Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, May 26, 2018
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A Theology of Giving

Mark 12:38-44

 It seems that there are some people who don’t like to hear about money in the Church.  Over the years, I’ve heard it more than once that, “I didn’t like such-and-such preacher because they talked about money too much.”  The fact of that matter is that it’s hard to preach from the Bible without talking about money.  The Bible has twice as many verses about money as it does about faith and prayer combined, and no one complains when we talk about those things.  About half of Jesus’ parables dealt with wealth in one way or another.  So I think the criticism is motivated more by our reluctance to talk about money and its use than by an honest reading of Scripture.  

 This morning’s Gospel text is from the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.  During that week, he spent a lot of time in the courtyards of the Jerusalem Temple.  Sometimes he was teaching, but much of that week was taken up with disputes with the religious leadership.  

 Jesus was in the Courtyard of the Women.  One of the fixtures of that court were the “Trumpets,” or in Hebrew, the Shofars.  There were 13 collection boxes, each topped with a trumpet shaped opening.  Each was designated for a certain expense of the Temple, like oil or grain for the daily offerings, for example.  

 Some people were putting in large amounts of money, which, considering everything was in coins, must have made quite a racket.  That was probably the point of the trumpets, to draw attention to large givers!  But the one that drew Jesus’ attention was a poor widow who put in two small coins called “Leptons.”  Lepton meant “small” or “thin.”  They were the least valuable coins in Judea, each worth 1/64th of a denarius, which was the minimum daily wage of the time.  To put them into today’s terms, each would be worth about $1.  

 Hers was a very small gift, but it was the one Jesus praised.  Others gave out of their excess, but she gave “all she had.”  And in God’s eyes, that was far more valuable than the large gifts of others.  

 I want to talk with you today about a theological understanding of giving.  And I think that there are two key questions to be answered about giving.  First, why should we give?  And second, how should we give?

 Some people think the answer to “Why should we give?” is “So we can meet out budget, pay our bills, etc.”  As far as I’m concerned, that has nothing to do with it.  And I’m disappointed when churches use that as the starting point to talk about money.

 First of all, we should give because it is the example of Jesus.  In Mark’s Gospel, this is the last public appearance of Jesus before the crucifixion.  After this, Jesus spends time only with his disciples.  So in Mark’s telling of the story, the last public words of Jesus before the cross are, “She gave all she had.”  And then the story tell us how Jesus “gave all.”  

 The principle is total surrender to God.  Total surrender has to do with more than just money, but it doesn’t have to do with less than money.  

 Second, we should give because giving is an act of faith and trust.   When you get home, I’d like you to read 2nd Corinthians 8 and 9.  They are two of the best chapters in Scripture about giving.  I’m going to lift up a couple isolated verses, but I’d like you to read both chapters in their entirety.  

 In 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul reminds his readers that God will generously provide all you need.  Jesus spoke extensively of the same idea in Matthew 6, saying, “Why do you worry about what you will eat or drink or wear?  Your heavenly Father knows all your needs and will provide for them if you seek his Kingdom first.”  

 It is the way of the world to live in fear of what might happen.  But God asks us to trust him.  Giving is an act of trust.  If we cling to what we have in fear that we won’t have our needs met, then we are not trusting God.  

 Giving is also an act of thanksgiving.  It is an expression of gratitude for all we have received from God.  

 And giving is an act of worship.  From time to time, I’ve heard people say, “Well, do we have to take an offering at such-and-such service?  Can’t we just worship?”  But they are one and the same.  Giving an offering is an act of worship.  To worship is to give value, literally worth, to someone.  When we give our offering, we are giving worth to God, demonstrating how valuable he is.  2 Corinthians 9:13 says, “You glorify God through your generous gifts.”  

 Second, how should we give?  

 2 Corinthians 8:11 says, “Give what you can according to what you have.”  Giving should be proportional.  Jesus praised the poor widow not because she was able to give a large amount, but because she was willing to give a large amount in proportion to what she had.  We should not consider our giving compared to another person but in proportion to what we have.  We should each decide for ourselves what is right for us to give.  

 So we should beware of giving without thought.  I was at a continuing education event on stewardship sponsored by the United Methodist Foundation a couple months back.  One of the speakers talked about how 70% of people give as a habit.  They don’t really think about it, they just do what they have always done.  One of other speakers talked about a man in her church who was very successful, a business man with a large income.  She was shocked to find out that his yearly giving to the church was $52.  She asked him about it, and he explained that was what his parents had done.  Each year, on New Year’s Day, they laid out their offering envelopes for the year and put a dollar in each one.  He had kept up the habit, without stopping to think if it was really in proportion to what he was able to give.  

 I do believe in and practice tithing, the giving of at least 10% back to God.  Jesus endorsed it in Luke 11, so it’s not just an “Old Testament thing.”  But I think tithing is the first word on giving, not the last.  The other 90% also belongs to God, and he does care how we use the rest of it.  “Proportional” might mean giving more than 10% to God, if we are able to do so.  

 We must each decide how we will give.  In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul says, “Don’t give under pressure.  Instead give willingly and cheerfully.”  

 We see the clear example in Scripture that God loves a sacrificial giver.  The poor widow of Mark 12 gave sacrificially, even recklessly.  No one would fault her, having two coins, if she gave one and kept one.  But she gave both, trusting God would provide.  

 Finally, we should not view giving as a substitute for other matters of faithful living, and certainly not as a bargaining chip with God.  One of Jesus’ rebukes of the Pharisees and other religious leaders is that they were careful to give their tithes to God, but they neglected to practice other matters of godly living.  

 That brings us to the rest of this morning’s text.  The story doesn’t begin with the widow’s offering.  It begins with Jesus’ critique of the Teachers of the Law.  And it would be easier to preach this text without that part, but it’s there.  The two parts of the story are linked by money and widows.  

 The Teachers of the Law, the rabbis, were not a favorite of Jesus.  They loved to wear long robes.  The thing about a long robe is that you can’t work in one.  Many of them were supported by the generosity of patrons.  And they enjoyed the privilege and status that came with being a teacher of the Law.  They got to sit up in the front of the synagogue, just like preachers today.  Oh!  And at least some of them abused their position to gain great wealth for themselves.  

 The fact of that matter is that there is a lot of money to be made in religion.  God can be used for personal gain.  A few months ago we were talking in one of the Sunday School classes about Oral Roberts.  He was the televangelist who raised money after telling people that if he didn’t, God was going to “call him home.”  That seems like a rather manipulative tactic to me.  And he certainly had a lot of conspicuous wealth:  He loved to wear fine Italian suits, diamond jewelry, and he owned vacation homes in places like Beverly Hills, and several Mercedes Benz cars to boot.  

 Jesus criticized the religious establishment of Jerusalem.  The Jerusalem Temple was a place of ostentatious wealth.  Everything was gold plated and luxurious.  Was the gift of this poor widow going to be wisely spent there?  Probably not.  

 But that doesn’t take away from what she did.  She was giving to God, not to the Temple.  Even if the Temple establishment wasn’t all it should have been, her gift was still a beautiful thing.

 This is the most important part of this discussion:  Your giving should flow out of your relationship with God.  I don’t want you to give to meet a budget or keep the church open or even to fund a good program or ministry.  I want you to give because you love God and you want to worship him with your giving.  

 One of the things I heard in that workshop about giving that really disturbed me was this:  Non-Christians give just as much as Christians.  People who don’t go to church give as much as we do.  They just give it to other charities.  I found that disturbing.  Should not we, who know God and love God and understand all the good he has done for us be far more generous?  But on the whole, we are not.  

 It doesn’t matter if this church has enough money, or even too much money, if we are not intimately connected with God.  If we do not give out of our love for God, then the budget is meaningless.  

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