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For nearly a century, Lutheran Laity Movement for Stewardship assisted, inspired and trained congregations in important ways. LLM ceased operations on May 31, 2003, but the Stewardship of Life Institute is proud to continue its work by making its web resources available to a new generation of stewards.


 

'Big Money/Small Coins'
By the Rev. K. Robert Schmitt

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."
--Mark 12:41-44 NRSV

It is mid November, budget time in our congregation and others. So it is time - you guessed it - for a stewardship sermon!

This year we won't have to force the issue upon the scripture lessons - the lectionary has been kind. Our text today is the Widow's Mite!

When I told Mr. X, our treasurer, that we would have a good stewardship sermon this week he asked me what the text was?

So I told him, the story of the Widow's Mite.

He looked at me with a straight face with all seriousness and concern and then said, "Pastor, you have a problem. You can't budget a congregation with gifts of two small coins. We need larger sums, you know, 'Big Money.'" Well, that sent me back to the drawing board. I had this wonderful sermon laid out in my  mind, but the sermon just didn't deal with 'Big Money'. So I went back to our text for today. I tried to look at the text from a different perspective. I looked at it from the eyes of Jesus.

The Eyes of Jesus
"Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sum. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples. ... "

What caught Jesus' eye? What did he see? Jesus didn't pay much attention to those dropping in "Big Money." But Jesus did notice two small coins being placed in the treasury. WHY?

Jesus speaks to the disciples: "I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had all she had to live on."

It wasn't the amount the widow gave but the way she gave. She didn't give out of surplus but out of everything she had.

I wonder what Jesus would find if those same eyes saw what Christians give today?

The Eyes of Jesus Today
If Jesus could see into the plate passed in most congregations today I think Jesus would probably find not two, but three types of givers:

Surplus -- Jesus would still see those who give only out of their surplus. I remember counting money as a child with my father who was a council member of my home congregation. I would just be amazed at the big checks and bills that came in. But after weeks and weeks of counting I learned that they would come once in a while but often not with any regularity except big church holidays.

They certainly were a fine gift to God and they certainly helped the budget. But you always wondered about their true commitment? A year's worth of steady week after week smaller bills often add up to a greater sacrificial gift.

Leftovers - Jesus would see some new faces - those who give out of their leftovers. 'What do I have left in my wallet today?' or This is what I have left after paying for everything." Jesus would have true compassion for those without surplus and be grateful for what was given to God. But I am sure Jesus would wonder why anyone making a gift to God would do it as an afterthought?

All They Had
Finally, Jesus would see those like the widow who considered all they had. These would be the Christians who thought ahead and planned their gift to God. They will have considered the blessings God has given them.

Some would be tithers - those who return to God a tithe, a 10 percent portion, of all that God has given to them. Following the ancient Hebrew custom of the First Fruits of the harvest are given to God. Others will have prayed and made a pledge; a specific goal or amount they hope to give to live out their commitment to God. Or maybe they have planned to grow in their giving by a percentage commitment.

The Key
But the key would be that their gift not be out of surplus or from the leftovers. Their gift to God would come only after they considered all they had been given, like the widow, which had been entrusted to them by God.

For to recognize this fact is to recognize God: That all one has is not a possession to give from by surplus or leftover, but is a gift to be managed, to be a steward of.  The widow recognized that the gift of her two coins is not just an obligation to maintain the temple but is an offering made directly to God!

The Insight of Jesus
Do you see that this is the insight that Jesus points out to us in today's story?

In the Widow's offering Jesus sees the mirror of the total gift that is about to take place on the cross: Jesus risking his own life on the cross to total dependence on God's promise of resurrection. Similarly, the Widow risks her whole life on God, 'everything she had to live on.'

In his commentary on the text, Lutheran Seminary professor David Rhoads observes, "There really are two different ways of living that are contrasted in Mark's Gospel, (and it shows here in our story of the Widow's Mite): What people want for Themselves and What God wants for People.

The lists he provides clearly show the contrast in views.

blue.gif (76 bytes) People worry
blue.gif (76 bytes) People are concerned with things
blue.gif (76 bytes) People fear others
blue.gif (76 bytes) People are concerned where they are in life
blue.gif (76 bytes) People want to save their life.

Yet God offers a complete contrast:

blue.gif (76 bytes) God says to have faith
blue.gif (76 bytes) God says to give up things
blue.gif (76 bytes) God says to have courage
blue.gif (76 bytes) God says be concerned about God
blue.gif (76 bytes) God says to lose your life for others

The Insight of Jesus Today
That is the insight of Jesus for us today. Only when we accept that we need to trust in God's way to have life, not our human ways, can we faithfully see the effect on our lives.

Using the key to open True giving to God. The key for us in our giving must be the same as the widow. We must see Jesus' insight for us. We must have the courage to risk everything for others. Facing death, the ultimate loss of self, must not be fearful.

A few years ago during one of the uprisings in Central America, border churches of various denominations participated in  a "Sanctuary Movement." They were offering a place of refuge for illegal aliens, those fleeing war and bloodshed in places like El Salvador. Before someone could join the movement they ask the following questions:

Are you ready to have your telephone tapped by the government? Are you prepared to have your neighbors shun you? Are you ready to be arrested and tried, with full media coverage? If you are not prepared for these things, you may not be ready to join the movement.

Christians in America are not often asked these questions, but maybe we should. The Russian Christians were during the communist years! Chinese Christians are in that situation now, as well as others. Are you ready to risk yourself, even your life?

It makes one think of not only the blessings we have but the fact that everything, including the gift of our life, doesn't depend on humanity but on God.

When we trust in God, who promises to keep on giving, including continuing to give us life, we can plan our true response to the gifts we have received.

You see, this is the other point we often miss about stewardship from this story. It is not the amount of the gift we give but the way we give that is important to God.
 

If we give out of surplus, or in a leftover manner, we have ignored the gifts God has given us. We have not planned our response to God for all we have been blessed with. We are more concerned with what we want for ourselves-than what God wants for all people. And that is selfishness and it has no place in the Church. The Church is a communion. The Body of Christ. We must be concerned with God and our neighbor, not ourselves.

Some time, while serving interim pastorate in a small congregation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I did the funeral of an elderly gentleman widower whom I had only met twice -- once in a home communion visit and once at the hospital the day before he died suddenly. In the hospital, when I asked if he had any special requests before I prayed, he asked me to pray for those who had a hard time accepting the illnesses that would change their life. At his funeral I used that story and the story of the Good Samaritan to share with his nieces and nephews (he had no direct descendants) the Gospel message.

They told me I characterized him wonderfully. I accepted the praise reluctantly because I wasn't really positive. I hardly knew him. Ten days later the bank called concerning his will and sent me a preliminary copy. This kindly old widower, concerned about others in his prayers while he was in the hospital, was also concerned about others at his death.

He was worth over a million dollars. He knew the great gift God had given him, and he gave it all away. He gave some to the Masonic Home, he gave some to the church, he gave some to the hospital, and some to the Heart Association. He knew he had been an orphan and cared for at the Masonic Home. He had nothing to start with but what others had given in the name of God to care for people like him. Everything he had been given was a gift from God and he gave it all away in the end as a witness to that fact.

He may have been a widower but he knew the purpose of the widow's mite. He gave 'Big Money' not only because he had it, but because he understood what was meant in the giving of small coins.

We are gathered here this day just like the disciples in our temple of worship, this beautiful church sanctuary. And the plate is soon to be passed as it is each week.

As we hear this story of the widow's mite, we are challenged to boldly proclaim with our giving our dependence on God. How will you respond?

The Rev. K. Robert Schmitt is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He was serving Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Newville, Pa., when this sermon appeared in the Fall 1994 issue of Faith in Action.

Copyright 1994, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This essay appeared in the Faith in Action. Articles from Faith in Action may be reproduced for use in ELCA and ELCIC congregations provided each copy carries the note:
Copyright 1994, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission.