Sermon for Pentecost 23, Proper 27, preached on Sunday, November 8, 2009
Already I am sure some of you are shifting in your pew thinking “here it comes – another stewardship sermon.” And you would be right, up to a point. Instead of talking about the gift this woman gave, I want us to take some time today to think of the message her offering of two small coins sent.
It strikes me as funny in an odd sort of way that stewardship has become a battle over little things. It has become a debate over a few percentage points. Are we talking the tithe and 10% to the Lord or would 9% be okay and if that is okay what about 5% or even 2%? Funny how stewardship can become a battle over a few percentage points. But it has distracted us from the real point in all of this. We spend all our time talking about the couple of percent of our money that we give to the Lord only to ignore the 90-97% we keep and spend as we choose. Why is God only concerned about the little we give... or is the little we give His only concern here?
Today the Gospel lesson records the story of a woman who did not give a percentage to the Lord. She gave all she had. We could understand if she had not given anything – she had nothing of real value to give – she needed that money for food and shelter. We might even make a case for it being poor stewardship for her to give all she had to the Lord. Except that Jesus pointed her out and identified the great faith that was spoken by her offering, two small coins that spoke a great big message of faith and trust. The contrast us great for us today. What does this mean for you and me – we who have so much, who enjoy so much, who argue over percentage points instead of giving our all?
For all intents and purposes this woman’s offering was worthless. A couple of pennies – what can that buy? Hardly worth noticing. How many of you bother to pick up pennies off the sidewalk? This was less than pocket change and amounted to nothing. It would cost more to send a thank you note to this woman than the value of her offering. No, to the world it was nothing, an offering hardly worth the effort of putting the coins in the plate.
BUT. . . God saw it differently. God saw this as a great and mighty offering. It was an offering not from her abundance but all she had to give. It was an offering that spoke from her faith and trust in the Lord, that she who had so little would give her all to the Lord. Jesus was watching that day and He told His disciples that what she gave was a far greater offering than the rich who put in large sums. It does not take much faith to give a few percentage points of your resources; it takes great faith to give your all.
This woman’s offering literally shouted of her faith in God’s care. When she opened up her purse to give the only two coins she had, she was left without any money but she kept something worth far more – she was left with God’s grace and care as her only resource. She gave all she had and kept only her trust in God to hold on to... Two small coins that spoke one big message.
This woman’s offering spoke not of a little trust, but a trust without limit. Unlike most of us who figure our offerings after we figure what we need to live on, what we set aside for savings, and some things we want, this woman trusted the Lord for her all. She gave not the leftovers after room and board, taxes and recreation – she gave all she had to give. Her trust in God was not limited to the things she could not supply for herself. She trusted God for everything. She was so convinced His grace was sufficient for all her needs. Such small coins that spoke great faith!
God was not first in her life – God was all in her life. If you have much, you can given much and still be left with enough. Many of the world’s great fortunes have been given away by the rich and famous but you won’t find them in the soup line downtown. They gave much but they were also left with much. When you have big resources, it sometimes means you can get by with little trust. But when you have no resources, all you have left is trust in the Lord.
We live in the world’s richest country. Though we have a small proportion of the world’s population, we consume a majority of the world’s resources. Yes we are going through some tough times. Yes there are people right here in our congregation who are struggling just to put a little food on the table. But most of us are not in that boat. Most of us enjoy a comfortable home, we don’t worry about where our food comes from only what we want to eat... we drive where we want to go without fear except how much it will cost us at the pump... we buy what we need worrying not about what it costs but if they have what we want... When our offerings speak, too often they whisper trust more than they shout “Trust in the Lord.”
We are surrounded by evidence of God's abundant grace and care as we heard in the first lesson about Elijah and the flour and oil that God replenished after every use. We met a woman who had nothing but trust and Jesus called a world to see what message that offering spoke. Don’t you feel shame when you compare what little you put into the offering plate in comparison to what she gave? I know I do. But God is not seeking to motivate us through our guilt and shame.
God is not after gifts from guilt but offerings born of faith. Don’t you put in that plate an offering that is motivated by guilt. It is not our shame that God wants to speak but our faith.
Every time you pass that baptismal font you are reminded of the grace of God that supplied forgiveness and life to you when you brought nothing to that baptism. Every time you hear the rich voice of absolution you are confronted with the grace bigger than your sin, grace free to us but grace that cost our Lord His life on the cross. Every time you look at this table you see grace that invited you to sit in the place of honor and receive heaven’s bread and salvation’s cup when you did not even deserve the crumbs from the table. Every time you raise your eyes to this cross, you are confronted with the providential grace of God that met you in death with life. In the face of such unmistakable grace, can we do anything but say “Amen” and trust in Him above all things? For surely He who has supplied us the richest treasure of all in the gift of eternal life can be trusted to care for us in all our earthly needs for this body and life.
Today I want us to think only one thing: Is my offering speaking the same language of faith and trust as my lips? Now I can’t tell you what to give and I won’t. The point here is not what you or I can get by with but whether our offerings speak clearly “I trust in the Lord” – like this woman’s offering did so long ago... Or, do they speak of our doubts and fears that there will not be enough left for me? I don’t know what you give and you don’t know what I give in offerings. It is not for me to judge you or you to judge me. But in the quiet moment when we look at what God has given to us and what we deserve, I hope and pray that our offerings will speak faith, not fear; trust not doubt; gratitude, not greed. We can spend all day arguing over what percentage we need to give. Jesus is asking us one simple question: Does my offering speak faith and trust? That was the big message this woman’s small coins spoke long ago. Today we pray that ours may testify to our trust in the abundant grace of God just as hers did so long ago. Amen.