This week’s sermon – Living to Give

Greetings, everyone! This Sunday was our annual Stewardship Sunday, so I paused my “Death by Surburb” sermon series in order to preach on the importance of stewardship. So many people think that word is synonymous with “money,” but actually the Christian concept of stewardship is much larger than that. I hope this sermon is a blessing to you!

 SCRIPTURE – Mark 12:41-44

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

SERMON

Living to Give
Mark 12:41-44
October 14, 2007

I know what you are thinking. “Uh-oh. The story of the widow’s mite. It must be stewardship sermon time.” Yes, this scripture and a stewardship campaign go together like Halloween and cavities, or like the middle of October and Christmas music at Sam’s Club. I’m going to admit right up front that there’s no clean way to talk about this passage, because as soon as I do, the red flag in your head goes up and you say, “Here we go again. Money and church, church and money.” Everyone holds their breath because no one wants to hear about money, and frankly, I’ve yet to meet a pastor who loves to preach about it, either.

But I’m asking you to stay with me this morning. The Stewardship Committee has taken a different approach to helping us understand our giving, and I want to follow their lead. I’m not going to make you feel guilty about if you give, what you give, or what you have. I’m not going to talk about money. If I told you Jesus wants all your money, you’d never come back. And if I told you Jesus didn’t care about your money, we’d have full house next week, but the lights wouldn’t work, the communion cups would be empty, and our music staff would be on strike. I’m not interested in your money.

But I am interested in your wallets and purses. Right now, how much do you have in there? You don’t have to get it out, I’m not taking up a collection. But off the top of your head, how much is in there? For me, I have $4, not include the $2 bill I keep for good luck. Four dollars. That should be enough for Sydney and me to get our traditional after-church Slurpees on the way home.

How much do you have? More? Less? Now, imagine if you can that the money in your purse or wallet is all you have left to your name. No bank accounts. No stock portfolios. No other accumulated assets. That folded money and rattling change is all that you have. It’s a scenario that is so far removed from our suburban life that we probably can’t even begin to imagine it, but give it a try. What you have on you is all there is. When it’s gone, that’s it. End of story.

What would you do with it? Would you head to a casino and try to increase it? Would you hold onto to it for dear life, squeezing every ounce of value out of it? Would you go out with a bang and spend it on a couple of Slurpees? What would you do with it?

I don’t know what you would do, but I bet I can guess what you wouldn’t do. In fact, I can almost guarantee it. I bet you wouldn’t give it away. I’m pretty sure that none of us would take our last few dollars and cents and give them away. That would be silly and irresponsible and a little bizarre.

And yet, that’s exactly what the widow does in this passage, which is why it’s so hard to make sense of it. Jesus and his disciples are at the place in the temple where the offering is collected. There were a row of large metal collection containers, and people would walk up to the containers and toss in their offering. This became somewhat of a spectator sport, because people would often pay attention to who was giving what. Imagine if we had a little screen over the door the sanctuary that showed how much you gave to the church every time you walked under it.

The rich folks of the day liked to make a show of their offering. Their weighty donations would make a big “thud!” in the bottom of the container when they threw it in, and the crowd probably “oohed” and “aahed” each time a heavy hitter got ready to give their offering.

And then, a different kind of giver approaches. She’s a widow, which means she probably was barely scratching out an existence. Her drabby clothes would have paled in comparison to the colorful flowing robes of the rich people. In fact, she only has two small coins left to her name, totaling less than a penny. She clasps her coins in her hand and then, maybe with a bit of hesitation, let’s the drop into the container. Clink. Clink. No one hears it or pays attention. No cares what she gives. No one bothers to see her. Except Jesus. He was watching.

Now, that makes me a little nervous. I don’t know about you, but the thought of Jesus sitting and watching as I make an offering is enough to make me sweat a little. I’m well aware of how tightly congregations guard people’s giving, and there’s good reason for that. We don’t want anyone else to know, and I suspect at times we’d prefer Jesus not to know, either. My hand gets a little shakier when I think that Jesus is watching me sign the check.

I wish I could have talked to this lady before she made her offering. I’d tell her that the temple didn’t need her money. Didn’t she see all the gold and marble around her? How could such a small offering matter? I’d also ask her why she didn’t keep one coin for herself. At least she’d still have something, right? Why give it all?

It’s interesting that Jesus points this woman out to his disciples. She’s hardly the picture of sound financial management. There were plenty of other people putting in a lot more than her. So why point her out? Maybe Jesus saw a kindred spirit in this poor widow. After all, one thing they share in common is that they are both percentage givers; they both give 100 percent, she of her money, Jesus of his life.

Let me paint a contrast between the rich folks and the poor widow that speaks to our theme of intentional giving. I don’t know how much the wealthy people gave, but I can guess two things: (1) it was a lot, and (2) they wouldn’t miss it. Even after dropping a suitcase full of cash in the container, they weren’t going to be hurting for Slurpees. In other words, they didn’t really have to think much about what they gave. But the widow was much different. Imagine the decision she faced: food (not that she could buy much), a cheap candle for warmth, or giving an offering?

She is epitome of an intentional giver. An intentional giver is someone who thinks about the motivations for why they give, and the implications of that giving. For intentional givers, stewardship isn’t an afterthought or perfunctory obligation; it is a defining gesture, one that takes a lot of thought and prayer.

I think this story is so hard for us because we can’t relate. We don’t know what it’s like to have the money in our possession be the sum total of all we own. We don’t know what it’s like to face the decision this widow faced. We shouldn’t feel guilty about that – I don’t – but we should all thank God for that, for the blessings we have received.

So to hear what this story has to say to us, I think we need to pay attention to Jesus, and Jesus tells us to pay attention to the woman, not for what she gives but for why. Jesus helps us see the woman’s intentions. I believe that what I’ve witnessed in so many disadvantaged people is true of this woman: People living near the edge of existence tend to see things more clearly. They see without impairment what is essential.

For this woman, giving to God was essential. She was willing to put her whole self, including her money, at God’s disposal. I heard this compared once to the analogy of playing the violin. When a person first starts playing, they often take very short strokes with the bow, only using a fraction of what’s available to them. But as they learn and grow as violinists, they start to use more and more of the bow, drawing out a richer, deeper, fuller sound. This widow was using the whole bow of her life.

She was not giving without thinking; in fact, I would bet that she fretted and worried and prayed all day about her gift. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “If you give what you do not need, it isn’t giving.”  The idea of intentionally giving is that we give some of what we need, not just some of what we don’t need, with the intention that we are giving because God has given to us. It’s not a decision to take lightly or leave to the last minute. It takes prayer.

Here’s the kicker for me about why this woman’s story is so amazing, and so hard to take. By giving all that she had, it meant that she could no longer rely on herself. She had nothing left. From that point on, she was forced to rely on God. And that’s a good benchmark for an intentional giver: Does our giving force us, in any way, to depend less on ourselves and more on God?

I wish I knew what happened after this incident. I wish I could tell you that the woman walked out of the temple and won the lottery, but in all honesty I don’t know what happened. I don’t know where she got her next meal, or where she slept that night. All I know is what Jesus told me to watch her. And I saw this: a widow who intentionally used the whole bow of her life to honor her God. What I saw in the temple that day was someone who truly worshipped.

 QUESTIONS

1 – If what you have in your purse or wallet is all that you have, what would you do with it?

2 – What’s your reaction to the widow’s actions in this story?

3 – What does “intentional giving” mean to you?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “This week’s sermon – Living to Give

  1. Kay

    1. I would give some away but I am too selfish not to keep some for my needs–question presupposes I have only me to worry about, right?
    2. She scares the holy bejeebers out of me–I wish I can claim that kind of trust and faith. She is a scary role model. But then as you pointed out Jesus gave His all and totally without the need to–except to save me!
    3. Planned, purposeful, regular, faithful giving done with a joyful heart.

  2. Mik

    1 – If what you have in your purse or wallet is all that you have, what would you do with it? I’d like to think that I would split it evenly between my two children, my husband and God. Whether or not I would or could actually do this – I don’t know. What I do know is that I would not be focused on where my next meal would be coming from. I have been so fortunate to live a life of complete prosperity, I don’t know if I could truly imagine myself really being in this situation. The first thing I would do is pray about it and ask for guidance and direction from God.

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