Saturday, November 07, 2009

Mark.12.38-44; Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost; November 8, 2009

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:38-44, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This text is coming just a week early. Next Sunday is “budget” Sunday. We’ll gather in the fellowship hall and make plans for what we are going to spend next year. By that decision we are going to show what’s important to us and what’s not so important. We shouldn’t be surprised that God actually has something to say on this topic. We claim the Reformation idea of Sola Scriptura, that is Scripture alone determines how we live and act as a church. God’s Word tells us what is important and what is not. And here it is in black and white, plain simple language from the lips of God himself. A stewardship sermon!

As always God’s timing is perfect. The state is dropping jobs like raindrops. The government is threatening to take over health care requiring all of us to sacrifice more of our income in taxes. Our aging building seems to need more and more attention. It appears that time and talents will be stretched even more thinly than this year. But Jesus has a solution. Do what the widow did. Actually this fits with the advice you might receive from one stewardship consultant. When he is asked what portion of income we should give to the church, he points to this passage and says, “We should give it all.” By now you must be squirming. Well the truth is I’m squirming. Very few Christians don’t already struggle with the guilt of feeling that they don’t give enough to the church. And at the same time most of us feel that our neighbor could certainly give more than they do. And what about all those folks who belong here but don’t attend? Shouldn’t they still support the church? Well pastor, here’s a real good example of why we don’t want you to talk about money from the pulpit. Someone is going to be offended. Someone is going to think we only want money. Someone is going to quit giving the little bit they give and then we’ll be in trouble. So keep it simple pastor, just leave money out.

Well, that would be fine with me. You probably don’t realize how uncomfortable it is to have the food on your table dependant on the charity of a small group of people. You may not realize how humbling it is to be the biggest expenditure in a very limited budget. None the less the text is here to be heard. And Jesus tells us some very important things here. It isn’t just talking about giving to God’s Work in this congregation, he also teaches the proper perspective of living as God’s people.

Well, just look at the contrast here between the Scribes and the poor widow. These scribes are good looking on the outside. They were very respected by the people around them. They wore clothing that everyone recognized. They were shone respect on the street and in private parties. They got the best seats, they were asked to pray and, it seems, they were paid by the word. Everything they did was for the attention of others and, very likely, God himself. The place where Jesus sat there in the temple was a testament to this attitude. Rich folks didn’t give quietly and privately. They made a public spectacle of it all. Any day you could go to the temple and see it.

The widow is a different subject. Outwardly, she would most often be ignored. We would probably pass her by ourselves. And her gift is small. Take two pennies out of the offering plate and that’s a hundred times more than she gave. If you took those two small coins and put them on account at LCEF there would be no quarterly compound interest payment to the budget. Quite simply what she gave wouldn’t even buy a paper clip.

But that shows you exactly what’s going on in her heart. She faithfully gives. And Jesus calls it “more” than all the rich people gave. Her gift is more than the coins. She gives all she has. When she leaves the temple she doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from except that God will provide. She is actually giving of her whole self.

Those scribes are different. Their hearts are self focused. They crave the attention that their gifts bring. They give with a false pretense of humility. They give to get there names inscribed on those little plaques. They prefer that their money be spent on something that will out last them, stained glass windows and such. They give because they expect God to give back more than they give. They give to show other people how much God has given them. They give to show that they are better than people they don’t like. They give because they don’t want there name to be near the bottom of one of those lists that show how much people give in the church. They give because they want other people to judge them by what they give. Wait am I talking about those scribes or am I talking about us?

Oh that’s not very comforting is it? What did Jesus say about those attitudes? “Beware! Look out! They will receive greater condemnation.” We must confess our sin. We fail to give it all. It’s the commandment again. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your money! We may want to be like the widow having our heart in the right place, having our checkbook in the right place but how often do we fail? How often do we place our own needs above the needs of others and the work of the church? How often do we rate each other with dollar signs?

Do you want to know what Jesus is really pointing to here? Notice what he says about the widow. She gave everything. Just a few verses before this text Jesus is asked, what is the most important commandment. Listen to his response:

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, ESV)

You can’t miss the picture here. She trusts God and gives her last thin dime for the sake of other people. Jesus points her out not for the sake of giving her credit, but for the sake of showing us himself. What she does is a picture of Jesus. He gives everything. He gives his life, his self sacrificing for the sake of others. During his earthly life he has compassion on people who need help. He heals, he teaches, he comforts. He gives his death, his sacrifice on the cross in payment for the punishment that we self centered, poor stewards should have. He gives his resurrection, his new life to us too. Our old sinful nature crucified, dead and buried, and our new nature that truly does want to give to God all that we have and are. We have been set free from our sin, our death and the power of Satan over us. Our sin is forgiven. We are washed clean in the blood of Christ. Our “greater condemnation” is hung on Jesus. Jesus shows true love by giving all he has for even me! For even you! In our baptism we get his life, death and resurrection, are new creations in Christ. We want to hear his word of forgiveness. We want to receive his forgiveness, spoken and in his meal at the altar. And we want to serve our neighbors with all that we have.

So how’s that for stewardship. We give because Jesus gives to us first. What you give is between you and him. What you give includes everything you have, the life you give to your family, your work, and… yes, the church budget, too. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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