The Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 12 38-44
 And in his teaching he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces
 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts,  who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
 And he 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 12:38-44 (ESV)
“Beware of the scribes… who devour widows houses, and for pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation…. “Truly I say to this poor woman 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.”
I find the text to be a bit peculiar, because at first Jesus warns to beware of scribes who devour the houses of widows, that is take them for everything they are worth, and leave them with nothing. And then He praises a widow for giving all she had to live on. I’m betting the woman found something more when she got home. God is good to give us our daily bread.
Today we have a stewardship sermon. I suppose it is fitting because we are coming up on that time of year when we will be discussing, and you will be determining the church’s budget for the following year. And I encourage you as you are thinking about these things to think about how much you are willing to contribute to this budget, it is your budget, as it is your congregation. This last year has been hard, economy isn’t the greatest. I wonder if we bit off a bit more than we could chew with last years budget, as we haven’t quite been making it. But I don’t recommend that you do what this woman did, as praiseworthy as it might have been.
I don’t really like giving stewardship sermons. I have heard of some pastors, who seem to have the gospel, the forgiveness of sins, confused with give more money. I read this warning about scribes devouring the houses of widows and shudder. I sit in fear as I consider from whom my paycheck might be coming. And then I wonder how prudent the current church is with all of the different programs in synod all asking for more money. I don’t know what the answer is to it all. Of course the church is in part and earthly institution, and as such needs money to survive. I need a pay check. The light bill and so on needs to be paid. This year we were hit by more than we expected, as the roof began to leak, and we are still paying on the parking lot.
Then I don’t know if your mailbox is as bad as mine when it comes to the church and other charities asking for donations. They’re almost as bad as the NRA. I sometimes wonder how many a widow’s house is devoured by the development offices in synod. I even got an Email once that recommended I try get people to write synod in their will! I know of people who have done this sort of thing, and greatly appreciate it. But I lost it on that one. Perhaps it was because these guys said the strength of my ministry depended on me getting people to give and write the church into their wills. I thought the strength of my ministry rested on how well I preached justification by faith alone, or the forgiveness of sins. I thought it rested on the fact that the Holy Spirit works through the gospel to call people to faith. Not on how good I was at exacting a widow’s last two mites into the church’s treasury.
Well that is my disclaimer. Now back to the text.
Jesus warns, and then He praises. He warns against giving to the scribes who do such things, and He warns against being a scribe in doing such things. It is no more right to foolishly give your money to a sham, than it is that a person shams you. I think people are right to be a little leery of handing out money to panhandlers, etc. There might ought be a little accountability in all that.
But then He praises a woman for giving every last dime she had. All she had to live on. I think we need to be careful to realize that He wasn’t praising her for being foolish with her money, or not considering where it goes. And neither was He disparaging the rich for putting in large sums of money. I think we in the church can be a bit thankful for some of our richer brothers and sisters who give large sums of money in love for God and the church, and keep the doors open so the work of God can be done. But that is just it. Jesus is praising the faith of this woman, and her love for the work of God that has manifested itself in this tiny little gift.
Jesus, being God, could look into a person’s heart. That is a little harder for us to do, and not very necessary. What a person gives to the church for the work of God to be done, needs to be determined by that person, between him and God, perhaps also his wife, or her husband. But great or small if it is from faith then it is praised by God. God loves a cheerful giver. So give what you can with a cheerful heart. That is the definitive instruction on Christian giving. That doesn’t mean that your heart has to be jumping for joy every time you give to the offering plate, but that you aren‘t reluctant, or giving under compulsion.
This woman gave what she could with a cheerful heart. It was the last of what she had, but she did not worry, she knew that God would provide. Maybe not in the miraculous way that he did for the widow Elijah stayed with, but she knew from whence her daily bread came, and was not afraid to share it out of fear that more would not come. Neither was she trying to manipulate God into giving her more than he already had. Our offerings are not meant to be pagan sacrifices designed to get God to do what we want Him to do in regard to our earthly life. Rich people aren’t rich because God was so pleased with what they have given that He gives them more, which is such a popular doctrine these days. We are all pagans at heart it seems. Were all tempted to find a way to manipulate God into giving us earthly blessings. Hard diligent work may be the key there, I think. In any case we should be thankful for what we have, it all comes from him, and whatever we give back to him, we give only but that that is his own.
We give in faith and love, in thanks and praise. We give that which we want to give, because it means that to us. At least that is why we should be giving. We give to the church because we want others to hear that their sins are forgiven, that Jesus Christ died for them, and they are saved. We give to the church, because we want it to be around for our children, and their children. We give to the church because in giving to the church, we share the gospel with our community, with our family, friends and neighbors. It is a confession of faith to give to the church. It says I believe this, and am willing to give money so that others might hear this and believe it too. It is a testimony to our faith, and the faith of those who have gone before us that this little church, this faithful congregation is here Sunday after Sunday proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, and administering His sacraments. If you have never once talked to your neighbor about Jesus, you have shared the gospel with them by giving to this congregation, for every time they pass this church they realize that someone is here who believes in God enough to keep this building up, to keep this building here, open for them and anyone else who cares to hear that Jesus Christ shed his blood for their sins, as he shed his blood for yours. Every hospital visit, every sermon preached, every conversation with a stranger, every article in the newspaper, that I or anyone in this congregation has ever had with another person where Christ has been proclaimed is due to the fact that your believe, and out of your faith, in thanksgiving and praise to God, you give to this church because it is your congregation. It is your congregation, and your work. And just being part of and supporting this congregation in whatever manner you support it in may just be the greatest thing you do for you neighbors, for your community, for the church as a whole, your brothers and sisters, your family and friends. I’m serious about that. Because this congregation stands as a consistent witness to this community of the love of Christ, and the forgiveness of sins. It is one place where the gospel is consistently heard, that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, that God has given us eternal life by the very blood that Jesus shed on the Cross, the very same blood offered for us for the forgiveness of sins week in and week out. And that is your doing. You the members have done this for some 60 years, and by God’s grace will continue. But the Grace of God uses you to reach out to this community and continue this work. He uses you when you give, he uses you when you volunteer to help with a project. He uses you when you become and officer, an elder, president, trustee, Sunday school teacher, financial secretary, or how ever he uses you according to the gifts he has given you. He uses all of us, to do his work, and then praises us for doing it because it reveals our faith, Just as the widows two mites revealed hers. And whet a joy it is. What a joy it is to see it working, and what a joy it is to be a part of it.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.