In the Old Testament, we learn that those living under the Law of the Hebrews included the expectation that a tenth of all the gifts that God provided to the Israelites (harvests, grains, livestock, olive oil, wine, etc.) was to be set aside as an offering to the Lord, in part for the use of the priest in exchange for the priest’s services to the community and in part for the priest to give to those in need within the community. God’s warning to the priest, Aaron, was, “You shall not profane the holy gifts of the Israelites, on pain of death.” (Numbers 26).
What the people have to give is holy because God made the gifts and gave them to the people. The idea that a tenth of all God’s gifts should be dedicated to the service of God is the origination of what is known as the “tithe.”
In the fall, when congregations all over the northern hemisphere traditionally launch what Bishop Rickel refers to as, “The Annual Beg-a-thon” for pledges for the coming fiscal year, the language of tithe is used almost exclusively in terms of finances – the concept of giving from our treasure for the purposes of God’s Kingdom, the life and ministries of the Church.
In October and November of this year, you will hear more about the spiritual and fiduciary aspects of treasure for our congregational life, when we conduct our annual campaign for our 2018 budget. To be sure, we are sorely in need of treasure. However, our communal life is also sorely in need of gathering people’s time and skills to serve the purposes of God’s Kingdom – even more vital to our ongoing communal life and ministries than money.
The critical link between our mission as a congregation and how we realize our communal vision is the time/skills that our members contribute. If we thought about our time and skills in the same way we consider making a financial tithe, we would find ourselves wondering what giving at least a tenth of our time and skills towards the mission of the church would look like.
This year, our Stewardship Campaign has separated out our call for the gift of your time and skills from our call for your financial gift. A special mailing was sent out in August that included a “Time and Skills Commitment” card (to be completed by the end of September). If you haven’t had the opportunity to review your Time and Skills Commitment card, I hope that you will take some time this month to complete it and return it the church. With 24 hours in the gift of a day of the time that God gives to each of us, a daily tithe of our time would be two hours and forty minutes to the work of God’s Kingdom (through volunteerism, prayer or crafting through our skills). A tithe of our time/skills would be about 17 hours a week. In a year, a tithe of our time/skills would equal 36 ½ days (or a little over 5 weeks) in the service of God, towards fulfilling the mission of the church and the Gospel imperative of Christ at work in the world.
Within the biblical context, a tithe is considered the minimum gift required to give towards serving God. However, I’m not sure there are many people who give a tithe of themselves (their time and skills) as a thank offering to the One who created them and provided everything to them – their sustenance, their abilities, and time in which to live and love and have their being upon the Earth.
I recently read the book, “When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi, who was young, aspiring and talented surgical resident in neurology when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His book was published after his death, and he was well aware of this eventuality as he wrote it. One of my favorite quotes from his book is, “You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”
The term “asymptote” refers to a statistical line that continually approaches a given curve but does not meet it at any finite distance. Within the context in which Kalanithi is writing, to strive to achieve our purpose has value in itself, regardless of whether we achieve our aims. Kalanithi’s life had meaning and purpose – he strove to meet that purpose even when he knew he would not live to fulfill it to the ends he had once thought were meaningful.
The gift of our life as given to others is infinitely valuable to both them and to us, even (and, perhaps, especially) when we may be operating under the burden of an imposed belief that we are not enough. God makes miracles out of “not enough.” As with the loaves and fishes, the smallest bits of our time and skills given to the work of God does infinitely more for the purposes of the Kingdom than humanity is capable of measuring. Every little bit we do has value, so we ought not to “do nothing” from any fear that what we might offer is “not enough.”
Trinity needs you. God needs you. Creation needs you. Give you.
In Christ’s Peace,
The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, Rector