From the Prophet Malachi:
Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me – the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Malachi 3:8-10 (NRSV) – November 23, 2012)
This “test me and see” verse is a favorite of preachers of the so-called “prosperity gospel” (of course, it’s not from a gospel, but that doesn’t seem to bother them). To have it turn up in the Daily Office readings the day after the United States celebrated Thanksgiving Day is a real eye-opener! On Face Book this morning, a humorous “meme”* showed up picturing a young woman at prayer holding a credit card with this caption: “Dear God, we are so thankful for all we have . . . now, if you excuse us, we’ve got to go get more stuff. There’s a great Black Friday sale at Best Buy!” Could there have been a better juxtaposition?
Malachi says pretty bluntly that we are robbing God. Stealing from God is not something to be taken lightly. Many preachers cite this text about robbing God in the context of stewardship sermons. We rob God, they say, when we deny God what is rightfully God’s. We rob God, they say, when we fail to tithe, to make an offering of 1/10, or 10%, of our income. But it seems to me Malachi is more concerned about attitude than with particular actions like paying or not paying the biblical tithe.
Essentially, it comes down to our attitude about who owns what. If we believe (as most Americans seem to) that we have earned all we have, that we are entirely responsible for our prosperity, then we will have an ungenerous attitude toward everyone, including God. If we take a step back and realize that God is responsible for our well-being, we are more likely to be generous. The question is, “Who owns my possessions, bank account, and even my life?” To whom are we truly thankful for what we have?
Jesus told a story about a rich man who had a lot of stuff, so much stuff that he had to build a bigger barn for it all. When he had built the barn and stored the stuff, he sat back content. But just then God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20) Jesus’ point (and Malachi’s) is that we have no control over our possessions, our money, or our life. Anything and everything may be lost at any time. The truth is that we don’t own anything, not even ourselves. God owns it all.
When we fail to use it to benefit others around us, when we fail to hold it in trust for God with the proper attitude of generosity, we rob God. If, on the other hand, we use what we have to do what good we can, if we have an attitude of gratitude (the one we claimed we had yesterday), we will benefit as much as if not more than those around us. “Put me to the test and see,” says God.
So, today, what’s it to be? Rush off to the Black Friday sales putting Thanksgiving behind us, or rather making thanksgiving a way of life, not just a day on the calendar? Either way, we put God to the test . . . .
*An internet meme is a concept that spreads via the internet often taking the form of a captioned image.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.