One of the most difficult things a priest preaches is the spiritual and material importance of giving--spiritual because giving, like prayer, worship, study, and service, moves us in God's direction; and material, because it takes the resources of money and people for the church to do its healing work.
Preaching on giving is challenging and painful at times because it confronts us on what we most value or where our ultimate trust lies. We often become angry and defensive when someone challenges our idols. Jesus encountered plenty of this, and it led to his death. Perhaps this is why preachers are thankful that stewardship sermons tend to be once a year. Any more would raise the threat level to red.
In this acquisitive, consumer culture, the attitude is: I made this money. It's mine. Don't tell me what to do with it. And we celebrate it. Many Americans today cherish freedom with no responsiblity for anything or anyone else.
I see this "me and mine" attitude not only in the church--although not at my own church, happily--but also in society, specifically in the anti-taxation movement in America.
We no longer believe that all we have comes from God, ultimately, and to God we are accountable for all He's given us: our time, out talent, and, yes, our treasure.
Many church people want worship, Christian education for our children, pastoral care in times of need. Citizens (do we understand what that concept means? ) want good streets, safe neighborhoods, excellent schools that will launch our children into Ivy League schools. But we don't want to pay for any of it. We want someone else to pay the bills.
What we miss because of our selfishness is connection. When we return to God a portion of His gifts to us in the form of our tithes and offerings, we are more related to Him, who is our Ultimate Concern, and to Christ's Body, which is God the Holy Spirit alive and at work in the world. And when we pay our taxes, we are more related to society in the promotion of its well-being; this is a part of our civic responsiblity.
To hear my sermon from yesterday, go to this link, which my colleague Dr. Allin Sorenson created: http://homepage.mac.com/asorenso/.Public/92709c.mp3