We have probably all asked that question at some time during the last five months. It’s natural to wonder how things might have turned out if only we had done something different. And not just during the pandemic. What if you went to a different college? What if you had moved to a different city? What if you turned left instead of right? Our life is filled with choices and each one makes a difference. Growing up, one of my favorite comic books was titled “What If?” and every month they would explore this idea about how the choices we make can affect our lives. Sometimes the differences were huge. Sometimes the differences were small but meaningful. Sometimes the differences were just…different. It was always interesting to explore new possibilities, but was also a reminder that every day of our lives are important. What we do and say MATTERS! God has given us, but we only get to do it once so how can we make the most it?
God wants us to be BOLD in life!
Nowhere in the Bible is there a story about a guy who played it safe and was told by Christ, “Good job! Who needs to take risks? Play it safe.” Instead, it’s quite the opposite. In the story of the Parable of the Talents, God rewards those who have taken a chance with the gifts they are given and punishes the guy who plays it safe. In the book of Acts, we read about Ananias and Sapphira who withhold a portion of their profits for themselves instead of giving it to God and they die on the spot! Not that God would literally kill us for playing it safe, but instead a part of us dies when we hold back. A part of our ability to trust withers away. We were put on Earth to serve God in BOLD ways, to dare to make this world a better place. And that takes BOLD people. There was a scene in the movie Dead Poets Society that reminds me of God’s call to boldness. In it, Mr. Keating is teaching his students about poetry, and the kids are used to studying about rhyme and meter and iambic pentameter – all the forms and functions of poetry. But Mr. Keating wants to inspire them, to go beyond just studying about it and understanding it and he says to his students, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are all noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman: ‘O me, o life of the questions of these recurring, of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, o me, o life?’ Answer: that you are here. That life exists, and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” What will YOUR verse be?
God is never short of inspiration either.
There’s a great passage in Malachi that I want to share with you today. Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. It was written to the Jews who had returned from Babylon after the temple had been rebuilt. The people had become spiritually apathetic. They didn’t turn to false gods or other deities, but were “disillusioned about their future and skeptical of God’s promises.” They had the form and function of a church, but really had turned into nothing more than a country club for Jewish people. They stopped being a church. And in the beginning of this chapter, Malachi foretells the coming of Christ and asks the important question, “…who can endure the day of his coming? (Malachi 3:2)” Who can endure the day of his coming? And he follows it up with the section we are about to read this morning.
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty. – Malachi 3:8-12
Test me in this!
“Test me in this…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it…” Are you willing to take God up on that offer? All we need is two things – faith and trust. When we have faith in God’s promise and trust him to be faithful to us, he promises a flood of blessings. Instead, we often choose to rob God of what is already rightfully his. God doesn’t ask you to give everything you have (even though he could). He only asks for your trust enough that you would give at least 10% of what you earn to help what God is doing in the world. When we fail to give that to God, we are not only robbing God, but robbing ourselves of this opportunity to experience God’s blessing in our lives. Now, you might be tempted to get this image of a mighty God holding back this wonderful blessing as a punishment for our failure to be more faithful or trusting. But the curse we are under is one we’ve made ourselves, not one that God wants for us. It’s just that when we hold back from giving all we can, we are also holding back the chance for God to work in our lives in the most powerful of ways. God WANTS to do this for us. He invites us to “test him,” but that requires us to have faith in God’s promise.
How many of you have ever played “penny roulette” in Vegas?
Don’t be shy. No one is going to condemn you for gambling. But if you’ve ever played penny roulette in Vegas it’s pretty fun. For about a dollar, you can play for hours on end. The first time I went to Vegas was right when I turned 21. Living in Southern California, it’s just a day trip to the Strip and what better way to express your newfound freedom than to test your boundaries. So my friends and I went to Vegas and in about two minutes, lost nearly all the money I had set aside for gambling. Blackjack is a cruel and harsh game. So with limited funds and a whole lot of time left, I found penny roulette. I turned in a dollar and after playing for about three hours, I walked away with a fortune. Five whole dollars. I was good. You’ve all heard of saying, “you’ve got to bet big to win big,” or “you’ve got to spend money to make money.” It’s true. It was easy to bet “big” when you’re only playing for pennies, but you have to really have faith to go all in. God wants you to go “all in.” It’s only when we allow ourselves to be that open to God’s blessing that we can really receive it.
So the big “What If?” I have for our church is what if we didn’t need fundraisers?
What if we didn’t need fundraisers? Or special giving? What if instead of giving to get, we were giving to give? Instead of giving by buying a bento box or buying cookies from the bake sale or giving to buy some cool arts and crafts, we were giving just to give and trusting that God could do some mighty things with our giving. We give a LOT every year in memorials, holiday donations, and church fundraisers. And this year more than most is teaching us how tenuous that can be. So what if instead of giving to get stuff from the church, we dedicated ourselves to giving just for the sake of giving? What if we increased our giving even just by the amount we typically spend on fundraisers and bento boxes and everything else? Then when we do a fundraiser, we could dedicate that money directly to things we believe in to show the love of Christ.
That’s my big “What if?”
Could we challenge ourselves to make this shift in the time of the pandemic? Think about what we could do instead! The lives we could change and the faith we could grow if we were able to dedicate every fundraiser to a cause we believed in. We could provide computers to kids who need them. We could feed the hunger and the homeless for months. We could support different Black-owned businesses in the community every month. We could send our own kids and adults on international mission trips. And people would give. People love giving to things they think are worthy. Our fundraisers would be even more successful than ever before. We could do some wildly creative outreach events and make our presence felt deeply in our community. I think of the words of Bobby Kennedy when he said, “There are those who look at the way things are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” “There are those who look at the way things are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”
Fundraising should be about above and beyond giving.
But to be able to do that, we have to fund ministry ourselves. We have to stretch ourselves to give enough to be able to do these amazing things. But how fulfilling would it be to know that our efforts have gone to save lives, to change how someone connects to God, to give a child the chance to know Jesus Christ? These are the fruits of our giving. These are the types of things that we can do when we give ourselves to God. “Test me in this…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it…” We have to have faith and trust to really give what we can to God. And when we do those things, we can help to bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth. Let us be BOLD. Let us ask the big “What if?” Let us truly go all in for Christ. And ask yourself this, “What will your verse be?” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Some of this section is taken from The Archeological Study Bible, “Introduction to Malachi,” p. 1545.