THE AMOUNT DOESN'T MATTER; OR DOES IT?
I have a hard time preaching on the issue of money and stewardship because there is a direct correlation between what we, as a church pledge, and my paycheck. Several years ago I discovered I wasn't the only one who hated "fund raising". Fr. Cathel Brennan, who was priest at Holy Cross, and a member of the Portland Organizing Project, told a group of us how he hated having a parish school as part of his congregation. His complaint was about the fact that he was always raising money for the school and that it got in the way of being present for his congregation. He seemed to think that whenever someone saw him coming he was going to ask for money for the school.
This story is pretty familiar to those who have been around a church for a period of time however let me remind you of what's happening. The Jewish temple had an outer court in which women were allowed to worship. In it were 13 large metal containers into which people dropped their coins as offering for the temple and priests. Jesus is sitting there as people fulfill their vows and bring their gifts. Rich people come in and so do the not so rich. Finally one woman, a widow most likely because of the way she's dressed, drops in the two smallest coins in circulation and leaves, about 1/64th of a day's wage. Today that's about $1.83 based on an hourly wage of $7.50.
Jesus' disciples aren't as attentive to detail as he so he calls them over and points out the contrast between this woman and the other givers. They gave from the overabundance they had. She gave all she had. Jesus actually says she gave NOT only all she had but the means of life itself.
Let me put this whole observation in perspective and then make some conclusions about what Jesus is telling us. Like all of life, this doesn't take happen in a vacuum. Just before this Jesus and the religious leaders, have had words. He's pointed out how they were guilty of killing the very prophets who God had sent to them (vv 1-14). Next they try to trick Jesus with a question about church/state relations and paying taxes, (vv 15-17). A group of Sadducees, by far the most wealthy and influential Jewish sect questioned Jesus about resurrection from the dead, which they didn't believe in, (vv. 18-27).
Perhaps the only honest question comes from one who Mark saw that "Jesus had given a good answer" and his question dealt with which was the most important law. Jesus commends this man's response and in a final statement in verses 38-40 he slams those religious types for whom power and recognition are all important.
From here he goes to the temple and finds those he's warned against making a great ceremony of their giving and others, like the widow, giving almost as if ashamed.
Here's what I believe God wants us to hear from this story?
· Giving a lot isn't bad. Jesus never condemns the large gifts or even the fact that they were given out of one's excess.
He merely points out that they had the means whereby they could give that amount and it really didn't cost them anything significant
· Sacrificial giving is giving that is based on faith in God alone. Her very life was wrapped up in those two coins. God notices when one gives it all up for Him.
She has no other resources. She has no other money, power, influence, or food stamps. She has entrusted into God's care her last two cents and as a result she's noticed by Jesus.
· Stewardship, positive stewardship, flows from an attitude that gives God our current life situations as well as our future.
Being God's person involves us in God's activity in our world. It takes us from the realm of self into the divine; from pay-off to investment and into a world where we laugh with God at our plans.
If you haven't seen it already, Evan Almighty, stars Steve Carell as a modern day, albeit very reluctant Noah. In one scene Evan is talking to God, played by Morgan Freeman, and complains that God's plans are interfering with his plans. As you might imagine, if you have ever told God something similar, He laughs. Stewardship is all about God's plans. Stewardship is all about God's desires. Stewardship is all about God's call for us to serve Him not about God's serving us.
You've been asked to bring a pledge today of what you plan to give to this congregation for the next year. For many of you that won't change from last year. For others it will be the first time you've taken that step of faith. Still others haven't done enough prayer and work in order to dedicate it. To each of us let me assure you that whatever we dedicate needs to flow from an attitude of trusting in God and God alone. Let them come out of thankfulness for what Jesus has done for us, giving us eternal life. And let them be of such a type that in essence, we give our lives over to God's care. When this happens we too will be noticed and commended by our Lord. Amen.