Tithing on a Fortune

July 2010 Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article Often times, when supporters of our congregation experience good fortune – say they receive a pay raise at work, or a share of an inheritance, or a bonus of some sort – they share a portion of it with the church. Occasionally, this is a larger amount of money, and makes possible a special project or ministry that wouldn’t otherwise be within our grasp. Well, visions of special projects and ministries filled my mind when I opened a letter this past month that included a check made out to Saint Peter in the amount of $34,200,000! That’s right: 34.2 million dollars.

Before you get too excited about this, I should mention that I was requested not to cash the check until I had received further instructions from the donor.

The further instructions, of course, would be forthcoming when this Saint Peter member “finally” won the Powerball jackpot. The story behind this gift is that the donor and I had been seated together at a church function, and she declared that when she won, she planned to tithe on her winnings. I first proposed that if everyone who had made that assurance to me had instead given the money they were planning to put into the lottery to the church, we’d be in great shape at Saint Peter. But I then teased her about her “lack of faith.” I suggested that she ought to write the check to the church first, and then go buy her lottery ticket. Much to my surprise, that’s exactly what she did!

To be honest, I was looking for a check that we could cash right away, but there is merit in her provisional donation. By writing the check to the church first, she has “thrown her hat over the fence.” She has declared that should something remarkably fortunate happen to her, she won’t let it ruin her. She plans to be just as faithful and just as generous as she has been throughout her life. For those intentions, I am deeply grateful! (And glad for her.)

Truth is, too much good fortune can ruin us. It can cause us to imagine that we deserve it – and that this is what life is all about. We live in a very fortunate and prosperous time. But prosperity has not been good to many of our neighbors. Rather than empowering grace and generosity, it has far too often occasioned greed and self-indulgence. For those of us who are grounded in the Gospel and committed to faithful generosity, however, even the most fortunate experiences in life can’t ruin us. We understand that greater fortune can make possible even greater generosity and even deeper joy. When all that we have is put into the service of the One who loves us enough to die for us, we experience a richer life than any amount of collected possessions can ever make possible.

So, those of you who are Saint Peter members: if you insist on playing the lottery, why don’t you throw your hats over the fence too? (I promise, we won’t cash the check ahead of time…) But even more importantly, let us all remember that the richest life is not one that is inundated by possessions. The richest life is one that is given away, in service to our God, in a way that becomes a blessing to others, and a witness to the faith that transforms our lives and our living.

For now, I’ll hang on to the $34,200,000 check. And I’ll keep it as a reminder of how important it is never to lose sight of who we are… and whose we are.

God’s peace to you all, Pastor Dave