Mark 12: 38-44
As we begin our stewardship campaign today, the lectionary text assigned for this Sunday is about a widow and her gift. How appropriate it is! When we planned our ministries at the Church Council meeting in September, no one knew about the text for today. Is it coincidence? Or, is it providence? Every time these things happen, I just praise God for his/her guiding hands. I truly believe that we are in God’s hand. Amen?
This story – known as “widow’s mite” – is an interesting story. Let me ask you this: Are you comfortable with this story? I don’t know why, but it made me uncomfortable when I reflected on it last week to make a sermon out of this story.
Church stewardship campaigns have successfully used this story over the years to encourage members to be more generous in their giving. And you can interpret the words here to make that point, but unfortunately, that misses an important point of the text.
Let me invite you to take a look at the story a little differently than you may have in the past. Let’s not see it as a passage that tells us that the secret to life is in what or how you give. Instead, let’s see it as a story that tells us the secret to life is all about the attitude we have.
This story is designed to help us understand what Jesus requires of us – that we should give everything we have, even our whole selves, in pursuit of a more noble and just way of living. But I wonder if it isn’t kind of an awful story. I hear about her and I feel guilty instead of grateful.
I wonder why she isn’t given a name, an identity, a life story so that I might want to be more like her or, at least, so that I can justify to myself why I am not able to give like her. I hear about her and I immediately put up my defenses. My whole living? You have to be kidding? I give so much already – my time, my talents, most of my life is already involved in service and our faith community. Couldn’t I have just a little bit for myself? Why should I have to give my whole living?
Like most people, I have real issues with money. I have a split attitude, I guess. Sometimes, I worry about it too much and, sometimes, I don’t care about it. One day, I feel as if I am one of the rich people in today’s lesson, one who gives out of the abundance of a very full purse. On another day, I feel like I am as poor as a church mouse and there will never be enough to go around.
On those days, I go through all my jacket pockets at home, looking for dollar bills so that I will not have to use my ATM card. No wonder the story of the poor widow who gave her all evokes feelings of inadequacy! We have it all in this society and yet we still are conflicted about what to do with our money!
Money is important because getting and spending occupies such a large part of daily life. Just about every household I know has issues about money – whether there is too much or too little. Families have issues with money because time is money, and children and spouses want more time and forget that someone has to sacrifice their time to put food on the table.
Furthermore, we tend to equate money with success and status. If we have money, we are better than those who have less. Money gives us automatic virtue. Money gives us prestige, freedom and security in a society that worships the almighty dollar.
I admit that I have a complex relationship with money, whether I like it or not. The widow makes me uncomfortable because I know she didn’t have the kind of life or the kind of pressures I have. Who is going to put groceries on the table next week, or pay the bills or put the kids through college? It is not sensible!
But, the lesson we have to remember is that discipleship is based on a foundation of relationship with God over a foundation of possessions or resources. One traditional Christian answer has been giving by formula. One tenth of all we earn – a tithe – belongs to God and twice or more that amount to the IRS. This formula may be helpful to some, especially on Stewardship Sunday, but it ultimately misses the point. The story and meaning of the widow’s mite is not about a religious tax but about generosity and the life of the spirit.
What does generosity mean? First, it is not about mathematics. It is not about repaying a debt to God or the church. It is not about being good. (It is not about making a gesture to relieve our sense of guilt for having too much in a world where the majority has too little). The essence of generosity lies on a totally different axis.
Generosity is an eruption from the depth of the thankful spirit, the well spring of the joy of living. We are most generous when we can’t help ourselves. We give because we understand that our life is given to us with no strings attached. It is not a loan, a debt to repay by being good Christians. The ultimate meaning of generosity is the sharing of the goodness of the life God has given us. Generosity springs from gratitude, from our willingness to be thankful for all that has been given.
The Faith Community is a place that is created by gratitude and generosity. It can be no wider, deeper or stronger than the quantity of gratitude its members share with each other and with those beyond. Within the Christian community, generosity has a special twist. Everywhere – in Buddhist communities, in Muslim communities, in Jewish communities, and even in the most secular places – there are numberless random acts of kindness and expressions of compassion. But within the Christian community the expression of generosity is specifically understood as a spontaneous outpouring of thankfulness to the God who has created and sustains us at every moment of our life. I am sure… the person (Gwen Ackley) who sent us a tank you note after our Tag Sale was touched by our gratitude and generosity.
If the motivation of your giving is a sense of duty, you can never give that generously. It’s only possible when you are genuinely grateful; it’s the expression of gratitude.
Augustine said: “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” What the widow gave wasn’t her last penny. It was the gesture of the fullness of her livingness. It is in this season that I experience myself most fully alive every day. Why? (Because), by Grace, I realized that Life is not about what you have or how you give. It is about whom you love and whom you trust.
Giving is all about a sense of gratitude. I have often suspected that many in the church take the wrong approach to stewardship. I know a church where a line item budget for the coming year is sent to the members around this time of the year. It is boring and few people read it. But beyond that it perpetuates the concept that you are to give in proportion to what our bills are. I believe that we should be giving out of a sense of thanksgiving and joy, not to pay bills. When I give offering to the church I don’t look at a line item budget. Because of all of God’s blessings, I give out of a sense of gratitude. There is much more fulfillment from that than simply giving money because our budge needs such and such amount of income. I give because I am overwhelmed with gratitude for what Christ did for me at Calvary. Because I understand the great significance of the Cross, I gladly give to the church, the body of Christ.
When we dedicate our pledge card next Sunday, it is my prayer that no matter how much money we can give to the Lord for his ministry, give it out of our genuine gratitude. Amen.