Oct. 21, 2018

Mite We Live Generously?

Hebrews 13:5

Mark 12:41-44


Our scripture today is a familiar story about giving. It focuses on Jesus sitting in the Women’s court of the temple watching as people come up and give their offerings. As we look into this story do any of you want to share your sense of its meaning? [They share].

            Clearly that message has stuck with you. But today we want to learn something new. We want to hear a fresh message from Jesus about giving. We want it to come to life again, so that we may have our faith in him awakened again. Pray with me that God will give us the ability to open our minds and hearts in a new way. [Prayer]

            So we begin with scripture, the story and the words, the ideas that stand out to us. It is only four verses, but they are powerful. [Read]

            Parts of the story stand out to us. What stands out to you? At the very start we hear about Jesus sitting down opposite the treasury. Mark makes sure to give us this detail because he wants us to know that Jesus is sitting in a way that allows him to watch as people come and go. He has spent a lot of time in this area, teaching exhorting and preaching. And we know that the temple structure has several chambers, as we see in the slides. The treasury includes two outer wall areas where offering containers are place, 13 in all. These containers have a wooden box at the bottom and a hornlike brass funnel at the top. When money is dropped into one, we hear a clanging sound, maybe something like this [demonstrate].

            If someone gave a lot we would hear more noise for a longer time. Kind of like God hitting the jackpot at a Vegas slot machine. So when various people came in to make their donations, we would hear what they were giving. The sound would draw our attention. And we would notice those who give a lot. And according to what Jesus tells us the rich gave a lot and enjoyed the attention of having people look and see them giving. It would be an affirmation of their positions of power and prestige. It would confirm the idea that those with wealth are also righteous. The most common view here is that God gave them wealth, which is a demonstration of God’s blessing on their lives.

What if we had our giving displayed to the congregation and world.  Just make a list of every person or family’s giving and put up on the fellowship wall for everyone to see. How would each of us feel about that? It certainly would make some people feel good and others bad. We are reluctant to share that kind of information because people might compare it to theirs. And we would compare ourselves to others.  I hope you can see the correlation. We would notice, like those watching in the court, and see who gave more and who gave less and hear the sound of their coins funneling down the tube.

Viewers would naturally pay less attention to those who gave little, maybe because they were embarrassed for them or maybe because they were seen as less important.

            In some respects that is how our world works today. Those who have the wealth and power make sure we hear about it and they often flaunt it blatantly. They believe their status and entitlement is a blessing from God that separates them from ordinary people. The rich and powerful have greater voice in this story and the same is true of our society today. Nobody is making TV shows featuring poor people and widows. We don’t see ads promoting humility and generous giving. Jesus speaks to this sense of privilege in many encounters with the Pharisees and scribes.

            The structure of the temple itself is a representation of power, separating people into categories and positions. The inner holy of holies was accessible only to the highest priestly class. The next court was open to Jewish men. The women’s court was as far as women were allowed to go. Gentiles were not allowed beyond the outer court. So we have a hierarchy of access built into the religion, its rituals and worship.

            Jesus spent a lot of his time in the women’s court where every Jew could enter and hear his message. This is where he turned over the moneychangers’ tables. This is where he engaged Jewish leaders on numerous occasions.

            On this day Jesus and his disciples were sitting against the wall, watching people give their donations. They were not alone. There was a crowd in the area. This is his temple, built to honor and worship him.  And we might even consider a narrative where we would see Jesus embracing all of the activities and the giving, because they are honoring him. But he doesn’t do this. He doesn’t affirm the temple system or hierarchy. Instead, he turns it upside down.

And when he makes his comment about the widow, he is commenting on the whole system. He is commenting on what human beings have made of him in the temple and in their behavior. He’s not really talking about the amount of money being offered. He’s not talking about the need to give or tithe. He is stating a fact about the kingdom of heaven.

He identifies the widow as the most generous giver because she has given from her lack, what she does not have. She is giving to the church before she is paying her bills.  While the others have given from their surplus. He says she put in more than all the others even though what she has given is the smallest acceptable offering amount allowed.

Her giving drew no attention from the crowd and the wealthy ignored her. She was a nobody to pretty much everyone but Jesus who memorialized her in this and the Lukan scriptures. In the Kingdom of heaven, poverty is wealth and wealth is poverty. Jesus didn’t hang around the rich. He was born and raised in humble settings.

Note that in an earlier passage, Jesus talks about widows again, helping us understand this text more clearly. In Mark 12:38-40 Jesus says, “watch out for the lawyers. They like to walk around in long robes they want to be greeted with honor. They long for places of honor in the synagogue and temple. They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes. They will be judged most harshly.”

We learn something about the kingdom of heaven. We learn about generous living. We learn about human nature. We learn about our own tendencies to make giving about us, our needs, our status, and our place in society. He shows us what happens when we build temples that do not truly honor him. Seventy years later, the temple was utterly destroyed and its treasury plundered.

The widow was not looking at others. She was not comparing herself to others.  She was not concerned about how others looked upon her. She was not concerned about how her bills would be paid. She was concerned about living generously. Because her connection with God came before everything else and that offering was her insurance that she would continue to live in his grace and blessing.

            The widow demonstrates and exemplifies the state of humility and dependence upon God.

The inherent danger for us is to look at this story from a place of privilege rather than a place of humility a place of faithfulness. So that when we give we do not need to exercise faith in God.

            When I give from my heart, generously, I am entering the presence of God. And that is the place I want to be 24/7.