Readings: Psalms 127:1-5, Habakkuk 3:17-19, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, November 11 2018
A bible story about a widow and a rich man. Jesus challenges any who will listen, "Who gave the most?" The widow had nothing going for her. The rich man had everything going for him. He was in the position of being able to make a sizable offering, which it seems he did. But in the light of God’s economy, he never gave as much as the widow. The widow gave her all. It was upon the widow that God's favor shined.
Here's a sobering statistic. A recent survey concluded that the average Presbyterian gives more in tips and gratuities for the meals they eat out during the week than they put in the collection plate of their local church. I am thankful therefore that here in this church there are many who are well above average in the way that you support this church and its mission.
That being said I don’t know who gives the most and who gives the least. I don’t know how that all breaks down into percentages, whether some of you who have less income are proportionally giving a whole lot more of what you have than somebody who gets a lot more than you do. I don’t know.
But I do know that many of us are hoping and praying that this church can blossom and flourish and grow. We then need to acknowledge and act upon a basic principle in life. The harvest is always related to what is sown. You cannot grow anything without planting the seeds. You cannot grow programs and new opportunities and new ministries within a congregation without investing in them, with time and talents and, yes, with plain old cash!
Now you may be sitting there thinking, ‘Listen Preacher, I know it's Stewardship Season but I’ve made my pledge. Just typical of a preacher, all they want is more, more, more.” All I can say is that this was the lectionary text set for this Sunday and it’s hard to talk about this passge without mentioning money!
So… let’s take a different route. In the calendar year we are heading towards the celebration of Thanksgiving. The Pilgrim Fathers, who are celebrated at Thanksgiving, didn't have much to be thankful for. They had been hounded out of one country. They tried settling in another but that didn't work out.
They fled persecution and sailed across the ocean in that tiny ship they called the Mayflower. When they got here they were met with a land that needed to be tamed, a hostile environment, new diseases, inclement weather, starvation, challenges they had never dreamed of. How did they handle it? They gave thanks.
Our first reading this morning was from the book of Habakkuk. I'm glad Habakkuk wasn't a chef. What a mouthful it would be to go to the bookstore and ask, "Can I have a copy of Habakkuk's Cook Book, please?" He didn't have much to be thankful for. Why? Habakkuk didn't have a Cook Book because Habakkuk didn’t have anything to cook!
In verse 17 of Habakkuk, Chapter 3, the fig trees aren’t blossoming, there’s no fruit on the vines, no food in the field, no sheep or cows in the stalls to provide meat. "Yet" (and listen to this), he says “Yet, I will exult in the Lord, I will be thankful, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength.” (Verses 18-19)
There's that crazy thing again. The widow thing. The Pilgrim thing. People who by the standards of this world wouldn’t appear to have a great deal to get excited about are overflowing with generosity and thanksgiving.
Some weeks I feel like I need some cheerleaders up here with me instead of just a choir and lay reader. (No offence to the choir. They do a fantastic job.) But you know, when our faith is under attack, a few cheers of "Dee-Fence, Dee-Fence" wouldn't come amiss.
What about when the collection plate goes around, “Put it in, Drop it in... Touch Down!” How about an; "Everybody in the pews, Come and stamp your Good News shoes," something along those lines to get us psyched up to the importance of what we're doing here as a church when the offering plate goes around.
We have a lot to be thankful about. For sure, disposable income is always at a premium, that’s the truth. The bills keep rising and the taxes always seem to one step ahead of them. But you know what? We’re alive and kicking. We have a beautiful facility for worship and service. We have people around us who love us and pray for us and care about us.
We are free to come here and worship. None of us are going to be imprisoned today because we came to church. We are not going to be considered enemies of the state or political subversives because we claim Christ as our King. That is not the case for many in our world today, nor has it been for many generations throughout history.
We have schools. And when our kids go to school they have books and computer labs and playing fields and sports coaches and heated classrooms and class sizes that are, well sometimes larger than we would like, but small in comparison to the one-room, all age school-houses of other nations, where kids share paper and often the only text book is a blackboard.
We have roofs over our heads, food in our bellies, if we get sick we have doctors we can go to and hospitals to be treated at. On a worldwide scale that puts us at the top of the food chain. We have transport, we have gadgets galore, we have entertainment and opportunities and advantages that most of the world doesn’t share.
Today is Veterans Day, and 100 years since the First World War ended. When we recall those who gave their lives for our freedoms, we are aware of the sacrifices and hardships of those who paved the way for so much we take for granted. How do we honor such a legacy?
I’m not trying to make us feel bad or feel guilty or feel unworthy. Friends, I want us to feel thankful. We need to embrace every new day that we have to enjoy, every day filled with all these blessings and acknowledge before God that we are truly, truly, truly blessed.
Genuine thanksgiving always produces an outpouring of generosity. It causes us to think about our responsibility towards God in terms of how we spend our time, how we use the talents and gifts that God has graced our lives with and to consider what we do with our treasures.
What do we sow? What do we invest in? How can the money that we earn be used to glorify God and grow God’s kingdom? How do we express our thankfulness in tangible ways that benefit folks other than ourselves, ways that grow our church and bless our community? Our giving should not be motivated by the fact that there is a bill to be paid but from a gushing out of thankfulness… a response of joy.
In that sense this story about the widow is not about money. It’s about who she was and the genuine nature of her relation to her God. The money she gave was just an indication of something far more important. She was thankful.
She challenges us through her actions to consider if we genuinely have a heart of thanksgiving. We are invited to take our spiritual temperature by considering our giving as a guide to gauge how committed we are to the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, the grace of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
The New Interpreters Bible Commentary offers this reflection. "The story of the widows mite poses the same challenge to readers today as it did in Jesus time. People usually think of giving to the church and to charities as an option. The money for charitable giving comes out of the surplus after personal expenses have been met. Those "necessary expenses" usually include many many extras in terms of entertainment, clothes, food and playthings"
Do we have the widows heart, prepared to give all, or the rich mans heart who just gives the left-overs? What is the nature of what we offer to God? Is it our first-fruits, the best that we can give or just what’s left after we’ve taken care of the rest? I know these are uncomfortable questions but I really don’t believe that Christian faith and experience were ever meant to be comfortable!
Notice how the widows act of dedication foreshadows the giving of Him-self that Jesus Christ revealed to us through His death on the Cross. He died that we may live, embraced poverty that we may enjoy God's prosperity. He took on the mantle of service that we may learn the joy of serving each other.
Giving is a spiritual practice and an expression of a life that knows itself touched by the Grace of God. It is not a duty but a delight. It is not a requirement but a heart response to the love of God that in Jesus Christ laid itself naked and bare on the cruel cross of Calvary to win our devotion. It’s not about “making a donation” but everything to do with “overflowing with thankfulness.”
A rich man and a poor widow. One gives because it seems that’s what is expected, the other brings an offering from a thankful heart. A group of pilgrims flee persecution to a hostile environment that will take years to tame. What do they do? They give thanks! An Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, who doesn’t have a cook book, because there’s a famine in the land, proclaims “Yet, I will exult in the Lord, I will be thankful, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength.”
By the example of these faithful ones, through the action of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts, may God teach us how to live in ways that express true stewardship, stewardship that flows out of our thankfulness and overflows in blessings towards others. Stewardship that engages us passionately in the work of God’s kingdom, heart, mind, and soul, with our time, talents and treasures.
To God’s name be the Glory.