38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 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.” – Mark 12:38-44
The church is meant to be this perfect embodiment of community.
In a perfect embodiment of community, there is no expectation of what we may or may not receive as a community. The point of faith is surrender, knowing that the ultimate gift has already been achieved. However, it saddens me to say that we don’t often treat church like this.
Bishop Ken Carder writes in his book, Living Our Beliefs,”
“The church is treated as another voluntary organization that people join as they do a civic club or a political party. Loyalty is measured by frequency of attendance, payment of pledges, service on committees, and participation. The church is considered to be something we belong to rather than who we are.”
— Ken Carder, Living Our Beliefs, p. 110
The problem becomes more than what Carder notes though. The problem extends not just to how loyalty is measured, but also the perception of awarding the loyalty and creating a hierarchy based on it. In our loyalty, we seek rewards. Our name on a plaque, recognition in front of a body, awards, or even just control over our portion.
As we set the stage for the covenant we look at the widow in the second part of our passage today who gives, not out of obligation, but out of hope for what the community could it. She gives considering that her gift could be taken advantage of or that it could be put to good use, but she trusts God.
In our modern church, we vow:
“As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by…your gifts…?”
— United Methodist Hymnal p. 38
We often immediately want to acknowledge all of the money we have given, maybe even the time we have sacrificed. However, this is again us trying to boil this down to the personal and not focusing on the communal nature of these vows. We give because we feel we must, not because we trust what God can do with our giving.
Inherently then we try to control the gifts we give. We try to control the money we offer, we control the outcomes of the time we are in service, and we even try to control what we do and what takes the gifts we offer.
Mark 12: The Scribes and The Widow
However, let us reflect I this story in the Gospel of Mark. We seemingly have two events/teachings. However, we mold them together in this telling because we see the outcome of thought that comes from it.
First, we see Jesus speak against the Scribes and how they conduct themselves in the community.
They carried themselves by their egos, they had given to the community a great service and now expected in return something for their contribution. They came to expect the best seats, and places of honor, even stealing homes from those they are supposed to protect. Then to cap it all off they showed off the knowledge to remind people with long and extravagent prayers.
Then you have the widow’s contribution.
This widow, perhaps cheated out of her home by the very scribes we just heard about. However, instead of holding that anger over the church, she treats giving in a way that truly honors what we are called to do as part of these faith communities as Jesus calls attention to in verses 43-44.
The widow gave. Yes, we can focus on the absolute surrender the woman had in her giving, but I think that would miss the point. I don’t hear Jesus telling us to empty our bank accounts into the church offering plate. We give according to what we can give.
Jesus wants us to contribute, not out of our abundance or for the pride and glory of being the person who can do so, but giving because we know what the church can do with our gifts.
To faithfully participate with our gifts means that we see what we have in our lives and we consider what can be used to further the ministry of the church. We do so with the responsibility to lift up the church in our communities.
Gifts: Time, Talent, and Treasures
This often means money, but it also encompasses our time and even other spiritual or personal gifts we have for certain places with the church.
When looking for definitions of gifts, one website I read gave this thought-provoking definition of gifts saying:
“Gifts challenge us to invest in something larger than ourselves; to take what we have, connect it to the giving of others, and create something that will honor and glorify God. We give to make manifest what we profess with our mouths — our gifts become outward and visible signs of our inward and spiritual faith”
We seek ways for that grace we have received to be offered back in the hope of God’s mission for creation. This is all about using what we have, individually and giving that to the church to help support its missions and ministries and the community around us.
When we talk about gifts yes, that means talking about money. However, a true understanding of “gifts” goes beyond money. Gifts include our time and our talents as well. To give means more than just one manner of participation, because it can look different for each of us.
We cannot expect to give and ultimately sacrifice our well-being. When we are good stewards with what we have: that is knowing everything we have to offer, we are in a better place to give sacrificially to the church.
- It is hard to give all our money at the expense of affording our bills, but understanding our needs helps us provide for God and the church in the midst of that.
- We cannot expect to give all our time at the expense of our health or relationships with our family or friends outside the church. However, by understanding our time, and where we are we can better offer sacrificial time to the church.
- Even when it comes to talents and spiritual gifts, we cannot expect to give to the point of malase, so that we end up regretting even having that talent. However, it is in understanding our talents and sacrificing them to use in God’s Kin-dom healthily.
What Can I Offer?
Faithfully participating, as we are called to do then boils down to asking ourselves, “What can I offer to the church?”
Instead of focusing on the magnitude of the gift, we must instead focus on the gifts themselves. Paul tells the Roman Church:
“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…” (Romans 12:6a NRSV)
Gifts extend far beyond our tunnel-visioned idea of money.
Things that we receive as gifts are then offered to the church from our hearts out of wanting to further the mission and vision of the church both in our community and around the world.
Grace received bears the gifts that are offered to the church through ministry.
No matter our situation in life, we ALL have gifts that we bring to the table and when we neglect to bring our gifts to the table we can hinder our community. We offer our gifts because God seeks for us to use what we have been given.
The uncomfortable part of this message becomes about money.
To dive into this nature helps also explore the many ways we can give through time and talents as well. We name that what we offer through the offering plate or online or however you may give is offered to God. We do it to honor God for the gift of grace we have received and for it to be blessed and used for the hope of God that flows through this community.
Because of the nature of money in our world this sort of understanding can be difficult to wrestle with. We think about money being a state or government-controlled item (think the headache of taxes), and it is often associated with greed. However, when we think about how the church functions it is very difficult for it to function without it.
Therefore, we give money to the church and our theology must reflect the holistic use of money within the community that we see in places like Acts 2 and Acts 4.
The deeper reason for giving then is that we are giving to help God through the church in the mission God has for us. In giving these gifts, whether that be money or even our spiritual gifts, we are offering something that is so deeply a part of our lives to allow God to use to help change other people.
We have gotten away from our understanding of offering/giving in this way and it has often become thought of as a burden in our lives, or even a way to show our support or disagreement with the church. It has become a leverage point to get things done, and I have even seen it used as a blackmailing tool to make sure someone gets their way. We should not give for any reason other than we seek to give in response to grace so that God can use it. Again the same goes for giving our time and talents too…
We give because we love God, and we want to give back to God to use in this community.
You see this widow in Mark had next to nothing, but she still gave. Why? She knew what God could do, even with a little bit. The others who were given Jesus gave of their abundance. They gave up what they already didn’t need.
The widow gave out of no ambition to herself, possibly even at the expense of her own well-being given the behaviors of the scribes.
The Story of Beech Grove
We have a story to tell as a congregation. As we give we see what God is doing with those gifts.
- The money you give in the offering plate to our General Fund helps us do ministry.
- It provides upkeep and utilities on this building for the ministries housed here.
- It provides for the salary of your pastor and staff so that you have leaders in this community assuring order and administration on a day-to-day basis.
- It helps to fund our children’s ministry, and the book scholarship, and it keeps our supplies stocked as we do ministries or discipleship and fellowship
- It goes to outreach from our general fund and the money that is given through various outreach fundraisers like Rise Against Hunger, School Supply Drive, and Thanksgiving Baskets.
- When we think of the time we give whether in ministry, mission, or even administration, it correlates to money.
- The time we give at the Easter Egg Factory helps to provide for our apportionments to the United Methodist Church, it allows us to be creative in outreach endeavors, and even to help this building continue to be a useful tool for ministry here in Driver. \
- When we give our time as leaders, we are helping to ensure that the vision of the church is being lived out. Sometimes I make the very decisions of how that money can be used for God’s vision at Beech Grove.
- Our talents are used to do those ministries, a concept we will explore more deeply next week. However, giving those gifts helps make sure we can provide ministries like worship, bible studies, and even missional service events.
All of these manners of giving should be done with consideration only of what God is doing with these gifts. We do not seek gain with these gifts, nor do we expect to be treated differently for them.
I am grateful for all the gifts here in this community that allow us to continue to press forward in our work for God together. However, we must continue to place our minds on ensuring both the continued support through these gifts and the trusted use of how God is calling through our leadership to live out the vision placed before us.
God truly is doing amazing and wonderful things through this body, but your gifts are needed to continue that work.
How are you faithfully participating in the ministries of this church through your gifts?
And are you like the scribes: using their abundance and authority to take advantage of these gifts?
Or are you like the widow: giving out of a covenantal nature and trusting the work God is doing through the rest of the community as it uses those gifts?