“Opening the Floodgates of Heaven” Because You Give Sermon Series

“Opening the Floodgates of Heaven”
Malachi 3:7-12; 2 Corinthians 9:10-11
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
August 29, 2021 

There was a season of my life where I enjoyed running. But the longer I ran, the more I would notice that my neck and upper back would start to tighten to such a degree that eventually on the run I could no longer turn my head to the left. It was just too painfully tight. So I went to a physical therapist. “I want to get back to running. What do I need to do?” 

We show up to a physical therapist because there is something – whether it is normal activities or certain athletic or creative activities – something you are trying to get back to, but the body needs some help. “How can I get back running?” 

“How shall we return?” Is the question we hear God’s people ask God in our passage from Malachi. Malachi was probably written around 400BC during the post-exilic period of Judaism – a time when some of the Jewish people had grown lukewarm in their faith. And so Malachi – which literally means “messenger” – Malachi speaks into this situation of complacency, and at this point, the people have been stirred enough to ask, “How shall we return to you, God?” 

And just before they ask this question God has laid out some of the specifics that make it clear that the body of God’s people is not functioning well. 

(God speaking to God’s people): “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. 

Notice the issues God sees among the people: 

  • There is cheating. 
  • There is lying.
  • There are not just wages paid to workers.
  • There is no concern for those who have no economic safety net or relational net.
  • The foreigners in their midst, the foreigners with whom they work alongside – they are not treated with the same kind of protection and provision.

Some of this sounds quite relevant. 

And the people… they hear this charge, they are made aware of the ways the body of God’s people are failing…and so the question is raised, How are we to return? How do we get back to your call, your way?” 

When I saw my physical therapist for the first time about getting back to running, he did these various tests with my bodies range of motion and assesses how I stand and walk and run and all the rest, and I expected him to say, “We need to try out some new shoes or fix your gait or how your feet are landing as you are running.” Instead, it was a little surprising when he told me: “Look you have had too many years hunched under backpacks and seated poorly at desks and over computer screens. If you want to run well again, run some distance again…we got to work on your posture up here to allow the rest of your body to run well.” And he gives me these bands so that every single day I can begin working on my back muscles for my posture. And he when I ask him how long I am to do this, he goes… 

“A lot of your normal life is lived seated in a car, a desk, in front of a screen…so, you may graduate from one resistance band to the next over time…but this really needs to be every day.” 

In some ways, God’s response to how the people are to ‘return’ is surprising. One might think God’s response would be: “Start running the right way. Start telling the truth. Provide just compensation. Put the concerns of the most vulnerable ahead of yours. Care for the foreigner like a citizen…you return to me and my way by doing these things.” And it’s not that God doesn’t want that – God does. 

But listen to where God begins the conversation of returning to faithful running form: 

God declares: “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. You are robbing me of your tithes and offerings…Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” 

When God talks about how to come back, God starts with money. (And it is no accident, by the way, that Jesus, who began his ministry with the call to “repent” (turn around, return to God)…no accident that Jesus spoke so frequently about money.) 

Quick historical background: 

There were three tithes (“giving 10%”) collected in this time: 

  1. There is an annual tithe – the first fruits of your crops and the best among your livestock – to be given to support the priests and Levites – the religious leaders who were paid through this offering. 
  2. Then there is another annual tithe given for an annual feast (Deut 14).
  3. And then there was a tithe collected once every three years so that there was a pool of funds to care for the poor, orphans, and widows (Num 18:21 and Deut 14:23, 28-29; 26:12-13). So the actual income percentage to be given for tithes was closer to 23% than 10%.

Bottom line, this idea of ‘tithing’ is built into the DNA of God’s law. This is an ongoing, regular exercise. And it’s there, with money – of all things – that God starts the conversation about returning. Now, before we consider why that might be… 

…I know some of us are wondering, “Does this concept even hold water in our day? That’s fine and good for God through this OT prophet to talk about tithing but Jesus never said a word how we are supposed to tithe or any amount we might give.” 

In fact, some may add that having a standard like 10% is legalistic as if you could set up a formula that tells us who is reaching the bar of righteousness and who is not. In fact, it is antithetical the Jesus ’message which speaks of being generous according to God’s grace but puts no number on that. 

True. 

But, it is worth noting that Jesus who came to fulfill the law never revokes the tithe either. Actually, what he does say about money are things like this: 

  • “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” 
  • “Do not store up treasures on earth…store up treasures in heaven.” 
  • “You cannot serve God and money.” 
  • He observed a widow who put 2 small copper coins in the offering plate and he commends her for “has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

One Christian theologian puts the practical implication of Jesus’s teachings this way: 

“Tithing is not a ceiling for giving but a floor. The base from which one grows into the joy of giving in response to God’s grace. He goes on even asks, “What if tithing is actually one of God’s great gifts to us? What if tithing isn’t opposed to grace, but is actually a vehicle of it?” We’ll talk more practically about this briefly ahead of the offertory in today’s service because our situations are different and complex on this front. 

For now, let’s return to the question: why does God start with tithing, with money, of all things when God begins talking about returning to the run? 

I think we get a good hint when we hear God’s accusation against the people for not tithing: 

Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. You are robbing me of your tithes and offerings.” 

This is to say, the people’s financial resources are not actually their financial resources. It’s God. All of it is God’s. 

And it’s one thing to say that, but it’s another to let that truth take actual, tangible form. 

One of the gifts of tithing, one of the gifts of offering our financial resources to God and to the things of God’s kingdom…one of the gifts is that in making that offering is that it declares our recognition that everything we have is actually God’s. 

It’s all a gift. Our first breath, everything we are given, everything we have…It is all a gift. This recognition is foundational to everything else. 

“Bring the whole tithe to the storehouse. Start with the fundamental exercise of generosity, or recognizing that it is all a gift…” 

And it’s amazing to hear what God says will happen when a people actually do this. 

As we begin to do this exercise of generosity, it has a way of affecting the whole body: 

The Message translation puts it this way in Malachi 3:12 as the people bring the tithe into God’s storehouse: “Youll experience what its like to be a country of grace.” 

There is something about opening our financial resources – this space is often fraught with anxiety and space where we often seek security and space where we can often feel an odd mix of shame and pride and fear…there is something about offering that in gratitude to God, showing that forth in a tangible trust in God…that has a way of affecting the whole of our being. 

From tithe to a country of grace. 

Or as Jesus put it, “Where your treasure is there your heart is also.” 

What you do with your money is what tells the story of the heart. And so, by implication… 

…Open the treasure unto God and see if the whole heart, the whole essence of what you are about, does not also become more and more about grace. 

Work on the back muscles – and see if the whole body is not freed to run. 

And running the race is most definitely is God’s goal for us. 

Do you recall that prodigal son that left home spent all of his inheritance money on dissolute living? The one who shamed the family name. The one who made himself a foreigner to the family. 

And do you remember what happens when the Father sees him still far away…? 

The Father runs. 

It is a full-on motion of grace – undeserved, abounding love that then becomes tangibly manifest through the generous offerings: a new robe, the Father’s ring, new sandals, the fatted calf killed for the celebration party. 

Grace from first to last is our God’s motion in Jesus Christ toward us and for us. 

In fact, do you know how God’s prophesy through Malachi begins in the book of Malachi, chapter 1, to these people who have gone so far from God: 

I have loved you,” says the Lord. 

Grace is God’s motion toward us and for us. And we are made to reflect God’s image in the world. And so, we are made to run. 

 

I imagine many arrive here today feeling weighed down… 

Weighed by the world’s events. 

Weighed by health concerns. 

Weighed by shame. 

Weighed by our past. 

Weighed by a failing relationship or a failing endeavor. 

Weighed by what these past 18 months have meant. 

And some of us perhaps have been weighed down for so long that we’ve just gotten used to that posture. 

What if the grace of God arrives to us this day through the Father’s run unto us? 

“I have loved you.” 

And then what if we find that – not out of obligation – but out of deep gratitude and renewed trust, we want to pick up the specific invitation to grow in grace and return to form? 

Because what this world desperately needs is not a church hunched over with whatever energy it can muster to meet the next hurt or need… 

The world needs a church fit for the marathon. 

A church fit to run toward… 

  • those facing a disastrous hurricane 
  • and those who are now refugees
  • and those who cannot find a living wage
  • and those who broken by loss
  • and by lies
  • and by their own failure.

The world needs a church giving grace, trusting grace, and most definitely running on grace. 

“I have loved you.” 

Shall we be a country of grace? Amen. 

About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert