When the new tax reforms were announced, a friend serving a non-profit, expressed concern about the impact on charitable giving. He wondered, “Will people still give at the same levels if they don’t get a tax benefit for the gift?”
In my first call as a pastor, I oversaw the youth ministries of the congregation.
Each year, we sent the middle school youth to build a house in Mexico and the senior high to national gatherings or servant opportunities around the country.
In order to do this, we had to raise nearly $40,000 a year. Most of our time centered around fundraisers, often requiring selling something or soliciting silent auction items.
This troubled me as a pastor. I tried to think of ways for people to support the youth because it was important for their faith formation. Yet, every year I would get push back. People would tell me, “There is only so much people will give without getting something (tangible) in return. Or the kids should work for the trip. Or nobody should get something for nothing. And, I would patiently invite people to think about how this reflected their relationship with God.
Giving, stewardship, living by faith that God will still provide, continues to be one of the toughest practices of discipleship.
Money and possessions, in and of themselves, are neither good nor bad. But, from the very beginning, God knew they would be the source of our greatest temptation and lack of trust in God.
Did you know there over 2,000 verses in the Bible about money and our relationship to it? The first command God gave the Israelites when they began to settle into the promised land involved the practice of giving. When the people took in their first harvest of grain or animals, God told them to bring a tithe — percentage — of the first fruits to the altar as an offering. Not what was left over. Not so they could gain favor in return. But, as means of thanksgiving for the harvest and trust. Trust that the God who rescued them from slavery and guided them through the wilderness, would continue to provide enough for their daily bread.
To start out with, the priests burned these offerings. Can you imagine burning $100 charitable gift? Later, the priests saw that these gifts could benefit the least among them. But, over time we started putting strings upon these gifts of worship. Wondering what we would get from it. Putting designations on how they could be spent. Giving only so we could reach our full tax deduction on Schedule A.
In response to my friend, I said the changes would not impact those who give in response to grace and lives of gratitude. Those who seek to give as they have first received. Those who have experienced a God who loves those who don’t deserve it. A God who gave us everything through Jesus, and only hopes we will one day respond with lives which reflect this kind of generosity and love. Tax benefit or not.
The Rev. Lori C. Morton is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Sandpoint. She can be reached at firstlutheransandpoint.org.