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all vegetable plants. It produces such large branches that the birds in the sky are able to nest in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32 (CEB)
Jesus was a fan of agricultural illustrations and parables. They can sometimes be lost on those of us who do not really have an agricultural background. But, there are a few reasons why I like the Parable of the Mustard Seed to help us understand what happens when we give.
First, the mustard seed is small.
People will often struggle and strain over how much to give. Should we give 10% of what we make? Gross or our net income? What about investments? What about gifts? What if I win the lottery? The people in the Old Testament offered the first fruits of their crops, should we give what we grow in our gardens? While these are interesting questions, I think they miss the point when it comes to giving. The size of the mustard seed does not equate to the outcome of the parable. It’s human nature to expect big things to cause big results and little things to cause little results. The power of this parable in illustrating the Kingdom of God is that the littlest of things can become something great. Regardless of what amount you give, God can use that amount to do great things. If you give a little, great things can happen. If you give a lot, great things can happen. The important thing is that you give.
Second, the seed is planted.
Something very strange happens when you give. Suddenly you are connected to what you have given. There is a relationship. To continue with the agricultural metaphors, one might say roots have been put down. The illustration above is from a beautiful children’s book called, If You Plant a Seed. It opens with the lines, “If you plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed…in time…with love and care…tomato, carrot and cabbage plants will grow.” The growth only happens after the “love and care.” When we give, we demonstrate that we love and care about what we are giving to. Giving our time and our money means we are putting roots down, we are planting ourselves in the community and we want to see that our church is taken care of.
Finally, the birds of the sky are able to nest in its shade.
As I read this verse again, this part really stuck out to me. Often when something is given, we expect something in return. A payback, recognition or some kind of reward can sometimes be expected. But the unique thing about the conclusion of this parable is that the one who planted the seed and tended the plant is not the one receiving the benefit. The plant ends up being used by birds who are able to nest in its shade. When we give to our church, it is important to realize that the giver is often not the beneficiary. The real benefit may come months, years or even decades later. And, the beneficiaries may not even be people who sit in the pews on Sunday. The birds did not plant the mustard seed, they did not tend it, they aren’t even human and the farmer does not “shoo” them away. They are the recipients of the blessing of the mustard seed.
I pray that this has helped you think in a new way about what happens when you give to your church. If you attend Fremont Presbyterian Church, you can commit to giving through their website. I would encourage you to consider committing to give to Fremont, or your own church, in the upcoming year.