October 10, 2019

Mark 12:41-44

I invite you to sit back, relax, and imagine the scene of our gospel story for today. The story is set in Jerusalem at the temple treasury. It is the place where religious people gathered from far and wide to make their offerings.

As you enter, you walk by tall pillars into a room with a high ceiling. It feels majestic. You feel a sense of reverence and awe. The room is lit by candles. People speak in hushed tones.

As you walk toward the front you see the altar where people place their offerings. People are sacrificing pigeons and turtledoves in penance for their sins. The pungent smell of burnt offerings mingles with incense.

Nearby sit the treasury coffers, wooden boxes where people offer their money. These coffers have bronze, funnel-shaped lids. As people drop coins into these funnels, you can tell the size of the offering by listening to the sound they make as the money roles down and drops into the wooden box below.

It’s a busy place, filled with many people. At the front of the crowd are the scribes. You can’t miss them as they prance around in their long robes. Wherever they walk, the crowds move out of their way, out of deference and respect, and a bit of fear and intimidation.   

In walk some of the landowners and merchants – dressed in their finest. They carry large satchels of money. They want to be sure that their generous giving is noticed, so they make a big display of it. As they empty their money into the coffers it makes a lot of noise.

Then an old woman hobbles in. From her black, ragged clothing you can tell she is a widow. She is thin and small, hunched over. She’s almost invisible among the rich merchants as she quietly approaches the coffers. She opens her little pouch, carefully removes two tiny copper coins, and gently sets them in the coffers. They are so small they barely make a sound. She bows, pauses reverently, and silently slips way.

Among the crowds is that young rabbi, Jesus, and his disciples. They are standing on the sidelines, taking it all in. As he stands there silently, watching what’s happening, it’s clear that he’s a keen observer of people, He notices not only how much people give but the attitudes with which they give. Are they giving so that everyone around them will be impressed? Or are they giving from the heart, like this widow? He whispers to his disciples “That poor widow has given more than all those rich men put together! For they gave a little of their extra while she gave all that she had.”

That widow is often used as an example of selfless giving. She is that. But even more so, she is an example of one who trusts God. When she set those last two coins in the coffers it is almost as if she stepped into the offering plate and gave herself to God, fully, holding nothing back.

From that selfless act, one can imagine that she has lived her life as a person of faith. She’s spent a lifetime learning to trust God to be there for her whatever life might throw her way. When she was down to her last pennies, it was natural for her to turn to God, because she had learned over her lifetime that she could trust God to help her through the hardest of times.

It might be a stretch to imagine yourself as impoverished as that widow, giving your last two pennies to the church. But what about trust? Can you see yourself truly trusting God? Can you see yourself trusting God for the strength to do what God is calling you to do? Do you know what it feels like to depend on God in hard times as well as good times? Do you know deep down inside that whatever happens, it will ultimately be okay because God is with you? As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount God cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, how much more God cares for you!

Today is stewardship Sunday, a day to make promises about what we plan to give over the next year. It’s a day to offer our time and talents and financial gifts. But more than that it is a time to offer ourselves to God’s service. It is a time to trust that God is generous with us, so we can be generous in supporting God’s work. What gift or sacrifice is God inviting you to give?

As you write down your plans for giving over the next year, the goal it not to give away your last penny. God cares much more about the attitude with which we make our offerings than the size of the gift. God cares about what’s in your heart. God wants our faithfulness. God wants our trust. God wants our love. God wants us to live our lives in love and service to him and our neighbor.

Giving is a privilege. Giving in support of God’s work has eternal consequences. Whatever else we spend our time and money on will quickly pass away. But what we give in support of God’s work lasts forever.

As we’ve been hearing one another’s faith stories, we come to realize that we are not in this journey alone. Our story is part of a bigger story. Our story is part of the story of God’s people. Our story blends with God’s story.

As a church community, we come together. Each of us gives what we have. Each of us gives what God has first given us, ourselves, our time, our possessions, signs of God’s gracious love. Together we have enough – enough skills, enough resources – to do all the ministry that God calls us to do.

ELAC Bishop Elizabeth Eaton puts it this way:

“Giving is a spiritual discipline. It’s a way for us to learn to live by faith. It’s a way to participate in God’s generosity and abundance. It’s a way to move beyond ourselves. It’s also a way for us to be connected one to another. Responding to the grace and prodigal love of God expressed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, our giving is a communal act.  Giving isn’t a private thing any more than worship is. It’s part of our life together.”[i]

I invite us to take the next few minutes to prayerfully consider what we will promise to give in support of God’s mission here at Immanuel over the next year.

FILL OUT STEWARDSHIP FORMS – Copies available in links below

Like the widow, we can trust God to care for us. God is faithful. We too, can have the faith that even in the face of hardship God is there for us. And we can have the ultimate trust that when our time on this earth is through, we will be with God eternally. Our story is part of God’s story. Our story is part of the story of the people of God.

May God bless you with faith and love and trust in him. Amen!

(If you’d like to make a financial contribution to Immanuel’s ministry you are invited to give online at www.ImmanuelAlmelund.org – under “How to” “Learn More” “Give.” Or mail a check to Immanuel Lutheran Church, 37515 Park Trail, Center City, MN 55012.)

Thank you!

[i] Elizabeth Eaton, “Unglamorous Yet Vital,” Living Lutheran, June 24, 2015