The Sunday Sermon: Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost – November 11, 2018
Scripture: Luke 21:1-4
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Hear other parts of this service…
Abundant Rain: Money
God has poured down for (us) abundant rain. Joel 2:23b
Let us pray …
And so we come to the last Sunday of our Stewardship Season. Time, Talents, Saints, and on this pledge dedication Sunday, it remains to talk about tithes, pledges, monetary matters, money.
One of the most noticeable characteristics of the human species is our proclivity, our tendency, to “store up for ourselves.” With very few exceptions, humans everywhere collect “treasures” and assign status to one another on the basis of what has been acquired. More than any other reason, I think, for all people of faith, this tendency to collect, and acquire, and hoard necessitates a theological consideration of our stewardship – the sharing, the sharing because of our convictions – of money and wealth, of our “treasures.”
Kahlil Gibran wrote in his 1923 book, The Prophet, about the death spiral we enter as we acquire and collect and hoard:
Would that I could gather your (treasures) into my hand, and scatter them in the forest and meadows … but these things are not yet to be… In their fear your forefathers gathered you, too … And that fear shall endure a little longer … Tell me, people of (Pewee Valley), what have you in these (treasures)? And what is it you guard with fastened doors? … Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power? … Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind? … Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain? … Tell me, have you these in your (treasures)? … Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters your house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?
That which we acquire, which we would possess, eventually possesses us and in our fear to protect what we have come to define as ours, our real gifts – of peace, promise and beauty, but even more of people, place, and history – fade slowly, and the abundant life that Jesus offers from God is stifled and finally snuffed out altogether.
Good thing for us, we do give of our treasures to the church. We did just last year at this time. We give our money to other needy causes, too. True … but how do we do it? That’s this morning’s consideration. I know that each and every member of this congregation will give … again. But how do we do it? Give … In just a few more minutes, we will be making a pledge for the coming year, a monetary commitment to the mission and ministry of PVPC. We will respond? But, how?
Listen for the Word of God … Read Luke 21:1-4. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The story of the poor widow makes an important distinction for us. Everyone in the verses is giving. But we learn the difference between giving out of abundance and giving out of scarcity. My guess is that at first hearing, this may seem irrelevant to us. There aren’t many of us here who could be called poor, not really. What do we know about real poverty? Not much! So how does this story help us?
A former colleague of mine, Reverend Ron Smith offered me the key years ago. I pass on to you what was also given to me: The rich people were giving out of their abundance; that is, they were giving money that they didn’t really need for something else. There was no sacrifice in their gifts, nothing denied themselves, nothing deferred until another time. The “proclivity toward collecting things” continues even in the giving of their gift. It is only after satisfying their own needs and desires that they gave some of what was left over to God and to the church. Not so, the widow.
Now before you turn this message away, or tune me out, please note: Jesus, in Luke’s writing, does not condemn the rich peoples giving. There is no accusation against them in this passage except to note that in comparison to the poor widow, their gifts are much less significant.
Sometimes (most of the time?) we, too, give in order “to do our part” for the Church and its ministries. You’ll hear no condemnation from me, either, for this offering. It is a commendable reason for giving. The church is worthy of such support. We have ministries that add value to the lives of many people. These buildings ought to be maintained in first class condition. We ought to do our part to continue the ministries of the church. It is a good thing to give in order to accept our fair share and meet the congregation’s needs. Yet, there is something about this kind of giving that fails to touch the deeper places of our heart. It is based on a calculation of benefit rather than the sacrifice of a grateful spirit.
Jesus points to the example of the widow’s gift as a “more excellent way.” He says, “This poor widow has put in more than all the others, for out of her poverty she put in all the living that she had.” In her act of giving, “one of the most noticeable characteristics of the human species – our tendency to collect things,” is removed and her life, centered again on a radical trust in God and a fidelity to the Way of God in Christ’s church, begins anew.
In our own abundance, this is difficult to imagine, this transformation. In our abundance we’re not so sure we want to be transformed.
The message is slipping away from us already: Is Pastor Joel asking us, like the widow, to give everything we have? Of course not. That’s not only unrealistic, it’s unfair. That’s not what is being asked of us. That is not what is required of us. But don’t allow that to let us off the hook. Here’s what we need to learn:
First of all: The gift in our story this morning was given out of poverty. That is to say, the widow’s gift came out of her grocery money, not her savings account. This gift meant that she might miss a meal! The others would miss nothing that really mattered. May be it’s hard for us to imagine that kind of sacrifice. We most often think of our religious commitment as just one interest among many others – like photography or sky-diving. When we do, it’s very hard to understand this woman’s action. People who enjoy some abundance often think of the church as one of the charities that we support when we can afford it. But for this poor widow religion was a way of life. For this woman, God is not a charity to be supported, but a Savior that gives her hope and promises her new life, real life, abundant life. Her gift comes from the center of her being, her trust in God to provide. What about ours?
Secondly: We learn from the woman in our story that the most excellent gift is an act of trust in the providence of God. We’ve proclaimed that providence from this pulpit the past few weeks: “All that we need, God has provided!” Our widow was able to give her last two pennies because she believed this to be true. She cast everything she had into the wager that God would be faithful. This is not to say she thought that if she gave everything to God then God would reward here by making her rich. Our message must never be “if you give a tithe, a tenth, of your income then you’ll get it back with interest!” That message is a mockery of the Gospel, turning our religion into a “get rich quick scheme.” It mocks the millions of sincere souls who have given out of their poverty and remained poor in the things of this world. The glory of this woman’s gift is that she gave without calculating what benefit might return to her. What about us?
And, finally: This woman’s gift was probably the fulfillment of a vow. She gave because she had promised to give. This was a wonderful discovery for me in the study of this passage: Most often when we read this story we imagine that the widow acted out of a sudden overpowering feeling of love for God. It could have happened that way. But it is more likely that she came to the Temple to make her offering as payment of a vow. The theme of making and paying vows to the Lord is very prominent in the Bible. With this fulfillment of her vow, the widow is saying “Because God has blessed me, I will give much to the work of God in the years ahead.” What about us?
Every fall you are asked to consider how you will give your time and your talents to this community and you are asked to give an estimate of your financial support for your Church in the coming year. You received a white pledge card in the mail just last week and we have placed some in your pew pockets and stocked the ushers. Pledging helps your Session plan the church’s budget of expenditures for the coming year. And pledging helps you to live out your faith even as you plan your own “family budgets.” Every fall we are asked to give an estimate of our financial support for Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church in the coming year. How will we do it this year?
The poetic narrative of Kahlil Gibran I began with this morning doesn’t end with us shackled to our treasures. It ends with a soaring description of who we become when we have the courage to let go of them:
(Our treasures) shall be not an anchor but a mast … (They) shall not be a glistening film that covers a wound, but an eyelid that guards the eye … You shall not fold your wings that you may pass through doors, nor bend your heads that they may strike not against a ceiling, nor fear to breathe lest walls should crack and fall down … you shall not dwell in tombs made by the dead for the living … Your (treasures) shall not hold your secret nor shelter your longing … For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night.
Every fall we ask ourselves to give, not to a budget but to the mission and ministries we have been called to engage, to the people we serve with here in Pewee Valley, and those who will find us and experience God through us in the year ahead. In the end, friends, we must consider the widow’s gift. Don’t give your tithes, your money, out of your abundance or in your pride. Neither should it be fear or shame or guilt that determines your financial gifts to the church. We must give – time, talents and money – through our identity as children of God, disciples of Christ, and members of this expression of Christ’s body in Pewee Valley.
Our gifts come as the fulfillment of a vow: Because God has blessed us, poured down for us abundant rain, we will give much back to the work of God in the years ahead.
May it be so this morning and in the year to come. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 11, 2018