Our two readings this morning from within the same passage – without interruption – at first just seem to be making two very different points. First we hear about the religious scholars – the Pharisees – and how they like to be seen in public and taking the seat of honor at functions. And then Jesus makes a point about how they exploit the weak and helpless, and this segues into the next scene where Jesus is sitting across from the offering box in the synagogue and just quietly watching and observing those who were putting their offerings in. Many of the rich were making large contributions, but Jesus’ attention was on the giving of a poor widow. The author of this storytelling sure was a master at setting up a scene of tension – here the rich (men) and the poor (widowed women).
It struck me as I was looking for a bulletin cover for today and seeing various drawings of the widow, that we don’t know very much about her except that she is poor and a widow. In Jesus’ time and culture it was not that unusual for widows to be poor. In fact, it was often the responsibility of the deceased husband’s family to provide for her and to take her into his home. It makes me wonder – perhaps her husband had no such family.
Some of the drawings depicting the scene reflected my own stereotype thinking – a widow – a picture of an old woman in worn clothing. Some of the illustrations also challenged my thinking. One depicted the scene of a young woman with young children coming forward to put scarce money into the offering box. Another drawing depicted a woman – perhaps in her 40s, alone and with no children. Each illustration, however, shows her putting her two coins of gratitude into the offering box – not one – but two. Certainly, offering one would have been plenty given her circumstance, but she thought not.
After watching this scene for a while, Jesus called his disciples over and said to them: “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford – she gave her all.”
While what she gave was of little monetary value in the scheme of things, this giving held great spiritual significance because of its cost to the giver. In this one reading Jesus lowers the mighty and raises the marginalized. In this one passage Jesus shows us how the first will be last and the last will be first. In this one passage Jesus gives the place of honor to this marginalized woman who was barely visible or noticed within this culture – in fact she may have been scorned, scoffed at, ridiculed, rebuked, dismissed, discounted, ignored or mostly invisible. But that is not true for Jesus. He raises this widowed woman to our awareness and helps us to see that giving is a spiritual, sacramental and sacrificial act. This marginalized woman gave extravagantly – she gave her all.
A great theological question for us today as we stop and reflect on our own giving is: Do we give from a sense of scarcity or abundance or from a sense of duty or gratitude? Glass half full or glass half empty thinking?
In this parable the rich, even though they give a lot, they do not give from a sense of gratitude and abundance, but from a sense of scarcity or perhaps even more for show. What they give, however, does not impact on their life or their lifestyle in any way. The widow, however, gives from the abundance of her heart. She could have given only one of the coins, but she gives the precious second coin as well.
I don’t believe this story is telling us to give abundantly so we end up living on the margins, but that we should be reflective in our giving. So we ask ourselves what does it mean to give from a sense of abundance or gratitude rather than scarcity? Attitude matters. Discernment matters. Instead of giving until it hurts, why not give until it feels good?
I once asked an open question at another church before the offering was taken: Why do you give? Some of the answers included: Because we are asked to. Another was, out of a sense of thanksgiving for all that God has given to me. Another said, so the church can pay its bills. And another voice said, to enable the mission of the church. After a couple of seconds of silence, Tom said: Guilt. That one got lots of laughs too.
Hopefully, our giving does not come from a sense of guilt or feeling strong-armed into having to give, but more from the sense of our needing to give in response to God’s presence and blessings in our lives.
In the past the rule of thumb for giving to the church was to tithe. That means giving 10% of our earnings to the church. Tithing mostly got lost over the years and that is no surprise. Today, I think tithing is still a good goal to be achieved for many of us. When we prayerfully consider our giving, and to make it sacrificial, why not increase our giving to include that daily or weekly amount spent at Starbucks or wherever we hang out? Or why not take the time to sit down and figure out your base giving and determine what a 1% increase would mean. If you can do a 1% increase, is making it 2% that much more difficult? That’s how I started years ago with incremental steps along the way. I think we are being asked to give from a sense of gratitude, abundance and a generous heart. Not because of guilt, or pressure or duty.
I don’t believe Jesus is asking us to become poor or to put our lives at risk, but to be conscious of our giving and our attitude about it. Is it with words of gratitude or with grudging words on our lips? Silently fill in the blank to the following statement: I give because it makes me feel __________. And if your financial circumstances change – you can change your pledge accordingly – down or up – especially if you win the jackpot!
I really wasn’t intending to preach a stewardship sermon the morning, but I think the skit and gameshow we experienced the last few weeks got me in the mood. I give for a number of reasons – even as an interim, I give. You may not see me put an offering in the plates every week because my offering comes through my bank’s direct deposit program. It makes me feel good that I can give to “my” church and to further the work of this church in Las Cruces. It is to me a prayerful act of thanksgiving.
Shifting our focus for a bit. Speaking of prayerful acts . . . Julia Bruner took me on my first tour of the Community of Hope. I’ve heard lots about El Caldito especially from wonderful volunteers who work the soup kitchen on the 4th Tuesday of each month – known as First Christian Church day (show hands). I know that Herb and Carol Lyon work most Mondays when they are in town, and Laura works often on Sundays. (any others not on Tuesday? Show hands)
The Community of Hope is aptly named with its varied programs – food bank, health annex for physical and mental and behavioral needs. Childcare is offered, especially for parents who are job hunting. There is a place to take showers and wash clothes and also to get clothing. There is Tent City to help those living on the streets to find their way off the streets. We talked with many people about all of these aspects both volunteers and paid staff and learned a tremendous amount.
One of the things that struck me was the number of veterans who need this help as well as the number of veterans who volunteer their time, giving whatever help they can to others.
The cost and blessing of giving of our time, our talent, and our treasure in the church or community is up to each of us to figure that out for ourselves what we can do. But as is so often true, that in the giving we receive so much more than what we give. May God bless you as you determine your giving to First Christian Church this year. As you bless the church with your time, talents and treasures, may you be aware of how abundantly blessed you are in return. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2018