STEWARDSHIP JOKE #5
10 Things You Never Hear in Church:
- Hey! It’s my turn to sit in the front pew!
- I was so enthralled, I never noticed your sermon went 10 minutes over time.
- Personally, I find witnessing to my faith to my friends much more enjoyable than golf.
- I’ve decided to give the church the $1000 a month I used to send the TV evangelists.
- I volunteer to be the permanent teacher for the Youth Sunday School.
- Forget the denominational minimum salary. Let’s pay our pastor double that!
- I love it when we sing new hymns!
- Since we are all here, let’s start the service early.
- Pastor, we would like to send you and your spouse to this seminar in the Bahamas.
- AND FINALLY…. Nothing inspires me and strengthens my Christin faith and commitment like the sermons about money given during our annual stewardship campaign!
At first take, this morning’s lectionary reading from the Gospel of Mark is the perfect and absolutely appropriate text to have on what is Stewardship Sunday for the majority of Christian congregations. It is the story of the widow’s coin…. the lesson on what proportional giving is meant to be. It is the story of the widow… the ‘have not’ in her society… who gives her last coin to the temple standing in contrast to the powerful ‘haves’ of society who, even though, give larger amounts, do so in a way as their gifts do not impact their lives or the benefits of the wealth that they have come to enjoy. It is an uncomfortable story, which is absolutely meant to make us feel that way. Listen now for the comparison set up between the people of means and the widow with nothing found in Mark 12:38-44.
As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
When Bo’s and my daughter Nonie moved to Los Angeles last year we talked to her about the importance of having a roommate. Not only does it help with cost sharing, but most importantly, in a big city where you don’t know anyone, it is important to have someone to go home to. We discovered this when Nonie was living in New York City and she called home one day very upset. Although she had a lovely apartment, by living alone, she did not think anyone would notice if something happened to her. And, there was a certain truth to what she was saying. Humans are, for the most part, social animals. We need to be in communities where we belong…. where we are noticed…. where people care. Although some really are hermits, wanting to escape the world, most of us want others to know that we exist. It is a part of our very being. We do not want to live invisible to the outside world. It is at the very center of our humanness.
David Roth, a writer for the Christian Century Magazine, wrote that it is this same human need and desire to be recognized, to be known by others that can lead us to sin. We want others to notice us and in doing so put ourselves in the position of being tempted to turn it into pride. He said that pride was once recognized as the root of the 7 deadly sins. In our Christian tradition, pride leads to the desire to be like God. So our human condition is why we are tempted to sin. This is a statement that should sit pretty comfortable with us Presbyterians who believe that we are sinful by nature and need to ask for forgiveness and help by God on a weekly basis in our worship services. Our need to be recognized possibly turning into a sin of pridefulness seems about apropos!
And so we listened to Jesus condemning the Scribes in the first part of today’s lesson and we cringe a bit as they are …. well…. they are like us.
The Scribes are learned men who know the Torah and are well respected. They are recognized. And this recognition, it seems, has turned to a sin of their feeling they are above other. Instead of realizing that their position demands that they do more for others, somehow it has gotten twisted around and their positions of importance means that others should do for them. The behavior that is described here is recognition showing its ugly evil side. They don’t just want to be recognized, but they want others to look up to them. They dress royally, they want to be noticed. They want to sit in places of honor in the synagogues, and they allowed the widow to give all she had. They devour the powerless, which is a harsh and cruel action indeed. You see, it is hard to commit acts of greatness when you feel you are above others. In fact, Jesus is quite stern with his statements about them saying that the scribes will receive great condemnation.
It leads us to ponder how we, prideful and sinful as we are, can commit acts of sacrifice without wanting to be recognized. We all want to be validated…. we all want our good stories to be heard…. we all want others to affirm who we are, that we work hard on caring for others… and that we are loving, caring, and good.
Several years ago, we had our ‘gift it forward’ bags that were handed out to members during Advent. The idea was to find a way to make a difference in someone’s life without them knowing that you had. We all had fun buying gift cards at McDonalds or Starbucks and placing them in the gift bags and asking the employees at the cash registers to give it to the next person in line or paying off Christmas layaways at Walmart. I loved people’s creativity on finding ways to make people experience joy at Christmas without expecting anything in return except for the fun of doing it.
The next year we started collecting our change in Christmas Jars to give to someone who just needs to know that someone is thinking of them. Nonie, Bo and I have a tradition now of going out for tea or hot chocolate Christmas night and leaving our jar on the table alongside our tip for the person who is waiting on our table. And, summer before last we painted rocks with loving messages and left them on the sidewalks and paths to bring joy to people who found them. I read an article in a journal written by a person who found a rock while walking that said ‘joy’ and how much it meant to them. We try and model this in our hands on mission projects as well by giving to others without them knowing who we are. Unlike the Scribes, we do not want recognition or even thanks. Sure the Frances Tucker Elementary school is grateful we are helping the now third graders, but they have no idea who we are. And isn’t that what mission is supposed to be. We do for the children, not for us.
The scribes are used as the example of bad giving. Giving to expect something in return. Jesus asks us to question the motives of people who think they deserve recognition and accolades for doing what it is God calls us to do. It is our calling, and in doing what we are meant to do, we get the satisfaction that we need. But the widow, well, Jesus sees in her, a model by which we should live.
So let’s look at the widow. Jesus is watching the crowd putting their donations into the treasury of the synagogue. It was the custom to give proportionally so the phrase ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’ is a propos here. He comments that the rich people are giving the larger share which is expected of them. There is no qualifier to the statement as it is as it should be. What he does talk about is the poor widow who comes in and puts her two copper coins in the offering. The sum worth of the coins are only a penny. The synagogue is not going to exist on this offering. But Jesus calls it out as it is proportionally greater than the other offerings given by the rich people. They gave their 10% to God’s work as was expected. But in giving her two copper coins, she gave all that she had. She gave 100%.
OK – I know I can be a little snarky and sarcastic, but…. Really…was that wise?
And the part of me which hides a cynical outlook on life that all social workers possess, says that she should have thought a bit more long range in her thinking. Maybe she needed help with money management and life skills. Why would giving away all that you have be seen as a positive thing? A needs assessment needs to be done on her starting with some reality and psychological testing!
Then I realize that his pointing to the woman contained exactly the message with which Jesus wants us to wrestle. Yes, we are to give proportionally to the church or synagogue but that is expected. Your gift could be 10%, 8%, 5%, or 3% but there is an expectation that all give a percentage of what they have to the temple. But following God, becoming a disciple, is not about giving a percentage of ourselves. We don’t just go to church on Sunday and forget about our faith all week. Jesus wants us to give our whole selves. Being a follower of God is not a proportion of your life. You can’t say that this part of my life or my personality is designated for God. Jesus asks that discipleship be the very essence of who we are. This is not to give up all our money…. it is to surrender our very selves.
Each week, I look forward to one of the blogs I subscribe to on the lectionary passages for the coming week. Jill Duffield, the editor of Presbyterian’s Today, always finds an angle to the passage that is clearly outside the box! And although much of her writing this week was about the election, she did hit home on this idea that Jesus is not looking for people who only are half way in with his followers.
Jesus’ message is radical. It was radical then, it was radical when I was growing up, and in our society today, the teachings of Jesus sound so left of center, there is little wonder most churches water down the message! Jesus wants us to be faithful, give our whole selves to a God who comes to bring good news to the poor…. a God who lets the oppressed go free. Jesus is not impartial or removed emotionally from his statement. Jesus takes sides. He says how we are to follow him and it begins with how it is we treat the least of these… the widows, the homeless, the hungry.
To be a follower of a God of justice and righteousness means that we have to fight institutions in our society which keep the poor. We need to look at the institutional racism in our society which gives the already privileged more and more privileges.
Just like allowing a widow to give her last coin to the very temple that should be caring for her, we must look at those pay day loan companies that take advantage of the very people they are supposed to help, our court system that asks for cash bail that the poor cannot pay, or staggering court fees which keep us in a two their legal system where the rich can pay their way out of punishments.
Allowing the widow to give her last coins is akin to those refugees walking for months on their way to this country. Where would Jesus be with those refugees? I think he would not only be walking with them, but he would also be greeting them at the border, and then he would be helping them fill out their paperwork to seek asylum in our country.
Allowing the widow to give her last coins is not God’s plan. Jesus admired that she was in 100% but it was the scribes and the people of power and wealth that were to give of themselves so that care would be given to the widow. We need to thank God for all that we have been given and realize that it is our calling to use our resources, our time, talent, and treasure to be in 100% as well.
We live in a wild time in history. I sometimes wonder how this era will be written about in the generations to come. But the call to discipleship and to following our God has not changed in centuries, so it is my hope that in the footnotes of this decade in our world there is something written about the people who kept their principals based on their faith and somehow made all the difference. Here is to choosing that path. Amen.