25th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 27- B)
November 11, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
Not too long ago the topic of church bills and offerings came up in the seventh and eighth grade confirmation class. I don’t remember the entire conversation, but I was surprised to learn they didn’t fully understand the purpose of offerings. Maybe, since I don’t preach about money very often, I’m partly to blame for their ignorance. They didn’t know the offerings paid the church bills, supported missionaries and other organizations, and blessed me with a salary and benefits. I think we pastors are hesitant to bring up finances and offerings because the church is frequently accused of caring only about money, and we don’t want to contribute to the myth. But then we have a Gospel like we have today, and it screams “offerings.” The Gospel though isn’t just about offerings, it’s deeper than that because in the account of the widow and her mite we learn a lot about her and we learn a lot about ourselves.
The woman that Jesus sees today is another Biblical character that we don’t know very much about, even though she’s the star of the account. She doesn’t know she’s the star, but we do and everything we need to know about her is in these four verses. We know she’s a widow, obviously, which means she’s not only lost her husband, she’s also lost her primary source of income. His death forced her into poverty and this is abundantly clear in her offering. She’s giving two of the smallest coins in Jerusalem. Together, these coins add up to about 1/64th of a day’s wage for an average person in the time of Jesus. At today’s minimum wage, it’s less than a buck, ninety-eight cents is all. You’d think the two tiny coins would be an insignificant addition to the Temple treasury, and yet Jesus says her offering is better than any other offering being given that day, and there were a bunch.
In one of the Temple courtyards there were thirteen trumpet looking offering receptacles. Nine of them were for the Temple tax and four were used for charitable causes. In those days, they didn’t give their offerings with a check or a folded-up bill, they used coins because it was all they had. It must have sounded like a casino with all the coins being dumped in one right after another. Since there wasn’t much secrecy in the process, the people liked to watch what the rich were giving, and the rich liked to be seen. They gave their offerings out of pride and obligation, and without too much sacrifice. Jesus says, “They all contributed out of their abundance.” He means that they only gave what they wouldn’t miss. Sure, they gave what seemed to be a lot, and maybe it was to others, but not to them. More importantly, they didn’t give out of faith, and that’s what sets the widow apart from them.
Her offering is greater because it’s given in faith. She gave until she had absolutely nothing left to purchase anything at all. Jesus says, “She out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” She gave everything; she couldn’t buy food or medicine or shoes or anything else we’d consider necessary for survival. Her offering made her instantly penniless! But it didn’t make her poor. She trusted God would provide for her, and even if she starved to death, she knew He would give her an eternal treasure. She looked beyond the immediate things of the day to the unseen things of Heaven. By doing so, she totally surrendered to God. Her money yes, but more so, she surrendered herself. In this unnamed widow, we see what the others were lacking, a “mite-y” faith. Get it? A “mite-y” faith!
If we take an honest look at ourselves, do we have a mite-y faith? Do you put your faith and trust into God? Or do you put it in yourself, your income, your savings? I know we don’t like to talk about our offerings and our finances, but we have to because what we do with our money reveals where we place our faith. Do we trust God to provide for us in His way and His time? Or do we hold on tightly to what we have? Do you give out of our abundance an amount you won’t miss? Or do you faithfully give in the face of uncertainty. Do you grab spare change for the offering after you’ve bought everything you want? Or do you give to God first and yourself second?
The thing is our offerings are always given as an exercise in faith. We don’t know about our jobs next year. We don’t know we won’t face catastrophic bills. Losing your job and unexpected bills are absolutely possible because God doesn’t promise material blessings and security.
What we do have is a far greater security—one that is absolutely certain. The Epistle from Hebrews reminds us, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time…to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” Christ is coming back and He’s coming back for us. Heaven is the one guarantee every Christian can hold on to. Jesus has secured it for us. His death and resurrection have made it certain for everyone who believes. And if we matter to God that much, if we matter so much that He gave Hi Son to die for us, we can be doubly certain that He’ll somehow care for us every day in the meantime.
The other thing we learn about the widow isn’t explicitly mentioned by Jesus, but is clear to us is that her offering was given in love. She loved God for providing all that she had been given so far. She loved Him because He first loved her. He gave her the plain clothes she was wearing, He gave her the two coins she dropped in the offering box, He gave her and sustained her life. Her love wasn’t the fake love of the unfaithful who were giving their offerings, it was living, vibrant love that realized the extent of God’s gifts to her.
We too give out of love for God. He who gave us all things is worthy of our love and praise. Not only has He provided material blessings, for which we love Him, He has also provided all we need to obtain eternal treasures. We respond to His love by loving Him with our heart, soul, and might (what we talked about last week, if you remember). Our love is seen how put Him first in all things, including our finances. Paul says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” We are cheerful givers because in His love He saved us. We’re not saved because we give large offerings, we’re saved because He gave an even larger offering in His Son.
It’s ironic that the faithful widow didn’t realize that the one she was trusting was sitting so close to her that day. We, on the other hand, do know the one we trust is sitting right here beside us. We know he sympathizes with our struggle. He understands financial uncertainty; his whole ministry was spent traveling, living day to day by the kindness of others. He understands our struggles against doubt, our fear about really committing our resources to God. He was tempted just as we are—but without ever giving in! He is here with us today, and we can be certain He’ll be with us in the future and it’s in His promises that we place our faith and love.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen