November 7, 2021, Sign Reading, by Pastor David

Mark 12: 38-44  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, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 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. 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. 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.”

Meditation: We take a moment of reflection to connect with the Spirit - in this community, in this sanctuary, in our hearts. 

November 7, 2021 Sign Reading

One of my pet peeves these days is the ubiquitous advertising for sports gambling. It hurts my heart. I mute the ads but I stew about them, thinking that if the Methodist Church was as powerful as it was 100 years ago, this kind of gambling and this kind of advertising would not have been supported. The exploitation that the casinos, sports gambling, and lotteries represent of people who cannot afford to lose their money in these ways - the church has been against it from the beginning. Gambling is pretty unanimously opposed in the United Methodist churches - even today. Where did we lose that edge? 

It could make me sound kind of like a hellfire and brimstone preacher don’t you think? Railing against the sinfulness and worldliness of gambling, lamenting the decline of the influence of the church. Maybe I missed my calling.

I think about it though in relation to this passage in which some people do not hear Jesus praising the woman for how much she gives, but complaining about the leaders of the temple who exploit her for her last penny. “they devour widows houses” he says. Jesus is reading signs, seeing the patterns of domination of his time and calling them out.

If that is the point of this passage, then folks have been preaching a lot of misguided stewardship sermons over the years. Holding up the widow’s mite as an example of how we should give sacrificially. Consider this my anti-stewardship sermon. This morning I want to lament the wrong reasons to give to the church, and the wrong ways that the church asks for money. Maybe I can slip in a few right reasons before we’re through this morning…

One way church folk encourage people to give sacrificially is to say that you will get back a gift from God in return for your gift. We are already receiving gift upon gift from God. We could not possibly pay for the giftedness which is coming out way. as a free gift from God. We don’t tell people to give more than we can expecting they will receive back more in return. That’s a little like gambling your last dollar hoping you’ll hit the jackpot. 

Similarly, some people think they have to give to the church to get into heaven. Christian faith is all about grace. Giving comes as a response to God’s grace and generosity, not as a condition of it. We live out heaven with each other when we create community through our gifts to God - whether in the church or in other places.

Some churches encourage people to give at the end of the year to “make up the difference” or close the gap in the budget. Have you heard about churches like that? one giver makes up the difference, at the end of every year, that’s overfunctioning and it’s a kind of dependence on particular people that focuses credit on that person rather than on God. Shared responsibility is better for everyone. 

Another reason you might hear for giving is “because you ought to,” out of obligation.  Grim giving out of duty does not contribute to vital stewardship. “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.” is what the Bible says. We give because we give joy and we create joy. 

Another confusion that can happen is out of trying to get the leadership to do what you want. There was a wealthy individual at this church when I first came and people talked about how we didn’t like the pastor being a woman and he didn’t like that the service went a minute over an hour. The church can’t be held hostage to the people who have money. Leaders who give in to blackmail are not good leaders, and those who blackmail are not good followers or mature Christians.

Here’s a tricky one: giving because you like the pastor. Christian stewardship is not about personality. Of course, effective pastors provide leadership and articulate a vision for ministry. That vision helps motivate givers, as does the pastor’s relationship with the people. But mature givers know that simply liking the pastor is not their primary motive for giving. We give because we need to give. We have to have a place to be give to create the community of God. We give out of gratitude to God, not out of gratitude to any particular individual. 

One more risky way that we think about giving is in response to an emotional appeal or one that pulls on our heartstrings. Giving at its best is a thoughtful and principled decision. Because I give 10% of my income to the church and to groups that I trust to be about God’s work in the world, I don’t feel guilty saying no to some of these appeals that try to get me to give out of guilt or worry. I have a plan for giving, not just responding to the latest thing that catches my attention. 

When we have a plan for our families, for retirement, and for giving to God, we live richer and fuller lives. That’s where the return is. There’s a kind of peace of mind, when I give a portion of my income right up front, that is acknowledging the abundance of God’s gifts and the grace of God’s community. And it helps create that community.

OK, those are a bunch of ways not to talk about giving, and bad reasons for giving to the church. The bad reasons don’t all have to do with exploiting widows, but anything that exploits vulnerable people, is going to be a bad reason. 

Here’s a few more reasons we give and why I don’t feel embarrassed to ask you to give or to preach about it during this time of year: We give because we need to give. We give because we have been given so much, we need to acknowledge our wealth by giving. Noni Nash used to shake her head when I said that we are wealthy folks. She would argue that a bunch of people here are on fixed income and don’t have any extra money to give. I never dared argue with Noni, because I don’t live on a fixed income and I’m sure it was not an easy thing. Still when we compare our wealth with that of people historically or around the world, we have to acknowledge that we are incredibly blessed, and we need to use our money to make the world a better place, a place for God’s love to thrive.

Money, given well, creates capacity. Money, given well, helps our visions become reality. People sometimes joke about hitting the lottery and giving a million dollars to the church. Ha ha. When you know how much I hate gambling, you won’t make that joke around me. I would so much rather have someone giving consistently and faithfully to something they really care about and put their heart and soul into than waste money on a pipe-dream. I want to work toward real dreams and real consistent vision. I want us to have the spiritual discipline of giving week after week, pushing each other to respond to God’s abundant gifts in our lives. Giving is the best kind of habit. 

The Spirit moves toward balance and equity the world, and our giving helps us to read the signs of our time, helps us to create that balance of love and fairness. Finally, we give because God loves us and we respond by loving God and loving each other. This is God’s good news.

Resource: 7 Good reasons to give to the church and 7 Bad reasons of Give to the church, blogposts by MARGARET MARCUSON