Giving Out of Poverty

Mark 12:38-44

November 7th & 8th, 2009


            A District Stewardship/Mission  chairman was asked to speak to a congregation on consecration Sunday.  He started out his message with this phrase.  “Sometimes Christians ask me what portion of their income they should give to God and his church”. “When they ask it like that, I tell them “You should give it all”(pause)    I think the point of the speaker was this.    When we think of percentages and minimums in giving, whether it is time, talent, or treasure, we imply God you can have this (pick a percentage), and I’ll do as I please with the rest.   In our gospel reading today Jesus commends a widow who gave her two pennies (all she had)  by saying “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.” 

            These past few weeks the church council has been awash in numbers as we begin to work on next years congregational budget.    Numbers  related to health care plans, the change in the Thrivent program, debt issues,  giving patterns and expense patters over the years, cutting, freezing, and even in some instances increasing budgetary items.   No, my  purpose is not to put you to sleep in the first five minutes of the sermon, but simply to state that in many ways the whole process while necessary seems so very unspiritual.    Pastor Sommerer for Carlyle, was gone this week and in filling in I officiated the funeral for Stephanie Steinkamp, a 29 year old who died suddenly at home.  Wow, you talk about the need for the gospel in a family situation.   There are people of all ages in this congregation struggling in many aspects of their lives, and here we are talking about money issues.  So what happens when on Tuesday,   asks for the sermon title for this weekends services.  A text that deals with the “m” word, money, offerings, and those who give out of abundance and rather than out of poverty.  Oh, I may see all this as “unspiritual” (again, confession time), but Jesus has a different take.   He knows what we spend our lives separating this part of our life from him.  He knows that we are bottom line people when it comes to giving, while he looks at the heart.  In other words, we look exclusively as to whether we have enough, the final numbers, while he says look you can give like a Pharisee, yet the two pennies given by the Widow reflect a life of dependent faith.     He knows that in our old nature we don’t want to live trusting in his provision, his promises, but rather in our own abilities or even in what we have or could have. 

            Our text begins with Jesus calling into account “religious con artists”.  I tend to cringe a bit when I hear people get on the church, and point out its institutional problems, and even ministers who go astray.   Yet, in all honesty the art of “getting ahead”, and taking advantage of people through “religious coning” goes way back.  Jesus describes the scribes, the ruling class who wandered about  in the marketplace, seeking peoples devotion, and not God’s glory.  One author quotes “People often left their whole fortune to the Temple, and a good deal of Temple money went, in the end, to the scribes and the Pharisees.”   The potential for abuse with such power must have been overwhelming, and sadly the widows, those who had little influence in this culture were left with almost nothing.   There was no social security system, no security net for these women, for their whole lives were reliant on their male relatives or the generosity of others.   In the book of Acts, a special effort is made to take care of all those widows who were left in Jerusalem. 

            Jesus then moves on and watches those very wealthy put in great amounts of money into the treasury.   They went not only once, but again and again.  The amount was great but proportionally to their income, and wealth, it wasn’t much at all.  He calls his disciples together, and says look at this woman, this widow.   Now you talk about someone who could have been cynical, and given up on the “whole” bit of temple giving.  After all these very scribes before her, may have been the ones who for their own personal gain wrested what she had from her.  Yet, she is not without!  She had something to offer.  Oh, in the yearly budget for the temple you would hardly notice.  If she didn’t show up, the effect probably would not have been that different.   Yet in the midst of her poverty she gave not only what she could, but she gave everything she had.    I’m reminded of that passage from Romans 12 where Paul writes “ Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God---this is your spiritual act of worship.”     To offer our lives, our bodies, our money, our everything to God as a sacrifice means that our lives are burned up and given up to God.  Why in the world would we do this?   Well, the key is in the phrase “in view of God’s mercy”.  They key in our text is the Jesus who tells this story.  You see with Jesus in our lives, whether we have a penny to our name, or a billion dollars we lack nothing.  We start out rich, and we end rich.  2 Corinthians 8 says “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”   The great surprise to the disciples was that this woman who looked like she had nothing,  truly understood that with her God she had everything.  She could have been cynical about putting money in this institutional place, and merely seen its effect in how it was used in the end.  The bottom line approach.  Rather she merely saw this as an opportunity to reflect her faith muscles, to give even in the midst of her poverty.  

            What can we learn and grow in from all this.  First of all the giving of that which is so significant in our lives, money,  is not a “side issue” in our walk with Jesus.   The purpose of the gift is not so much for the recipient (the church budget) , but rather for the giver.  It is an act of faith.      It is a reflection of faith , a trust that even without these funds, he will more than supply all our needs.   Secondly, the amount which matters so much to us, isn’t as important as the proportion and the attitude in which the gift is given.  In fact our whole lives are intended to be sacrificed to him.

            Even after going through this text, most of us can confess that we would rather take a crack at rich giving, rather than poverty giving.     While our calling is to give up everything we have, the reality is that only Jesus has truly fulfilled that calling.  This same Jesus has richly provided for your daily needs, and picks you up in the midst of all your failures to give cheerfully and freely.   It is not just a cliché to say he will provide for us individually and corporately as the body of Christ.   It is that reality, we are called to freely give like the widow.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.