Every year for Thanksgiving the altar guild of our church displays a large cornucopia filled with real fruit, nuts, pumpkins and pine cones on the altar. It truly is a work of art. Traditionally, the cornucopia was known as a horn of plenty because it was made using a goat’s horn filled with fruits, meats, and flowers. A cornucopia is a symbol of a plentiful harvest or an abundance of good things. While most of us do not actually work on farms or harvest crops, we can still grasp the concept of what a bountiful harvest looks like by tending gardens or fruit trees. Having spent the majority of years on a working farm with crops and animals, I have known gratitude when there was bountiful harvest however I have also experienced the difficulty of a less then plentiful bounty of the crops that were planted with such hopefulness. Even when times were tough, this holiday reminded us to be thankful because we always had enough food, clothes, shoes and most of all we celebrated family.
God truly wants us to experience abundance so much so the Almighty tells us to challenge this promise by saying, “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,” (Malachi 3:8). In this text God is asking us to tithe or give a percent of our bounty to receive an even larger blessing. Some of us do not like pastors to speak about tithing during “stewardship” month. We might feel guilted into giving to help support programs, operating fees, or even staff salaries that are required to ensure the church operates. Do you tithe? Let me just say that tithing requires discipline and is not easy to do. It means that God gets paid off the top of every paycheck regardless of your bills. The tough part comes in when there are more bills than there is money and we might find ourselves pushing our tithe off until we have more money next month. The key is to trust that God truly will provide even when we can’t see the benefit of our offering.
Of course I want the blessing that comes with God’s challenge but I think there is more that enters into God’s words. The promise is fulfilled when we trust God to provide but the text also says, “that there may be food in my house.” What I think God is saying here is that we will be blessed but if we give abundantly to God or God’s people, then others will be blessed through our offering. Money is important to fund programs and the day-to-day operations of the church but tithing can also be giving of time and energy to others in need. It might mean caring for someone who is lonely or ill, showing love to our neighbors or forgiving someone who has wronged us so that they can be free of the burden of guilt. If we do these things we will have an abundant life whether we are rich or poor. Jesus also says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10b). To me this is what the cornucopia symbolized; Jesus’ hands filled with his abundant grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness free for the taking, a bounty for us to embrace and then share with others.