O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength,
seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
his miracles, and the judgements he uttered,
O offspring of his servant Israel,
children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
1 Chronicles 16:8-13
The Thanksgiving holiday comes and goes, year after year, and beyond the bountiful feast, time with family and friends, we may come to take it for granted. This is an excellent annual reminder to be deeply grateful for the many blessings we receive in life – for God’s providence, for richness, for fullness, for abundance. All we have, we have received from God. The majority of people in the United States have more than we need. We are afforded wonderful comforts, dependable security, and frequent luxury. We have so very much to be thankful for. Sadly, this comfortable abundance is not experienced by so many.
Do we deserve all we have received? Mostly, we believe that we do. We work hard. We make sacrifices. We strive to succeed. And we enjoy the fruits of our labors. There is nothing wrong with this. However, in our season of celebration and thanksgiving, there is also amazing opportunity. The opportunity to share what we have received with others. God gives that we might give; God blesses that we might be a blessing.
One of the greatest ways we honor God and show our appreciation for all that God gives is to be generous with others. As we treat those in need, so we show our love and care for the Christ. In Hebrew culture, there were four basic levels of charitable giving: tithes, alms, gifts, and offerings. We use these terms interchangeably, but each has a very specific and distinct purpose.
Tithes, biblically and historically, were first fruits offered to God, but celebrated and shared by the community. The tithe provided for everyone – including widows, orphans, and strangers – to remember how giving and kind God is. We give our first fruits to God to remember how good God is to us. (Read Deuteronomy 14)
Alms are the gifts we make to the poor. In every culture, at every time, in every place, there are those who live on the fringes, who have less than they need to survive. In Christian community, we have responsibility to care for those on the margins. Giving to the poor is a central practice for Christians, and especially for Methodists dating from John Wesley to the present day.
Gifts constitute the giving we make to support the institution of the church and those who lead. Gifts are given to support the ongoing ministry and the ministers.
Offerings are given to do the outreach work – the ministry and mission to the world. We make offerings on behalf of God to ensure that God’s work continues to be done in the world.
You might be thinking, so what are apportionments? The Hebrew scripture seems silent on this topic. However, in substance and in truth, our apportionments guarantee that every congregation will participate in at least three of the four standards of giving – alms, gifts, and offerings. We still have a way to go on tithing!
Collectively, these forms of giving support the community, its leaders, the poor and marginalized, and the work that the community of faith can do. This constitutes not an amount or a percentage, but a willingness to give back in gratitude for all that we receive.
In this season of Thanksgiving, let us all give gladly, freely, sacrificially, and generously. In this way, we truly honor and glorify God.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).