Giving Out of Abundance or Poverty?

The text for this sermon is Mark 12:38-44.  Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this message at Resurrection on November 11, 2012, the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.

Dear Friends in Christ,


Today in our gospel story, Jesus is doing something I can really relate to.  He is “people watching.”  Just sitting and watching what people are doing as they pass him by.


 I do my best “people watching” when Carol asks me to go shopping with her.  I don’t like to shop (surprise) and so I usually find a bench outside and sit and watch the folks as they pass me by.  I note if they seem happy, or angry, or rushed, or relaxed.  Sometimes I stare to see if they will make eye contact with me.  Sometimes I try to figure out what they do for a living.


Mark is the only gospel writer who gives us this vignette of people watching in the temple courtyard.  It takes place in Holy Week.  Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem have already taken place.  Jesus has overturned the  tables of the money changers and used his whip to drive these money changers away.  He’s had harsh exchanges with the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Now we find him in the temple area, actually the court of the women where both men and women could assemble, and they are doing something that is done usually once per year.  They are bringing their tithes and offerings to present to the Lord. 


Their practice of giving is different than how we do it here at Resurrection.  You exchanged whatever your  lively-hood produced for coins that could be placed in the offering receptacles.  If you raised sheep, you sold them and brought the appropriate coins for your tithe (10%) and then offerings beyond that.  If you grew wheat, you sold your wheat and brought the right amount of coins for your tithe and offerings.  There were 13 receptacles placed around the courtyard and on this occasion there were lots of people coming from all over Israel.


Of all the folks Jesus saw that day, one person really impresses him.  She is a widow.  While everyone else was giving out of their abundance, Jesus notes that she has very little and yet still brings what she has (in this case 2 small coins) and places them in the offering plate.  He says she gave out of her poverty.  Another way of saying it is this: while others gave 10% and then a little more, she gave 100% of what she had.


I have no doubt that some here today think that this woman has to be really stupid.  Why would anyone do that?  And why is that in the Bible?  What point is Jesus trying to make?


Verses 38 through 40 in today’s gospel reading provide an insight.  Jesus is teaching and he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!  They devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation.”  And then Mark relays to us the story of Jesus people watching and being so very impressed with the woman who gave out of her poverty everything she had, as opposed to others who did not give  with sacrifice.  I wonder about the offerings we will be placing in the plate today.  Do they represent sacrifice or much less than sacrifice?


When I lived in San Diego, I did a continuing education week with an Albin Institute Consultant, Lyle Schaller.  One evening 12 of us pastors were invited to listen in as a Church Council Meeting took place in a local Lutheran church.   Lyle Schaller had done his homework and knew lots about this congregation already and how it functioned.  He asked council members to tell him what they perceived to be the biggest problems that the congregation was facing.  Some talked about dwindling numbers and lack of children.  One put it harshly, “We have too many widows in this congregation and not enough families.”  I think the consultant was waiting for that comment.  He said, “I looked at your financials and see that 60% of your offerings comes from those widows.  May I suggest that you don’t need fewer widows, you need more!”


Here is a quiz for you right now.  Every Sunday for the past 12 years, your pastors have said the same words of invitation just before the offering plates were distributed.  What are those words?  Let us now receive our tithes and offerings for the Lord.  What is the difference between a tithe and an offering?  A tithe is 10% and offerings are what you give above the 10%.


This week I was more than humbled when I met with the pastor and wife from a local Hispanic congregation.  They are looking for a place to worship with their congregation.  When it came time to talk about finances they asked me if I understood how Seventh Day Adventists give financially to the church.  Here is what he told me.  The members are expected to tithe (10% of their income).  What does the church do with that tithe money?  100% is given away to help people outside the local congregation!  Then, offerings are given and that is how the local congregation funds ministry for rents and mortgages and salaries and so forth.


Does this sound familiar?  The pastor said that he and his wife and the leadership of the congregation understand that they return to the Lord 10 to 20 percent and learn to live on the remainder.  And they never find themselves in need.


So Jesus asks of us this day:  How and why do you return thanks?  Is your heart more like the widow in the story or more like the scribes who sought honor and recognition? 


May the Lord inspire us in every part of our lives, including how we give our tithes and offerings.


Thanks be to God.   Amen!