Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sermon -- Stewardship: Proportionate Giving (January 19, 2020)

MARK 12:41-44


In the name + of Jesus.

     “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.” (Mark 12:41)  Did you catch that?  The verb does not say that Jesus noticed people were giving their offerings.  He was intently observing it.  Do you find that a little unsettling, that Jesus would look intently at your offerings? 
     We try to keep our offerings a matter of privacy.  We submit them in envelopes.  Some have opted for electronic transfer of funds from their bank account to the church, which means no envelopes are used.  Ushers do not give you a stare down, assessing what you put in the plate—or even IF you do, for that matter.  Even your pastor does not know who gives what, as if his care and concern for you is measured by your offerings.  Jesus, on the other hand, does pay careful attention to our lives, and that includes our offerings.  The Lord is the giver of all that we have, and he intently watches how we use it.
     Jesus sat in the temple near a receptacle where the people would come at the time of the Passover to pay the temple tax or to give other gifts.  Among the givers were the rich.  From their lavish possessions they gave lavish gifts.  While we would be impressed and pleased with such offerings in our coffers, Jesus was much more impressed with a different gift.  “A poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.” (Mark 12:42)  The two coins the widow put into the receptacle at the temple were the two smallest coins in the Roman Empire.  And yet, as Jesus noted, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  ... She, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44)  
     Some are stunned that Jesus deemed the widow's offering to be greater than those of the rich.  Even more stunning is that we learn that she put in all she had to live on.  What was she thinking?  Why was she so determined to give to the Lord?  And why didn't Jesus run up to her and tell her, “No, dear lady, you need this far more than the Lord does.  Please, take your coins and go home”?
     The answer has to do with why we give offerings at all.  We usually speak about offerings in practical terms: “We need to pay bills to have light and heat on.  We cover the pastor's salary and insurance premiums.  The siding on the church is badly in need of repairs.”  And while it is true that this is what we use some of our offerings for, that is not what our Lord is concerned with.  Our offerings are part of our worship.  With our offerings, we make a confession.  The widow's confession was that God's mercy and his kingdom meant everything to her.  What we give reflects what God has given to us.
     Certainly, the principle applies to all parts of our life.  Since the earth is the Lord's and everything in it, we can only give what the Lord first gives to us.  We can only employ talent that God grants; we can't all play at Wimbledon, write symphonies, or perform surgery.  But whatever talent God has given, we can use for the honor of God and for the good of our neighbor.  And so it is with our wealth.  We can't all give $1 million or personally fund a building project for church.  We can only give according to what God has given us.  What we give reflects what God has given to us.  And since it is a confession, what we give also reflects what is in our hearts.
     If the rich Jesus observed were the Pharisees or the Sadducees, Jesus revealed what was in their hearts.  He said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:1-2)  While the gifts appeared lavish, the hearts from which those gifts came were devoted to self-praise.  Their generosity served only to gain them glory among other people.  They received that praise, but they received no praise from the Lord.  On the other hand, a widow who only had two cents to give was commended by our Lord.  What we give reflects what God has given to us.
     Our hearts always struggle against sin and selfishness.  We know the good that money can do, because we make it do good things for us.  The good we desire is much more than what we need to live.  A good portion of our wealth is dedicated to worldly comforts.  We find value in that.  But what is given to the Lord or for the good of others is given reluctantly because we don't see how it does any good—for us, that is.  And our arguments sound reasonable.  Do charities really use our gifts for the needy, or for the staff which runs the charity?  Will the needy actually make smart choices with what they are given?  Does the church really need this money?  Is it worth funding a mission where only a few people receive God's word with thanks?  But what we offer as an argument for being smart with our money becomes an excuse to keep it for ourselves.
     Our Lord knows full well what it is to spend and to get nothing for it.  When Jesus went to the cross, he did not go for a few.  He went for all people of all time.  He suffered for sins he did not commit and paid a debt he did not owe.  The Lamb of God was slain to take away the sins of the world.  Jesus shed his innocent blood to atone for our greed and selfishness and laid down his life as the ransom for ours.  He has done this for people who continue to come back to him with sins to confess, and he continues to forgive.  He has also suffered torment and damnation for people who won't ever care and who despise the good news of his salvation.  Some would say that a smart Savior would have carefully chosen a few who were worth dying for and cast the rest away for being ungrateful or unfaithful.  And yet, Jesus willingly invested himself completely for all.  For he desires that all would be saved.  Even though it grieves him that many will not benefit from his sufferings and death, he does not regret going through it.  And God be praised!—you are among his redeemed who benefit from his lavish grace.  Even when you come again and again to confess your sins, he does not run out of mercy and grace.  Your sins are covered by a selfless Savior who has given all to have you.
     This is why a widow would give all she had to honor the Lord.  She had to honor the Lord!  And the God who loves widows and orphans would see to it that she would be cared for—or do you think God let her go home and starve to death?  In the same way, the Lord will see to your needs.  So, how could we refuse to honor the Lord with the wealth he has given us?  How could we be reluctant to give generously when our Lord has given his all for us?  What we give reflects what God has given us.
     How much is enough?  God does not assign you an amount.  But he does want you to consider how he has blessed you.  If God has been pleased to give you little, then honor him with a little.  For, what man considers a little, God may regard as great honor, just like that widow in Jerusalem.  But for most of us, God has blessed us with much.  Shouldn't our offerings reflect how God has blessed us?  After all, even our offerings are a confession.  And though we do not broadcast to the world or each other what we give, God, who sees all, finds honor in what you give for the work of maintaining and expanding upon ministry here and of spreading the Gospel to the world.  He has given us all things for our good.  What we give is but a reflection of what God has given to us.  And since he has given all to save us, we honor him with a proportion of our wealth that reflects how God has blessed us.  What we give reflects what God has given us, and why we give honors our Lord gave all to redeem us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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