by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
October 30, 2016
TEXT: Mark 12:41-44
Back in November of 1995, Paul Harvey told the story about how Butterball Turkey company set up a hotline to answer consumer questions about preparing holiday turkeys. One woman called to ask about cooking a turkey that had been in her freezer for 23 years. The operator told her it might be safe if the freezer had been kept below zero degrees the entire time. But the operator warned the woman that, even if it were safe, the flavor had probably deteriorated and she wouldn't recommend eating it. The caller replied, "That's what we thought. We'll just give it to the church!"1
Now what do you think was her motive in giving that turkey? Was she really dedicating her turkey to God? Was the gift a real gift of love?
It is always interesting what kind of offerings churches sometimes receive. At our church in Allen, Texas, one of the deacons came up to me after church one Sunday and said, "We had these in the offering plate today. In her hand were 2 pearl necklaces and a bracelet. Now why were those in the offering plate? Was it all that a person could give - and they wanted to give something? I had them appraised - and they were just costume jewelry, not worth very much and certainly nothing that the church needed. But was that gift a big sacrifice for someone? What was the motive in giving that jewelry? We never solved the mystery - but I wear this necklace as a reminder of giving - giving a gift that perhaps was a gift of love to the Lord.
Joe Aspley tells the story of finding a dime and 2 baseball cards in the offering plate. He said, along with these gifts, was attached a note that read this way: "Both of these ball cards together would be worth about $21, if they were in mint condition, but unfortunately they're not, so together they're only worth about $10. I donated these cards to your church because I didn't have any money but 10 cents with me. Please be careful with the cards when you take them out or take them to a dealer. As you may know, it decreases the value if they're bent. These cards were from my personal collection and mean a lot to me, but all I had for the offering was 10 cents and the cards. I think I owe them to the Lord for all the Lord has done for me. I hope you can sell them and help spread the Word of the Lord and keep His house open forever." 2
Not a huge offering - but what a powerful message. He gave all he had because of his love and gratitude for the Lord.
Today we come to the 9th week of our 30-week journey through the top beliefs, practices and virtues of Christianity - to think, act and be more like Jesus. The first 5 beliefs that we have focused on were vertical - looking at what we believe about God and our relationship with Him. These 5 beliefs form a foundation for our love for God that influences who we are and what we do. The next 5 beliefs are horizontal - looking at how we understand people and our relationship with Him. In a way, you can say that the first 5 show our love for God and then the next 5 show our love for our neighbor - how we express our love for God by showing it to others.
Today, we come to affirm that we believe that everything we are and everything we have belongs to God! All throughout the Bible we learn that God created everything and gave us life. God gave us everything we have - our life, our families, our relationships, our bodies, our house - everything! He owns our money, our time, our talents. As it says in Psalm 24:1 - "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him."
God is the Creator and the Owner of all that is! And God calls us to be caretakers - to manage what God has given us. And that is what the Bible calls Stewardship. The word literally means, "household manager" - someone who manages something that is entrusted to him. And the steward or manager is accountable to the master for how he or she uses anything he has been given.
What is important to realize about stewardship is that it is NOT synonymous with giving money. It is NOT all about raising money for a budget or a capital campaign. No - stewardship is so much more than that. Stewardship is first and foremost a belief - a belief about who God is and what our place in the world. We believe that God made and owns everything and that we are to take care of it. We believe that everything we have is a gift from God and that we are to use it to help others. Stewardship is a lifestyle and it is all about your heart and putting God first in your life. It really is about loving God with your WHOLE heart, with ALL your soul and with ALL your strength.
In our story, today from the gospel of Mark, Jesus points out a woman who was a good steward - but it is not at all who we would think it would be. This insignificant and nameless woman seems to be the most unlikely of all people to be considered a good and faithful steward - and yet she is considered to be one of the most generous givers in the whole Bible.
Open your Bibles to Mark 12 in the New Testament. Mark is the 2nd book of the New Testament, right after the book of Matthew. As you are finding that passage, let me share with you the context of what was happening before we meet the widow in Mark 12.
This story happens during Holy Week. On Sunday, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem to the praises of the crowds of people. But the Jewish leaders are not happy. In fact, they are looking for a way to kill Jesus. They were particularly upset when, on Monday, Jesus came into the Temple and cleared the Temple of all the money changers and merchants.
And then on Tuesday, Jesus continues to teach the disciples - and the religious leaders continue to try and trap Jesus into saying something for which they could arrest Him. They talk to Him about taxes, the resurrection, the greatest commandments and who the Messiah is.
Looking at verses 38-40 of chapter 12, Jesus warns the disciples against the religious leaders. He says: 38 "Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. 39 And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. 40 Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished."
Jesus says to watch out for these religious leaders. They are self-absorbed - believing that they should receive all the glory and praise. And yet they were cheating widows - taking advantage of vulnerable women who were left without a husband to protect them. They try to get all their money and take their property - but all the while pretends to be pious by praying long prayers in public. These religious leaders were frauds - who believed that everything belonged to themselves instead of God.
After this, Jesus sat down in the Temple and watched people giving their offerings. More than likely he was sitting near the court of women where there were 13 trumpet shaped brass boxes into which the offerings were placed. Into these 13 boxes, the offerings would go towards the temple expenses and to meet the needs of the poor. Josephus, a1st century Jewish historian writes that many of these rich men would often hire a trumpeter to announce to others that they were giving a gift - so that everyone would take notice of them.
Imagine for a moment what the noise was like in the Temple. Back then there was no paper money or checks or Debit cards! They gave coin offerings. Imagine these rich men, with flowing robes, parading into the Temple and depositing a large amount of coins into these brass receptacles - and some even having a trumpet to announce their giving. And it was Passover, so there would have been a large crowd of people there. Can you imagine what that sounded like - what that looked like?
Now listen to what happened, beginning at verse 41 - and you can follow along with the pictures on the screen.
(((Read Mark 12:41-43 with the Visual Bible Images)))
In the midst of all the crowds of religious leaders and rich men casting all these great gifts - Jesus noticed a woman giving just two copper coins! It amazes me how Jesus is always noticing one, seemingly insignificant person in the crowd. This woman, He tells the disciples, has given more than all the others! What? Can you imagine the disciples' reaction? How can this be? How can 2 cents be more than $2,000? How could she have given more than all the others. Once again, Jesus has a way of turning things upside down.
What is it that Jesus sees in this poor widow? What is it about her that God wants to see in us?
I think Jesus first looked at her humility. What a stark contrast she was to these proud religious leaders and rich men that wanted to get all the attention and glory. This widow came and quietly gave what she could.
Time and time again throughout Scripture, God condemns those who are prideful and calls for us to be humble. But what does that look like in our lives? I like this quote from a man named Gordon Hinckley. It says, "Being humble means recognizing that we are not on earth to see how important we can become, but to see how much difference we can make in the lives of others."3 It's an attitude of putting others before ourselves. The widow gave her offering in humility. While she was yet poor, she was willing to give an offering to help others.
Jesus noticed her humility - and He also looked at her heart. This widow was very generous. And why was she so generous? Not because she saw it as some religious duty - or as a way to impress people. No - her gift was one of a heart that was full of love for the Lord. She gave to God because she was devoted. Her love for God led her to give all that she had. Jesus criticized those who gave a lot, but gave for the wrong reasons. But He was overjoyed at the sight of one who gave out of love - consecrating her whole life to God. She was showing us all how to love God with her whole heart and all her strength.
Now loving God with our whole heart, like this widow, doesn't mean you have to give up everything you have - giving up our house and all our possessions. But I think God is calling us to give up our attitude of possessiveness - claiming it all as our own. He wants us to have our hearts in the right place where we look at sharing and giving out of our abundance. He asks us to find the deepest joy in life NOT by taking all that we can get - but by taking care of all that He's given us - and giving all that we can out of love and gratitude to God.
Jesus noticed her humility, her heart and her sacrifice. The widow gave all she had to live on! She gave her all! For those rich, their offering was easy - a small contribution. They gave what they will never miss. But for the widow, it was a big sacrifice - an extravagant gift giving her all. She didn't hold anything back.
A.W. Tozer once said, "In God's sight, my giving is measured not by how much I give, but by how much I have left after I make my gift. Not by its size, is my gift judged, but by how much of me there is in it. No one gives at all until he has given all!"4
Jesus saw this widow and praised her for her humility, her heart of love, her deep sacrifice and her trust and surrender. The gift, though tiny, meant a real surrender of herself to God. She was honoring God as the Master and Owner - and the One to whom we belong entirely. And somehow she knew that after she gave her gift, she could depend on God to supply her needs.
Notice, we don't know what happened to this woman after she gave her gift nor do we know what her countenance was like as she gave her gift. But somehow - I think Jesus noticed in her a peace and a trust as she gave that gift. She was walking in trust rather than fear - letting go rather than clinging tightly.
Chip Ingram says: "God always has and always will look for men and women who say to Him, 'I trust you so much, I'm all in. I want your way not mine. I am willing to live by faith!'"5
I think that was what Jesus was looking for when He saw that woman in the Temple - a person who trusted God completely; someone who was willing to live by faith and wanted to live God's way. And He found her - a woman who was "all in" - wanting to live as a faithful steward, loving God with all her heart, soul and mind.
God is still looking for people like that. If He were here today, would He find that person? Would He see that person in you?
You are invited today to dedicate yourself to living like this widow surrendering your lives to God and loving Him with all your heart!
Will the deacons right now pass out the covenant cards to everyone - and will the band/choir come forward while those are being passed out.
We are going to have a time of prayer for you to make that decision to surrender your life to God - to give Him your all and make a commitment to love Him completely each and every day of your life. You have the opportunity, as you are moved in your heart to do so, to sign this covenant and keep this paper in your Bible as a reminder of the commitment you have made.
May God search our hearts and move in us to make a decision for Him.
Believing God is the owner of everything I am and everything I own,
I, _________________________, surrender ownership of everything
I have to God. It is His. It is not mine.
On this day, ________________, I will begin to live as a caretaker/steward of all God has given me. I dedicate myself to loving God with ALL my heart, ALL my soul, all my mind and ALL my strength.
1Paul Harvey, Nov. 1995 - as quoted in Jeff Strite's sermon "ABC's of Giving - Consecration", from www.sermoncentral.com
2Joe W. Aspley, Jr., "Ten Cents and Two Baseball Cards" as printed in "The Gifts We Bring, Vol. 4" by Church Finance Council.
3Gordon Hinkley Quote, found through a google search about humility and this quote can be seen at https://www.pinterest.com/pin/422916221234063392/
4A. W. Tozer Quote, can be seen at http://kindlequotes.tumblr.com/post/19996983153/in-gods-sight-my-giving-is-measured-not-by-how
5Chip Ingram Quote, can be seen at http://www.azquotes.com/quote/804561