Taxing Times

As I write this the proposed tax overhaul is heading towards its final showdown. Depending on who you listen to its probable passage will either usher in a new era of peace and prosperity or will result in the end of civilization as we know it. Most responses to the proposed legislation are a good deal more measured than either extreme, and there have been so many changes and amendments that few folks are entirely sure what is in the document. One alarm that has been sounded is that possible changes in the standard deduction and in the rules for deducting charitable giving could have a major negative impact on non-profits and churches. I’m not sure how reliable that information is, but it does bring up a problem about giving that exists no matter whether the tax code is amended or not.
Human beings can be generous and most often are. Characters like Ebenezer Scrooge do exist in life, but they are really not that common. We can respond with wonderful generosity in times of crisis, but even in ordinary times, we regard generosity as a normal trait of our humanity. Such entities as the Weld Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, the Guadalupe shelter and countless non-profits large and small operate week after week without the stimulus of a major crisis to motivate community support. That we give is not the issue, as it appears to be given that we do. Why we give is the question I’m addressing here.

If our giving is tied to our benefit in tax reduction, then the proposed tax legislation may well have the feared negative impact. But what if, in our giving, tax benefits are only a bit of icing on the cake and not the primary motive? What if we give because generosity reflects the image of God, the imago Dei, in which we were created? True, Sin has entered the world and marred that image. Selfishness is one of the primary symptoms of the disease of Sin. But even so, we still give.

The instructions on giving found in the Law of Moses provide another motive for giving, but that motive is not often appreciated. Sometimes it is even resented. In that Law the Israelites, God’s covenant people, are instructed to offer both the first fruits of both crop and livestock as acknowledgment of God’s provision as well as the tithe – the first 10th of the harvest – as acknowledgement of God’s abundance. These offerings underscore a reality that human beings don’t often like to acknowledge: we are not self-sufficient; we are not in control.
Some years ago a U.S. President set off a fire storm of protest when he declared “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” Regardless of the context of the statement or the point being made, those words touched a sore spot in the human soul. It declared we were not self-sufficient, we needed the help of others to achieve what we think we have achieved on our own. The raw materials of who we’ve become and what we’ve accomplished are things we received, not things we created. Our intelligence, our background, our opportunities and indeed our very existence are all gifts received, directly or indirectly, from God. Giving to God is one way of saying “thank you.” But giving to God is also forcing ourselves to acknowledge our own dependence on the God in whom “we live and move and have our being.” With that perspective giving becomes more than generosity, more than saying thanks. Giving becomes a spiritual discipline.

How do we give to God?

From time to time I lead us to repeat a phrase: “The church is not God.” Yet it has always been through the covenant community that gifts to God were received and distributed. In ancient Israel these offerings supported not only the functions of the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple. They were also the means of supplying the needs of the poor. At Trinity our giving is distributed in much the same way. A large portion goes to maintaining our home, paying our staff to run the programs that build and bless our parish family. We give to God’s work through our Outreach ministries, supporting the church beyond Trinity and making our home available to our community at little or no cost.

Members of our Trinity family give to God through giving to Trinity, but also by giving to God through works that accomplish God’s purposes. The three non-profits listed above are only a few of the ministries supported by the giving of our money and our time as volunteers.

How do we calculate our giving?

The principle of giving in Scripture is encapsulated in element five of our Way of Life: “Give as we receive.” The idea is to return a proportion of our income to God’s work through Trinity Parish. This raises the next question: “What proportion should I give?” In the Scriptures, God asks His people for the first 10th (tithe) of what they produce. At Trinity, you set your own proportion. I do not know how many of us are giving a tithe, but in most churches it is very few. Instead, we urge that each of us prayerfully select a proportion of our income to return to God through Trinity Parish. In choosing a proportion it means that our giving will go up or down as our income fluctuates. It is this very fluctuation that is our reminder that all wealth we create is ultimately God’s gift to us.
That we give is a fact because of our humanity and the traces of the imago Dei that Sin cannot obliterate. Why we give reconnects us with our Creator as our ultimate source. How we give keeps that connection alive and becomes a spiritual discipline.

One final note: Over the years, some of us have accumulated resources beyond our needs. In giving thanks to God for that, we need to look at other opportunities to give as God shows us.
In the Holy Three in One,  Jack Stapleton +


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