I Kings 17:1-16, Mark 12:38-44
November 12, 2006
“The Widow’s Mite.” That’s what this story is called. The Widow’s least coin. This woman gave all she had, even though the two coins added up to about a penny! We can’t imagine that. Pennies in our world are almost worthless! If we see one on the ground we often let it lie there.
Widows in those days were often in bad situations. There was no Social Security or retirement funds. When a husband died, there was often no provisions made for the surviving wife. It was left to the religious community to care for them. Widows and orphans were often mentioned in the Bible. They were often talked about as the most needy in that society. But this widow approached the Temple Treasury and gave all she had!
This is one of those stories we tend to pull out at Stewardship time. Which is unfortunate. Because this story has so much in it about our devotion and the dedication of our lives to the Lord, that we shouldn’t think of that at only one time of the year. This story, like the idea of Stewardship, should be thought of year round!
The other thing about this story, and the story we read last week about the “Rich Young Ruler,” is that we are often “taken aback” by them. Think about how they make us feel. We can easily find ourselves tuning them out, because they don’t seem to apply to us, or their expectations are too high, and we can’t identify with them. We just hear words, but they don’t click. “Sell all we have?” Give our last cent?” That’s unrealistic! “The Gospel writers wouldn’t understand what it’s like to live in our world today.”
I want us to recognize and maybe even acknowledge that kind of reaction. Because it can be very real. Any time we are called on to reach for such high levels of commitment and devotion, we can easily find ourselves thinking, “Ok, I’ll do part of that!” Instead, I want us to really try to put ourselves in this story and to imagine what it was like to be like this woman, who, even in her poverty, gives everything she has. And I think it can help us if we try to understand the attitude behind a person who brings all of themselves to the table.
Think about this idea of “Giving it all we’ve got.” We hear that sometimes, don’t we? Coaches will tell their teams, “I expect you to give 100%” – or even 110%!! We may remember our parents, urging us to do well, saying, “Do the best you possibly can.” I’m sure you can think of other examples.
“Giving it all we’ve got.” (Actually, I don’t think the grammar in that sentence is quite right. But you know what it means!) “Giving our all.” Giving “the best of ourselves.” Those things are important in God’s kingdom, too, as this Widow demonstrated. That’s what God expects of us! He wants our best. I think you know that. But why do you think that is? I’d like us to think about that for a moment.
Why would God have such high expectations of us? Is it because God is a demanding and powerful King who exacts a tribute from all his subjects, for his own benefit? Sometimes people have gotten that impression because of terms we use such as “King” and “Lord.” Those are terms that come out of the “middle ages.” And they have long been references the Church has used over the years to refer to God.
But that’s not it! God doesn’t want the best of us, God doesn’t want us to give all of ourselves, for his benefit! He wants us to have that sacrifical attitude toward his kingdom, he wants us to seek his kingdom first, not for his benefit, but for our benefit! To put it another way, God wants the best of us because he wants the best for us! I had Donna put that quote on the bottom of your bulletins. “God wants the best of us because he wants the best for us!” And the best for us is to know God! He wants us to know what it means to sacrifice, but even more he wants us to know the life of sacrifice because it inspires devotion. I other words, he wants us to give of ourselves in the best way possible because that leads us to lay our lives before him in devotion and worship and love.
Think about the opposite. Think about the other people in this story who were bringing their gifts. What Jesus doesn’t say here, but I think he implies, is that those who gave out of their abundance, probably weren’t affecting their abundance all that much. Yes, they were giving big amounts. But the observation of Jesus was that they weren’t giving in the same sacrificial way of this widow. Instead, they were giving in what has been called a “token” way. They were giving a token of their wealth. There’s was more of a gesture, but not a real sacrifice. And it didn’t really have any affect on their lives. In fact, Jesus may have been telling the people that those gifts were being given to draw attention to the giver!
Again, we must take a look at the connection with the previous story. Right before this, Jesus had teaching in the temple, and he had just gotten to the point where he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and have the salutations in the market places, and the best seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at feasts…” He was describing those who were caught up in their own importance. And I believe he was relating that to those who where giving large gifts to the Temple Treasury. He was saying their gifts were not like the Widow’s gift. Hers showed her complete devotion to God. Theirs was more akin to those who like the places of honor. What is our attitude toward giving?
Now, let me say here, that I would incur the wrath of the Stewardship committee, if I even implied that large gifts were being discouraged! Far from it! In fact, the conclusion Jesus is drawing here about these people giving the large gifts was that they had the wrong attitude. It would have been better for them if they gave like the widow, and that would have meant even larger gifts!
As we think about all this, I’d like to have you remember a related passage in the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps you recall the place where Jesus said this. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break in and steal…” You know that one, I’m sure. But let me tell you that a more literal rendering of that passage would be, “Do not treasure treasure on earth…” That’s a bit awkward in English, but it’s more accurate in the Greek. When we “treasure” something, using the word as a verb, what does it mean? It’s an attitude of love and passion for something. We “treasure” the memories of someone, for example.
Jesus is saying don’t treasure the treasures of the earth. They are temporary. Then he says this. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” What ever you treasure will have your heart as well. You see, when we talk Stewardship, we’re not talking about our pocket books. We’re talking about our hearts! And let me tell you, Nothing will be able to stop a church full of people who are loving God, as the psalmist says, “with their whole hearts.” Nothing will be able to stop a church full of people who putting all of their hearts into their relationship with God, and their whole hearts into their giving – time, talents, treasure.
In contrast, a church that gives of those things in a “half-hearted” manner will tend to struggle. Just think what that expression means. “Half-hearted.” Literally it means giving only “half of one’s heart” to something. Think of what that means to put our “heart” into things, not just our minds. And think of what it means to put our “whole heart” into things!
That’s what God wants for us. He wants our hearts set on him! He wants our hearts to be full of his glory. He want our hearts to be healed of all the heartache of this world. He wants the hearts of his people to be alive! Remember one of my favorite quoted from St. Iraeneas, “The Glory of God is man fully alive.”
So how do we pledge ourselves? That’s a question that means not so much how much do we pledge, but what is our attitude? Who are we like in this story? Do we give the widow’s mite? Most likely that doesn’t mean we give all of our worldly substance. But it does mean that we remember that Stewardship is not just about what we give, but how we use what we keep. It means that we strive to have the attitude of the widow! Think about it. Do we so devote ourselves to the kingdom to that extent? Or do we say, “I’ll do some of that.” And where do we find the answers to those questions? We won’t find them in our heads. We will only find them if we look into our hearts.
So, my friends, let us serve God with our whole hearts! Let us give of ourselves sacrificially. Let us know the glory of God through our devotion to him. Let us reach for the highest levels of devotion. Let us truly know that “God wants the best of us because he wants the best for us!”
Eternal God, we ask for your strength that we may love you and serve you with our whole hearts. We pray that you will help us to think clearly about our place in your kingdom. Help us to devote all of our lives, our time, our talents, and our treasure, to you. Bless our efforts, and increase to your glory the ministry of this Church. For this we ask in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his kingdom, Amen.