Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 27)
November 8, 2009
Text: Mark 12:38-44

What, in essence, is the difference between the generous offerings put into the temple treasury by all the rich people, and the two mites put in by the poor widow? It is true that percentage-wise, the widow put in more than all the rich people. While they gave, perhaps, the obligatory ten percent of their wealth, she, in her poverty, gave 100%. But from a human perspective, the powers that be at the temple could do a lot more with the ten percent of the rich people than they could with the 100% of the poor widow’s mites. Of course, Jesus does not evaluate these matters from a merely human perspective. Jesus looks at this episode with the eyes of God. And God is interested in the heart. What is the essential difference between the offerings of the rich and the offering of the widow? It is not the amount. It is not the percentage. The amount, the percentage, is but an outward indicator of the essential difference. No, the essential difference is this: The rich people only gave what they thought they could spare, or what they thought they had to give to keep up appearances and placate God. The poor widow gave everything in faith that God would provide for her needs. The rich people trusted in their wealth. The poor widow trusted in God. The rich people gave out of obligation, that they might be righteous before men and gain merit before God. The poor widow gave from faith, in love and thanksgiving, knowing that her only righteousness is that which God has given her. And so the point here is that two mites given in faith is a greater offering than a million dollars given without faith. Faith is the essential difference in the offerings.

Well, great Pastor, in that case, here’s my two pennies for the offering plate, given in faith. That should be sufficient, right? Only if two pennies is all you have to your name. Two pennies may be a marvelous gift of faith and love on the part of a small child who has nothing else to give, but for an adult who makes more than twenty cents or two dollars a week, it is a poor gift indeed. We ought not be misers with the gifts that God has given us. Two pennies given out of miserliness is not faith. As a matter of fact, a million dollars given out of miserliness is not faith. Miserliness actually indicates a lack of faith in God, the misplacement of faith in mammon. That which is given out of miserliness is not given in faith, or love, or thanksgiving, but only out of obligation, or for show, because that is what is expected, because everyone else is giving something. When it comes to offerings, rich and poor is not the issue. The amount is not the issue. The amount is but an indicator of what is really important. And that is the heart. Does your very heart belong to Christ? Then money and possessions will follow. Do you believe that God will provide for your every need? Then you will give generously to the Church and to your neighbor. But insofar as you withhold your money and your possessions because you think that these alone can sustain you in your earthly life and bodily needs, your heart belongs to mammon. This does not proceed from faith. Repent.

I’m not advocating reckless spending or careless stewardship. Far from it. (If you haven’t guessed by now, this is a stewardship sermon). I want you to use what God has given you wisely, to provide for your families and the well being of your household. But you need to consider the source of these gifts: God, and the purpose for which He has given them to you: for His glory and the benefit of your neighbor. Examine your hearts. Which is more important to you: the gift? Or the Giver of the gift? And do you think there is a limit to God’s gifts? Can you ever empty Him of His providence? Do you really believe that you have to hold so tightly to what he’s already given you because He is unwilling or unable to give you more? Can you ever exhaust His supply? Dear Christians, you must recognize that nothing you have belongs to you. It belongs to God. It is a trust, given to you to be used for His purposes. It is to be used generously for the mission of the Church and the help of the neighbor.

What motivates Christian giving? Consider again the example of the widow in our text. What motivates her giving is her faith. She believes that God will take care of her. She knows that she has a gracious God who has provided for her eternal salvation and forgiven all her sins. By faith she knows a God who takes note of every sparrow, every stray hair that falls from her head. By faith she knows a God whose love is never exhausted, who never tires of pouring out His good gifts on His people. By faith she knows that in this life there are trials and tribulations, including her tribulation of poverty, but she knows that God will not forsake her in her time of need. In other words, what motivates her giving is not the Law: “I must give to placate God and retain my social standing in the eyes of others.” What motivates her giving is the Gospel. God is gracious! Sins forgiven! Eternal life dispensed! Every need in the hands of the heavenly Father! Thus God becomes the number one priority in her life, and this shows in her generosity.

The same is true for you, dear Christians. What motivates your giving? May it never be the Law. May it never be that you think you have to placate God by your gifts and offerings. May it never be that you need people to see you put that envelope in the offering plate. Only the Gospel can motivate you to give freely. God is gracious! He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for your sins, including your sins of miserliness, making idols out of mammon, lack of love and concern for your neighbor, lack of zeal for the mission of the Church. All of these things were nailed to the cross of Christ. He gave His all for you, His very self, all He has, all He is. The poor widow is a picture of Christ! “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 by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9; ESV). Jesus Christ, who is very God of very God, united Himself with us by taking on our flesh in the womb of the Virgin. Jesus Christ, of one substance with the Father, the eternal Law Giver, lived under the Law of God for our sakes, in our place, to fulfill it for us. Jesus Christ, He who knew no sin, became sin for us, was crucified for us, died for us, paid the penalty of our sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God. He is risen, victorious over sin and death and grave and hell. But He still serves us. He still gives of Himself for us. He still comes to us in His Word and in the Supper with His true body and blood.

This alone motivates Christians to give; namely, the self-giving of Jesus Christ for us and to us. Our gifts in response do not merit anything before God. Nor ought they be done for a show, like the Scribes in our Gospel lesson who do everything to be seen. Nor ought we withhold anything, like the rich who put in only a fraction of what is theirs and consider that good enough. Jesus wants us whole. He wants us body and soul. He wants our everything. Because He has given His everything for us, to purchase us from the pit of hell and the devil. Our gifts to God and to the neighbor do not merit us anything. Jesus merited it all by the gift of Himself. But now our gifts are sanctified by His gift. Our gifts become sacrifices of thanksgiving. We can give them freely, because we know a gracious God whose love for us is never exhausted, who just keeps giving and giving to us, who cares for us, loves us as dear children, and sustains us through every trial and tribulation. Christians give from faith. For as St. Paul writes, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). But whatever proceeds from faith is pleasing to our Father in heaven.

The widow in our text gives her two mites in faith: She trusts God’s mercy. The widow of Zarephath in our Old Testament lesson gives what she thinks is her last jar of flour and jug of oil because she believes the Word of the Lord through the prophet Elijah. She trusts God’s mercy. And what happens when she gives her all to the God who gives her His all? Does God forsake her? By no means. “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:16). I cannot promise you your cupboard will never be bare. But I can promise you, because God has promised you, that when the cupboard is bare, or when you have any lack, whenever you pass through any trial or tribulation, you can trust that God will provide for you and sustain you. You can trust that He who bought you at the price of His own Son’s blood will not forsake you in your hour of need. So by all means, be responsible with your money. Provide for your family and the well being of your household. Do not spend recklessly or carelessly. But know that what you have is a trust from the Lord. It is the Lord’s. You are His steward. Have faith in the Lord, and not in mammon. And give generously, out of faith, for God’s Kingdom and for your neighbor in need. Because God will take care of you. Money fails. Possessions fail. Moth and rust destroy. But God never fails. He is faithful. “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse” says the Lord God. “And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Mal. 3:10).

Beloved in the Lord, how privileged we are to be counted as saints of God, purchased by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are members of the Church, baptized into Christ, royal priests in the Kingdom of God. God grant us faithfulness to do in all things what is pleasing to Him with what He has given us. Thanks be to God for the forgiveness and freedom we have to do so in Jesus Christ. For He has given His all for us, that we might be His all for all eternity. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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