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3rd Sunday of Lent- Oculi

March 27, 2011

Ready to renounce

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44 (NIV)

 

Some people think that the most sensitive organ people have is their wallet. Therefore, it is a dangerous thing to preach about money. I usually don’t talk much about money to the congregation. It would be very bad if the church gained the reputation of being greedy. And it would be disastrous if people would get the idea that the church has something to sell. No, it only has something to give away: The Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, and through it the forgiveness of sins, salvation and happiness. In the church we do not find the hand that gives capital, but rather the empty hand that receives: we are beggars before God. Never in our lives could we pay for the rich treasure that He wants to give us here. However, I will now venture to preach something about money. Being a Christian involves the whole person, body and soul, including its “most sensitive organ,” the wallet.

 

Jesus was sitting in the temple courtyard, doing something he normally would not do: He watched as visitors to the temple threw offerings into the collections box. The money that was collected was intended to cover the expenses of the services provided by the temple of God and corresponds to our current Sunday offerings and collections for the congregation. Jesus makes this observation: Many rich give a bit from their surplus wealth, but the relative amounts that some poor people give to the church were surprising. Jesus passes this observation on to his disciples, showing them the fact that God considers a different math than most people do: The size of the gift is not on the level of the amount of money! The poor widow offered no gold or silver coins, but two of the smallest copper coins, that existed at that time in Israel. Jesus’ comment: “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others” Let’s note: These ‘crumbs’ from the poor are, according to God’s mathematics, much more valuable than gold and silver from the rich. Why?

 

This has to do with who receives the offering and who gives the offering. Let us turn our attention first to the receiver. In the present situation it is the Church, the Church of Jesus Christ. It is not a business operation which relates to its capital, revenue, seeks to make a profit or also goes bankrupt. Basically, the Church needs no money, because the Lord of the Church is infinitely rich: everything belongs to Him anyway, the whole world. The church is an institution in which the Lord freely distributes His most precious gifts: the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. As I said, in principle, the Church needs no money. Therefore, it is wrong to think: If the financial situation is getting worse, then it’ll go on to destroy the church. No, it will not go broke, not with the Lord present. However, we may have to adjust in the future. Maybe we pastors will need to get work in other occupations to earn something. Maybe we will no longer be able to keep our church buildings and we will have to gather in the living rooms of the church members. But even then God will continue to give us word and sacrament, and of that the Church lives. That is one reason why, for an offering, the amount of the money is not crucial: the receiver, the Church, does not live by money.

 

The second reason is on the side of the giver. Why is Jesus of the opinion that the widow has put in more than the rich? Because she has brought everything she had. And in this her boundless faith in God was expressed. She knew that: if I will have something to eat tomorrow, it does not depend on the economy, but on God’s mercy! She acted quite silly after Jesus’ instruction: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’”(Mt 6:31) She showed confidence, she showed faith. More faith indeed than those who were throwing in a few expendable gold and silver coins from their wealth. This faith is why, in the eyes of God, the widow has given more than all the rich people. The church of Jesus Christ is not about having riches, but about having faith! Dear Sisters and brothers in the faith, this we should take to heart: God doesn’t care how much money we have, he would like us to have a lot of confidence in him. He doesn’t want us to worry and to think that we have to accumulate great wealth in this world. He wants us to live in naive confidence of his love. And we should view our co-members with this in mind: not to honor or give special attention to those who have made large financial contributions to the church, but to honor those who have great faith in God. And by this we will be models for others. This type of congregation more than any other lives according to God’s Mathematics!

 

Such confidence, such faith is worthy of imitation: What is it, to imitate it in financial terms? Should we, give everything we have like the widow gave, really? Yes, in fact, everything, 100 percent! All the money we make – or what we have received, without deserving it- all money we should give to God, all for the glory of God!

 

What would this mean in practice? Naturally, this does not mean you should give all your money to the church. Money can be spent in other ways to honor God. When you want to cheer up children and buy them an ice cream, you’re using money for the glory of God. So too when we repair the roof of our house so that rain does not leak in. Or when you buy a new car before the old one breaks down. Or when you shop to buy food and clothing for yourself and your family. Or when you’re insured smart. Or when you save for special purchases or unexpected expenses. God has given many of us, such as a parents or employers, the responsibility to provide for others. Everything you spend with good intention before God and people, everything that is useful and produces joy, is done for the glory of God. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).

 

But giving one hundred percent for the glory of God includes using part of your money to help the poor and needy and to spread the gospel through the church and mission work. Although the church basically does not need money, money nevertheless provides external conditions ideal for preaching the Word. And there are many examples and exhortations of love in the Bible that show that to achieve this is an important expression of Christian faith. The apostle Paul exhorted the Ephesians, for example, to make money with their own hands. Why? “That they may have something to share with those in need.”(Eph 4:28). Of the Corinthians he asked that every Sunday they put aside some money to give to the collection for the believers in Jerusalem. For it can happen that when it’s time to raise the offering, they will have little to give. The Old Testament church had the ordinance of tithing; ten percent of all crops from the field were given to support the priests and temple servants. They were given the so-called “first fruits”, the first sheaves and younger animals that were newly birthed.

 

If all practical indications of the Holy Scriptures are summarized, one can learn a lot about giving. But we must be wary of creating laws and rules to govern it. I could say that, according to the budget for the coming year, the congregation needs a determined amount to be paid by each confirmed member, which is the least that each member should give. I could say: Many confirmed members do not have their own income, then others should help them … But I emphasize again: The math of God works differently. It’s not the amount of the sums that counts, but the measure of faith. Those who put great faith in God can offer up a large percentage, because they know: God will not forsake me! Yes, giving is a matter of faith and heart.

 

I wanted to give some practical guidelines on the offering of gratitude. But do not look at it like a law, but as a well-intentioned aid to give joyfully when we are giving. It would be nice if we can set aside a certain percentage for our regular offerings, such as ten percent of our income, our pocket money or our rent or where the money comes to us. This percentage could be divided as follows: five percent for the church, three percent for mission work and two percent to help people in need through trusted organizations. This would correspond to the ‘first fruits’ of the Old Testament and not fall into the temptation of giving to the poor or the church with what you have left, as did the rich in our preaching text. For these regular offerings you ought to have an open hand in case it is needed in an emergency. Ten percent I mentioned only as an example. We live in a time when many are doing well so they may give a little more. On the other hand, there may be others who, even with the best intentions, cannot afford to give ten percent.

 

Finally, I’d like to highlight what it says in the last verse of the preaching text. Jesus found out something that was not possible to discover from other people: the woman threw into the offering box all that she had. “All she had to live on,” literally translated, is “all her life.” And with that Jesus meant that the Christian giving and offering should not refer only to the money issue, but we should honor God with one hundred percent in all areas of life. I might as well preach about the division of time for a Christian, or I could preach about the talents or skills that we have received from God. But, dear brothers and sisters, you yourself could also preach about it, as you have noticed as well.

 

I wish that you, in any case, have the confidence in God that allows you to trust your entire life to God, one hundred percent, as an offering of gratitude for His wonderful Gospel.

 

The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

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