A sermon based on Psalm 126 and Mark 12:41-44 preached November 1st, 2015
The two small copper coins she put into the treasury at the Temple weren’t much. Like most pennies these days, there was nothing she could have purchased with them, but still there were all she had.
Jesus was across the way staking out the Temple, gazing upon one of the trumpet-shaped chests that folks threw their offerings to the Temple into. There were 13 of them that ran around the court of the temple, each one bracketed against a wall. They were narrow at the mouth and wide at the bottom.
There was a Temple Tax that was non-negotiable. By law, everyone had to pay it. But these trumpet-shaped chests weren’t for that. They were for voluntary contributions over and above the tax.
It wasn’t the amount she put in, but the attitude with which she gave it that grabbed Jesus’ attention. As Jesus sat across the collection chest that day, he saw many throw in their contributions, small amounts, their spare change. It all appeared to Jesus as mindless giving—giving to God as an afterthought. Jesus had nothing good to say about that kind of giving. But this widow caught Jesus’ eye. Her gift to the Temple treasury was different—different in amount for sure (much smaller)—but at the same time, different in attitude. She deposited her two coins in one at a time, almost placing them into the mouth of the trumpet-shaped chest. Where the rest hadn’t even stopped walking, just throwing their spare change in as they flew by, this woman stopped and considered each of her copper coins, heard them clink at the bottom of the trumpet, one at a time, as if she was making a wish, using the very last of what she possessed, prayerfully handing her pennies to God, hoping that God could do much with very little.
For the last several weeks we’ve been talking about 365 stewardship—going all-in, giving 100% of our hearts and lives and choices, and lifting them all up to God as an offering we make to Him.
This widow is the model of faithful giving. Her two coins are everything she has and even though they might not have been enough for her to buy even one morsel of bread with, her gift was larger than any other gift thrown into the Temple chests that day. Those two copper coins were not a portion of all she had, they were her whole, her everything, her all. When Jesus saw the widow’s gift, he exclaimed,
Now, that—that’s my idea of giving!
I like money. I’m sure you do, too. I like what it can afford. Money gives us a sense of freedom and independence—the kind that the widow didn’t have. And you and I love that, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I will not be following the widow’s example by placing 100% of my paycheck into the offering plate. You shouldn’t do that either. But she does challenge me to give a little more than what I’m comfortable giving. She does challenge me to be more mindful of how I spend what I do have—to put it in the right places, to spend it in the right ways, to be more thoughtful about how I spend my money.
How many of us can say that we’re prayerful over the ways we spend our dollars and cents? I don’t pray before I make a big purchase—or any purchase at all, really. I don’t say a prayer before I send in any of my charitable donations. When’s the last time you sat down at the kitchen table to write a check, even if it was to pay your monthly cable bill, and said a prayer over it? Not a prayer that the Barboursville Post Office would deliver it successfully (although in my experience that might actually be necessary), but because even your ability to enjoy a night of entertainment around the TV set with your loved ones is a gift from God.
Is how you spend your money an afterthought or a forethought? Are we just cutting checks and sliding cards or are we more intentional with the gifts God has given to us? Are you like the widow who contemplates her giving and celebrates her ability to give, or are you more like all those other passersby who Jesus saw who simply toss in a few bucks without prayerful discernment beforehand? The attitude with which we spend our money is just as important as how we spend it, and spending it prayerfully is what Jesus wants us to do.
There’s one other thing that strikes me about the widow’s offering, and it also has to do with the attitude from which she gave those two last copper coins of hers. Unlike all the rest Jesus saw throw money into the Temple chests that day, she wasn’t so much giving to the Temple as much as she was giving from her poverty. She knew that her two cooper coins, worth about a penny, would do nothing for the Temple. There was not a thing anyone who ran the Temple operations would be able to do with her gift. But that didn’t keep her from giving. She threw her pennies in anyway, because her attitude was different than all the others. It didn’t matter to her that her offering was minuscule, because she wasn’t giving because the Temple needed what she had to offer. She was giving because, no matter the amount, it was important for her to make the offering.
So, what’s the attitude of your giving?
Do we think of our pledges and offerings to the church merely as giving to the church, or do we (like the widow) see it as a giving from our abundance? Do you see your pledge as giving to the church. Giving to…so that we can pay the electricity bill? Giving to…so that we can patch up the ceiling? Or do see it as your way of giving from all that God has blessed you with because it is right to give back a portion or what we have been blessed with? One of those is an empty and anemic way of giving. Mostly meaningless and purposeless. The other one is a joyful and meaning-filled vocation that God invites you and I to undertake, and it holds deep blessings for us.
The widow’s gift teaches us not to give to the church budget, but instead to give from our heart—a sacrifice fit for an offering given to God.
So, my invitation to each of you is to ask the question differently. Don’t ask, “How much do we want to pledge to the church this year?” Instead ask, “How much are we feeling led to give from all that God as blessed us with?”
There’s another side to the story, though. In the passage after this one, Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple. He wasn’t a big fan of it, you know. During his last week on earth, Jesus would ransack the Temple, tossing and turning over tables and shouting at all those who have made it into something different than what God intended it to be.
In the very next verses, Jesus correctly predicts that not one stone of the Temple will be left unturned. And so it was. Around 70CE, the Roman Empire leveled it to the ground, and most who witnessed the destruction took it as a judgment against all that the Temple had turned into—a place of commerce instead of a place of worship. The Jewish leaders, the human keepers of the Temple took their eyes off of God and place it upon other things, and for that, judgment had come upon it.
All that is to say that just as much as it is our responsibility to give of what we have to the life and ministry of our church, it is just as much (if not more) of a responsibility to make sure that your pledges are used faithfully—to practice the right use of your gifts, to make sure your gifts help this church spread the Gospel in both word and in deed.
So, as we prepare this week for our upcoming Stewardship Dinner, where all of us will be invited by God to giving from our abundance, please be in prayer for a few things. Pray about the right use of everything you have been given. Pray for discernment upon how much to give to the mission and ministry of your church. And pray also for those of us who serve in positions of our church’s leadership, that we may listen to the Spirit of God, that we would be propelled to give 100% of ourselves in stewardship to this church and to practicing stewardship in our 365 lives.
Really, what I’m asking from you, is that you would pray for everything. Pray for the right use of everything that you have been given and how you might use it. That’s also my invitation and my encouragement to you. Be like the widow who gave all that she had, not because she felt she had to, but because it was her joy to give her whole, her everything, her all.
What the widow did that day at the Temple was only a foreshow of a much bigger offering made. After witnessing the woman handing over her whole, her everything, her all, Jesus too would hand over his whole, his everything, his all—on the cross, for us. And just like the old hymn goes,
Love so amazing, so divine, Demands our soul, our life, our all.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!