"GIVING IN TRUST"
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27)
November 11, 2018
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
[Jesus] 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 12:41-44 (ESV)
It's that time of the year again--November--time to start thinking about Thanksgiving (and Christmas to follow) and also the time of the year when most churches emphasize Christian stewardship. A lot of people have come to think of the word "stewardship" as a bad word, because they think of stewardship only in terms of financial giving. That idea, of course, is totally wrong. Stewardship refers to giving of all kinds, and ultimately to the giving of self. The whole point is that it's not your money that your Savior wants; it's you--your faithfulness to Him, your loyalty to your church, your commitment to His work. He wants to be the most important Concern in your life--in a class by Himself--so that He doesn't have to compete with all of your other interests.
In our text for this morning we see again one of the better-known incidents in the public ministry of Jesus. Whenever financial giving is talked about, the story of the "widow's mite" is sure to be mentioned. It has served for over two thousand years as a shining example of what genuine giving ought to be. Using this example I'd like to talk with you today about giving. Granted, it's not a very popular subject to preach on, but since it is one that our Savior addressed quite clearly (as reported in the Scriptures), it is a part of the message that we are to proclaim. So what was so special about this poor widow's offering? What was it that made her gift so much greater than those of the others? The difference is that while the others gave superficially, this widow gave out of a sincere faith and trust in her Lord. Let's look a little more closely at these two kinds of giving: superficial giving and genuine giving.
The offerings of the rich people were superficial, first of all, because they gave "out of their abundance." A ten dollar contribution coming from someone who has a hundred dollars is a lot more than the same amount would be coming from a millionaire. What Christ wants from us is the firstfruits--the first portion of everything that we are and have, as evidence that our entire lives belong to Him. What He doesn't want is leftovers--the things that we are more than willing to part with because we don't want them anyway. Jesus Christ gave His very life for my salvation. He didn't hold back on anything. If my gratitude to Him for all of that is so shallow that the only money that I will give Him is the spare change I find in my pocket, then obviously what He did for me doesn't mean all that much to me. If the only time that I will give Him is the spare time that I have left after I've already done everything else, then I am not really devoted to Him. If the only talent that I'm willing to give Him is the talent that I can't market and make some money on, then I'm not really doing anything for Him.
In contrast to that kind of superficial giving, the widow gave everything that she had. What made her gift so special was certainly not the amount. What made it special was that it demonstrated so clearly the faith that lived in her heart--the confidence she had that the Lord would provide for her. And that's the purpose of everything that we offer to the Lord in life: to demonstrate our faith. Those who think (as the rich people in our text apparently did) that by their offerings they will earn God's favor are sadly mistaken. We have God's favor already, as a free gift in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. However, if we have really received that grace of God in Christ, we will demonstrate that fact by responding to it with offerings of time, talent, and treasure. This is the kind of deep faith that the widow demonstrated with her small offering. She trusted so completely in her Lord that she threw her very life at His feet, relying totally on His mercy and grace.
Another problem with the offerings of the rich people in our text is the fact that their giving became for them nothing more than a part of their routine. Many people today, unfortunately, have also come to look at their giving as just a routine thing--just a practical thing and not a spiritual thing at all. To be sure, there are practical reasons for giving. The Church of Jesus Christ must function in the world. Therefore the Church has financial obligations to meet. The Church has work that needs to be done--work that requires the time and talent of all of its members. But we dare not reduce Christian stewardship to nothing more than paying bills and taking care of worldly necessities. We give gifts to loved ones even if they aren't in any great material need. We do it as a way of showing them our love. And we resent it if they deny us the opportunity to do that, because then we've missed out on the chance to give them something from the heart. In the same way, our giving of time, talent, and treasure to the Lord is a spiritual exercise through which we show our love for the Lord who gave Himself for us.
This is the kind of deliberate, spiritually-motivated offering the widow in our text gave. There was nothing routine about it at all. The amount was so small that it wasn't of much practical value. But its spiritual value, as Jesus points out, far exceeded that of the large sums of money put into the temple treasury routinely by the rich. Her offering was so much more than just a monetary gift. Hers was truly an act of faith, because she was giving up for the Lord what she was depending on for her living. By her act she was saying that she had an unswerving faith that the One in whom she trusted would care for her.
What kind of giving is appropriate and what kind is not? The answer lies not in how much time, how much talent, and how much money you are contributing, but rather in how much of yourself you are contributing and why you are contributing. If you are giving because you think that your giving will influence God or if you're giving the Lord only your leftovers, you may as well not give at all. But if you are giving because you are grateful for all that your Savior has freely given you, and you are giving the very first portion, however small, of everything that you are and have, then by all means give, and rejoice in your giving. God gave His Very Best for you: His only Son Jesus Christ, whom He sent to be your Savior from sin and death. This is His Gift of love to all of us--the Gift that motivates and empowers us to receive that love, rejoice in that love, live in that love, and reflect that love.
May the Lord bless your hearing of His Word, using it to accomplish in you those things for which He gave it. May you be enriched and strengthened in faith that you may leave here today to go out into our world armed with the whole armor of God, prepared to be able ambassadors of your Savior Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.