March 25, 2021
I grew up in (or rather on the fringe of) the Swiss Reformed Church. In my family, faith was restricted to singing grace at mealtimes, and a bedtime prayer by my mother. My Sunday school experience at the nearby military base was limited to a few visits. I brought along a 20 Rappen coin to insert into the miniature statue of a black boy who nodded his head as the coin dropped inside of him – which I found fascinating. Otherwise “giving” had no religious connotation, but a moral one and was very present. Being one of six brothers, “sharing” was omnipresent, and my parents also helped others readily when they saw a need. During World War II, they had served at a Red Cross camp in France, saving the lives of orphans.
Why is “giving” a discipline? If, as Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), why don’t people automatically prefer giving to receiving?
Human nature is selfish. Our nature makes us want to receive, to possess, to feel wealthy. Selfishness is the source of strife, wars and corruption. To overcome selfishness and to let go of possessions is difficult – but liberating. “If the Son sets you free, you will be truly free” says Jesus in John 8:36. I think this is what he means when he says it’s more blessed to give than to receive. Jesus can set us free of our natural instincts. And that’s true freedom.
When I was at the age of being stressed out, I went a few times for a week of silence to a monastery in Altdorf. The monks there possessed almost nothing of their own. Each had one small room, a “cell,” for himself, that was it. But I was impressed that they emanated a tangible sense of freedom. I realized that everything we own is in one way or another a burden on us – even if it’s just that you have to dust it or occasionally think about whether you want to keep it or get rid of it.
When I began to attend IPC in 1977, I heard for the first time about “tithing.” At first I thought that can’t be true: Giving 10% of your income to the church? You gotta be kidding! In the Swiss church, you put a coin into the collection; after all, you pay church taxes. But as I learned from IPCers, who were actually tithing, I gradually learned about letting go.
So, giving, in the season of Lent, is the discipline of letting go – letting go of our money, our possessions, our time, ourselves. And giving is not about incurring pain in order to be admired by others, but about being liberated from the things below, for the things above.