University Congregational Church
Sept. 29, 2013
“Why Church? Giving It All”
Mark 12: 38-44
There is a proverbial saying in Korea: “a spoonful of rice from ten persons makes a bowl of rice.” Originally and literally, it means that ten people united may easily help a person in need. It is not out of a sense of legalism that the ten people give a spoonful each … it is out of committed love for their neighbors and for God.
Today we are continuing our conversation about “why church?” I’ve heard people often say “all the church wants from me is money.” I guess my response to that statement is two-fold. There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that money is not the only thing the church wants from you! The bad news is that truly being a part of a faith community is about so much more. No, we don’t just want your money, we want all of you… your heart, your spirit, your mind, your time, your bad times, your good times, your deepest anxieties, and your greatest joys… we want all of you!
Being a part of a faith community is a little like that old song “The hokey pokey”. At first,“You put your right foot in”… But then,“You put your left foot in”… And then “You put your right arm in”… “You put your left arm in”… Until, “You put your whole self in”! Being part of a faith community is a challenge because there are times when you are asked to put your whole self in. Thankfully, there are others who put themselves in too, and together we can reach out in ways we wouldn’t have alone.
This idea is a very important understanding of stewardship. Too often we talk about giving to the church as a percentage or an amount. But it is so much more: it is a matter of the heart. Good stewards give out of devotion – out of love for their neighbors and for God.
Our scripture lesson for today is a familiar one about the religious scholars strutting around and making a scene by tossing money into the temple collection. Juxtaposed to them is a quiet, faithful woman who offers all that she has and tenderly placing it in the collection.
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 market-places, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! 40They 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. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then 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. 44For 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.’ Mark 12:38-44.
This story has many layers. I want to focus in today on the attitude demonstrated by those in the story. You can almost see those religious folk prancing around in all their finery – preening, basking, important people. And without any notice, a woman with almost nothing carefully makes her way, unnoticed, to the collection area. Gently and with devotion, she places all she has in the box and leaves as quietly as she came.
Let’s consider for a moment what this story is not.
- It is not a condemnation of the rich. Jesus’ criticism of them is not because they are rich ~ it is the reason for their giving that is problematic. They gave to honor themselves and to gain something for themselves.
- This story is not a call for everyone to give up everything they have so that they can give all of the money to the church. Jesus isn’t calling his listeners to give literally everything they had ~ he was asking them to have her same attitude of complete gratitude.
This story is often told with the goal of asking contemporary church members to just give more. But this text is so much deeper. In this parable, Jesus asks his listeners to evaluate our relationships and our priorities. The religious leaders had a relationship with rules, temples, and organized religion. But the widow had a relationship with God. ~ Leslie Veen
Talk about stewardship sometimes focuses on what we need to do to help the church:
* what is needed to pay the bills
* how the budget is put together
* whether we can afford to give raises
* how much we can give to outreach and mission
On our best days we take a page from the woman in this story and realize that stewardship is about something far more precious: how our relationship with money connects to our relationship with God
As Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “In this world, it is not what we take up, but what we give up that makes us rich.” The woman in our story understood this. If we want to live on the highest level of life, we learn to be grateful in all things. The spiritual discipline of gratitude changes our lives.
There is an old legend about three men and their sacks. Each man had two sacks, one tied in front on his neck and the other tied on his back. When the first man was asked what was in his sacks, he said, “In the sack on my back are all the good things friends and family have done. That way they’re hidden from view. In the front sack are all the bad things that have happened to me. Every now and then I stop, open the front sack, take the things out, examine them, and think about them.” Because he stopped so much to concentrate on all the bad stuff, he really didn’t make much progress in life.
The second man was asked about his sacks. He replied, “In the front sack are all the good things I’ve done. I like to see them, so quite often I take them out to show them off to people. The sack in the back? I keep all my mistakes in there and carry them all the time. Sure they’re heavy. They slow me down, but you know, for some reason I can’t put them down.”
When the third man was asked about his sacks, he answered, “The sack in front is great. There I keep all the positive thoughts I have about people, all the blessings I’ve experienced, all the great things other people have done for me. It’s my bag of gratitude. The weight isn’t a problem. The sack is like sails of a ship. It keeps me going forward.
“The sack on my back is empty. There’s nothing in it. I cut a big hole in its bottom. In there I put all the bad things that I can think about myself or hear about others. They go in one end and out the other, so I’m not carrying around any extra weight at all.” Preaching Today.com “Perfect Illustrations”.
Melody Beattie said it best, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
I know that this church is filled with amazingly faithful stewards who give – not to support a budget – but to share what we have with God and one another. You aren’t motivated by a paper budget or a postcard-sized pledge card. Like the faithful woman at the temple, you are motivated by love and relationship.
In a culture of anxiety (are we saving enough… for college… for retirement… for emergencies….?) and a culture of consumerism (I want some new shoes…), we need to be asking some spiritual questions: “How can this gift change me, convert me, transform me?” There are always reasons, some of them sound, to hold back. There are many demands on our resources. If we just had a little more in the pot to pass around… but the spiritual truth is that if we are not generous now, winning the lottery will not make a difference in the state of our spiritual lives or our generosity later.
Does UCC need your support? Always. Every week we gather to hear again that we are not alone; God is with us. Our friends and fellow worshippers are here. Our community is here. And out of gratitude and love, we bring our offerings to God so that we may share with one another this amazing truth: That we are loved, forgiven and accepted!
- Mark 12:38 - 44