Jerry serves as LNL treasurer
A few days ago I saw again a commercial that's been around for a while. It features an older gentleman touting the advantages of owning gold. He says he even likes the feel of gold. At the end, he puts his gold coins in a safe hidden behind a picture on the wall.
I've never liked that commercial. But the gospel reading for LNL today (Nov. 15) was Jesus' Parable of the Talents, where a master entrusts his property to his slaves. This commercial reminds me of the slave who buries his talent in the ground until his master's return.
When Judy and I were married in 1974 and merged our finances together, I discovered that Judy, who was a lay associate for the Lutheran Church in America at the time, and was giving $10 a week to Messiah Lutheran Church. Lay associates didn't make much money, and for that matter, neither did I. I was a practicing Catholic when we were married, and thought I was doing pretty good if I put a dollar into the offering plate at St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church every week. $10 a week seemed like a big commitment.
Judy told me about Alf Teigen, a long-time member of Messiah whom everyone called Grandma. At the time, Grandma Teigen, a delightful woman who was long past retirement age, worked in the child care center at Messiah. Her husband had left her during the Great Depression, and she had had to do whatever she could – sewing, doing laundry, working various jobs – to support herself and her two daughters. But she felt that all she had had come from God, and so, every Sunday, she gave 10% of her income in the weekly offering before managing to pay the other bills. This was one of her guideposts as she successfully raised her daughters to adulthood, and she contributed her talents in other ways, like being "Grandma" to a child-care center.
This was a transforming experience for this young Catholic guy who was in the process of becoming Lutheran as a result of marriage. Judy and I made a commitment to "tithe" – to give 10% of our income to church. It became an ingrained habit. It also became a commitment, a priority that has helped center all of our financial decisions. We kept up the habit through layoffs, job losses, job changes, Judy going to seminary, my becoming self-employed, and our adoption of three wonderful kids decades apart. During all the intervening years, we never lacked for any real necessities, though we didn't have everything we might have "wanted" at the moment. When Judy died, I didn't think twice about continuing the habit.
I have to admit that, while we went through lots of ups and downs and many challenges, we were never destitute or impoverished. And as the years went on, we were blessed with incomes that improved, and were not hit with medical crises that have ruined some families' finances. So the lesson here may not apply to all. But I've found that setting aside part of my income for giving as a matter of course is an ongoing acknowledgement that God is the source of all that I have. And it helps bring clarity and purpose into what I do with what has been given to me.