The 16th Sunday After Pentecost September 8, 2013
1 Kings 17:8-16
2 Corinthians 9:1-8
439, 400, 442, 785 [TLH alt. 439]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”
In the name of Jesus Christ, who said: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33), dear fellow-redeemed:
When is ten thousand dollars worth a quarter of a million? I’ll tell you. There’s a website called “Intrade.com” where you can “invest” in the likelihood of certain events taking place. You can “buy shares” in the prospect of hurricane Gustav hitting Louisiana, or of the Dallas Cowboys winning the Super Bowl. It’s nothing more than gambling, really.
Well, if you had gone online first thing Friday morning (August 29, 2008) and “invested” ten thousand dollars in the chance of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska being the Republican nominee for vice president, you’d have a quarter of a million dollars right now. Of course, that would mean being able to look into the future. To make an investment like that you’d have to have perfect confidence that you weren’t going to lose your shirt by doing so.
Not many of us are that confident about our ability to predict the future. That’s because there is just so much uncertainty about what’s going to happen down the road. When it comes to most areas of life, you just can’t say for sure, but there is one exception. In our text for today, Christ teaches us that when it comes to Christian stewardship you can be absolutely fearless. For there is no way you will lose when you invest yourself in God. We know the passage that says God loves a cheerful giver. But our text for today shows that GOD LOVES A FEARLESS GIVER. I. It takes no courage to give God the leftovers and II. A fearless giver gives his whole life to the Lord.
Why am I preaching on stewardship today? Because today is “Stewardship Sunday.” This is the day in all the year when the Church traditionally focuses on stewardship, or what we give to God. In some churches it seems like every Sunday is Stewardship Sunday, but I’ve seldom spoken about stewardship except on this Sunday. It appears that the Lord may be placing a financial challenge before us. Health insurance and energy costs have risen dramatically and raised our budget needs. The amount needed to meet our budget seems like a lot for a group our size. Well, it doesn’t seem like a lot, it is a lot. Is it more than we can do? Yes. Is it more than God can do? NO! It’s well within His power, particularly if He has a group of believers to work with who are faithful and fearless. For you see, GOD LOVES A FEARLESS GIVER.
Our text for today proves it. It was early in Holy Week, and Jesus was in the great Temple in Jerusalem. He had just finished a scathing condemnation of the Jewish religious leaders. He was particularly critical of the greedy scribes, who often used their very religion as a pretext to get money out of people—even poor people. In the passage just before the text Jesus says, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40). The scribes gave tithes of everything they possessed, but their hearts were far from God.
By way of contrast, Jesus now moves to an area of the Temple called “The Treasury.” It was a place where worshippers would come to bring their offerings for the Lord. Only they didn’t pass a plate around, as we do. Rather, the people would file past a series of thirteen brass, trumpet-shaped receptacles, each one for a different church fund. One by one, the people would throw their offerings into the receptacles.
Scholars tell us that there would often be a crowd of people watching as the various givers cast in their offerings. The crowd would note carefully how much was given, and whether the coins were gold, silver, or copper. There would be murmurs of admiration when a wealthy person cast in a particularly large sum of money. Oh this day, however, a special observer was present in The Treasury—One who could see beneath the surface. One who could read, not only the value of the gifts, but the hearts of the givers.
“Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury.” [v.41] He “saw” it. That almost makes it sound like He took a quick look around and then left. But in the Greek it’s clear that Jesus sat there for some time. He carefully observed each giver. We don’t think about it very often, but this must be the same way He carefully looks over every gift and offering today, including those in our congregation. It’s good for us to bear in mind that there’s someone who carefully observes not just the amount of each gift, but what’s in the heart of each giver. Scripture says, “The LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
“Many who were rich put in much.” [v.41] What was Jesus’ verdict on rich gifts of the wealthy and the scribes? They were large gifts, many gold coins ostentatiously dropped into the offering in full view of the admiring crowds! But Jesus wasn’t impressed. If you add up all those rich people’s offerings, He tells His disciples, they wouldn’t come anywhere even close to being as valuable as the widow’s two small coins. Why not? Because God loves a fearless giver, and you don’t have to be fearless to give God the leftovers.
Jesus sharply discounted the rich people’s offerings. Why? Because “…they all put in out of their abundance.” [v.44] Literally, they gave of what was “superfluous” to them. It was what was extra, what they could easily afford to pay. They gave God the leftovers! Is that what you give? Leftovers? You wouldn’t serve leftovers to a guest in your home, do you serve them to God? It takes no courage at all to give God your leftovers. You don’t have to be brave to say, “Well, I’ve got ten dollars left in my wallet and I’m getting paid tomorrow, so I guess this will be my offering for the Lord.” You don’t have to be fearless to give God your leftovers. In the New Testament lesson we heard Paul say, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly” (2 Corinthians 9:6).
I read an interesting article the other day. It was by a Roman Catholic priest. He said he had spent thousands of hours in the confessional booth, listening to the sins of his parishioners. He’d heard every kind of sin confessed, including some quite shocking ones, but one sin that he never once heard anyone confess was greed. I wonder why? Certainly Scripture has a lot to say about greed and the love of money. The Bible says that “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10). Is that what makes us bring our leftovers to God, instead of our firstfruits?
It may be greed, but often it’s simply fear. Fear that if we give too much to God, we may not have enough for ourselves. One commentator had an insightful remark about this story. He said that God judges us less by what we give than by what we keep. Right before the sermon we sang, “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold” (TLH 400). Did you really mean that?
Often a meager offering is simply the mark of a person who hasn’t yet given himself to God. Someone who hasn’t yet learned that the Lord is so faithful and so trustworthy that even when you give back to Him what you can’t afford to spend, there’s still no way you can lose.
The wealthy show-offs in the temple gave much, but that took no courage because it was just their leftovers. They kept far more for themselves. No, what God loves is a fearless giver and a fearless giver is one who first gives his whole life to the Lord.
Jesus didn’t have long to wait for His example of fearless giving. Soon He caught sight of a woman dressed in poor clothing. She had finished her worship and was bringing her small offering to the Lord. What that woman did was really rather astonishing when you look at it closely. “Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.” [v.42] This was really a small amount of money: two copper coins called lepta, literally two “thins.” A lepta was the smallest coin in circulation in Israel at the time. The gathered crowd ignored the woman, of course. With all the high rollers coming past and dropping in their gold coins, no one was impressed by this poor widow and her pennies…no one, that is, but Jesus!
Jesus was very impressed—so much so that He deliberately called together His disciples and pointed her out to them. “Here’s something important,” He told them. “This you have to see!” “He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury.’” [v.43] Her offering is worth more than all theirs put together, Jesus said. Why? Because “…they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” [v.44]
Wow! You want to talk about fearlessness! There was no social security or food stamps in ancient Israel. Women who had lost their husbands and providers sometimes died of starvation. Yet here was a woman who was not afraid! Here was a poor widow who had the courage not only to give God a portion of her meager goods, but to give everything she had—all the money she had to live on!
Christ, in His omniscience, was able to look into this woman’s heart. He saw a person for whom such fearless giving was possible because she had already given her whole life to God. She had already learned the lesson that God cares for His children no matter what. She’d already discovered the truth that you can’t outspend God. It’s like the story of the farmer who, when asked how he could give so much to the church, answered, “Well it’s like shoveling grain out of a bin. I keep shoveling it out, but God always seems to shovel it right back in. And God’s got a bigger shovel!”
God does indeed have a very big shovel, and He likes nothing more than to demonstrate His generosity to those of His faithful children who have given their lives to Him.“‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’” (Malachi 3:10).
We Lutherans don’t have a rule or requirement for giving, so it’s not all cut-and-dried as soon as you sign up as a Lutheran. That’s a decision you have the opportunity to make for yourself. What guideline should you use? One writer said, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I’m afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” The widow gave way more than she could spare. She gave everything she had.
Can you think of anyone else who gave more than he could spare? How about someone who gave His only Son? Someone who sacrificed His only Child on the cross of Calvary in order to pay the price of the world’s sins? Our Heavenly Father was the original fearless giver. He sent His only Son into the world to live a life of poverty and to die the agonizing death of crucifixion so that you and I might be ransomed from eternal perdition. “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God has redeemed us with the blood of His Son! In Christ He has opened the doors of Heaven wide before us! Now doesn’t that sort of put monetary issues in a little better perspective for us? What’s money compared to that!
Given the fact that our Heavenly Father has already sacrificed His most precious possession for you and me, what is left for us to fear? “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Do you think it’s possible for you to give such a big offering to God that God won’t be able to restore that amount to you, that He won’t continue to sustain you and provide for you? It sounds a little silly when you put it that way, doesn’t it? Paul asks the same rhetorical question when he says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
Be fearless! Take a chance! Go out on a limb and give to God more than you can afford. You’ll never lose by it. In fact, it’s the safest investment you could ever make. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38).
And don’t be discouraged if your sacrifice is like the widow’s—the unsung kind, the kind that doesn’t get noticed by a lot of people. Don’t ever think that your small acts of devotion—your faithful attendance at church on Sundays, your modest offerings given in a heart of faith, the time you spend devoted to a study of God’s Word—don’t ever think these go unnoticed by God, or that they’re not important to Him. Maybe that’s how the widow felt. If it was, then she was way wrong! Unbeknownst to her, the Lord of the heavens and the Earth was watching her intently. Jesus saw her devotion. He saw her gift and He correctly evaluated its worth. In Jesus’ eyes what this widow did was of the utmost importance. So important, in fact, that He made her an object lesson to His disciples. It was so important that He immortalized her in the pages of Holy Scripture. I wonder what that widow would have said that day if she would have known that her example would serve as a model and inspiration to believers for twenty centuries!
Do you think your sacrifices are less important to Jesus than hers? They’re not! He sees them and He sees your heart of faith that offers them. Ages hence when you meet your beautiful Savior face-to-face in Heaven, He’ll say: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:21).
Did you ever wonder what happened to the widow later on, after this episode? The Bible doesn’t really tell us. Or does it? Maybe it does! For doesn’t the Bible say, “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass”? (Psalm 37:5). And don’t we read in the Psalms, “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; But he who trusts in the LORD, mercy shall surround him” (Psalm 32:10). And isn’t it the prophet Isaiah who promises, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You”? (Isaiah 26:3). And wasn’t it King David who said, “I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread”? (Psalm 37:25).
I think we know how this story ends. That widow wasn’t forsaken. She didn’t starve to death, or anything close. God continued to care for her and provide for her as He does all His children. She was a fearless giver who gave her whole life to God, and with that being the case, I think this is one lady about whom we can safely say: she died a very rich woman.
May God bless all of us with the same kind of faith and courage. Amen.
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