Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sermon for 11/11/12

Sermon “A Little and A Lot” Dearest Lord, open our hearts to receive from you according to the riches of your grace, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we read about an elderly lady, no husband, no money, one who has outlived her resources. She has a little bit of money, but not much, really not enough. She’s living in poverty with nobody to take care of her. I’m sure if you have been around Christianity for long you have heard sermons about the widow from our Old Testament reading in 1 Kings 17 as well as the widow in the Gospel from Mark 12. Neither of these women has any assets, at least not that we can see. Neither has any hope in earthly things. One is preparing to eat her last meal. One is giving a small amount of money which is a lot to her. I’ve heard the sermons and you probably have also, those about how when we dedicate all that we have to the Lord he takes it and makes it a lot. It preaches well. Leaves us with a good feeling, especially if we don’t have much money and we decide to make a big pledge by faith to support the church or maybe a missions project. The preacher turns into an auctioneer and begins working the price up, building an emotional frenzy that will bring in the pledges. Here’s one I saw, actually experienced, once. The evangelist was talking about the love of money being the root of all evil. Of course, he misquoted 1 Timothy 6:10, just as I did. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. But he persuaded people to find their wallets, take money out of them, hold it up to God, and wave it before Him, renouncing the Devil. Then he proceeded to pass the offering plates an extra time. Tremendous peer pressure to put money in the plate. Who seemed to be loving money? But people will take these passages and use them to pile the guilt on their hearers. If we truly trust the Lord, won’t we want to give away everything we have? If we really trust God, won’t we pledge our last cent to his kingdom? If we really trust God enough we can dedicate ourselves, our resources, our families, all we have, to his service. Now don’t get me wrong. Our Lord calls us to lay down our lives. He demands our life, our all. There’s no question about that. Yet we see the Bible full of examples of people, wealthy people, using their resources wisely to further God’s work on earth, including providing for the needs of their family in their own generation and in future generations. If God has blessed you with the ability to earn money and set it aside for your family, use it wisely. Give in a planned and reasoned way, give extra when there are needs you are aware of and when you are able to contribute to those needs, and care for your family. I’m veering off from the Gospel passage for a moment. I hope you’ll forgive me. Many people talk about the “tithe,” a 10% portion of your income, as the appropriate amount to give. They will tie this back to Old Testament passages requiring the giving of a tenth. “Tithe” literally means “tenth.” This seems to be an idea that has caught on and has remained within the body of Christ. I’ve even run across church congregations in which the membership agrees to give a tenth of their gross income in the offering or to be subject to church discipline. I know some of us in this room have been in situations where that is the norm, and it’s a good norm, at least the giving part, not the discipline part. If everyone in this congregation gave ten percent we would have enough to help those who are in need, to support many ministry projects locally and around the world, we’d have an abundance. It isn’t a bad idea at all. But there is something flawed in the reasoning. At the time when God called Israel to make those offerings, they provided not only for the needs of the priesthood and for charity to the poor, they also provided for all the functions of government which were necessary in the nation. There was no separate civil government taxing the people. To make matters more complicated, in some years there were multiple different offerings of a tenth of your increase, resulting in a much higher level of giving. In the New Testament we do see Jesus complimenting the Pharisees because they are rigorous about giving the offerings required by Moses, but we also see the apostolic pattern from 1 Corinthians 16:2 of setting aside something on the first day of the week, Sunday, “in keeping with” income. The percentage isn’t mentioned. At that time there is a civil government which taxes its people. There are plenty of needs for giving. There will always be poor among us. There will always be projects we need to accomplish. But the idea of the ten percent doesn’t seem to be specifically what the New Testament would require. Instead we see a picture much more like a planned amount that is fitting in terms of our income and the needs of others, as well as additional offerings from time to time as needs present themselves. This might just revolutionize our giving strategy. We use the money God has given us in a planned way to meet the known needs as well as we can, setting aside a budgeted amount, and supporting God’s people. At the same time we realize that the Church does not serve all the functions that our government has assumed. We give liberally so there will not be a need for continual special offerings. And we do it, like the widows in our readings today, in faith, trusting that the Lord who provided us with all we have is able to make it last as long as he wants to. We do it in faith, knowing that God’s mercy is upon us and that he will use us to show mercy upon others. We give not to be seen, but to accomplish what is needful. There, we’ve returned to mark 12. Jesus commends this widow who gives what she has. He wants us to realize that we also have nothing in particular. We ourselves are poor. We have no means of our own, it all comes from the Lord. We have no great claim to glory and honor. We simply go about our business, helping others as well as we can, in the end being unsung heroes. We give our little bit. We trust in our Lord. And as everyone does the same, we find that the confidence we have in Jesus is a great reward. We find that we are lacking nothing. And when we are lacking something, since there is an abundance of giving, we are not afraid to ask our brothers and sisters, the body of Christ, to support us in our need. What is our need? Most of the time we need prayer and encouragement. As I’ve gone around visiting people in the Faith Lutheran congregation, making it to more of the homes of people who are not shut-ins, the biggest need people have talked about has been a need for encouragement. May the Lord grant that our times of worship and fellowship together can be a time for encouragement. Have you told someone recently what a blessing he is? Have you gone to those who are sick or troubled and brought them care? It’s a job for all of us, not just the pastor. What other needs do we have? I hear from people who might come to church more often or more easily if they had a ride. Do some of us drive right past with empty seats in our cars? We used to attend a church congregation with a number of younger families. It wasn’t uncommon to find a sort of a swap meet in the parking lot after worship. Our family often had the back of the van propped open with a number of items from our house which we were no longer using, ready for others to take. Other people did the same. Sometimes we brought things to church that didn’t come back with us. Sometimes we went to church and brought back gifts. We never know what we’ll find. Sometimes there are other needs, financial needs, a need for help with a big project. Can we step up to the plate, let our needs be known, and trust that Christ’s people will meet our needs? Or do we want to be like those people Jesus talked about in Mark 12 who say their lives are in perfect order, who deny their poverty, who give rich gifts to be seen by others? May God give us the grace he gave the widow, to give out of our poverty, realizing that we have nothing that doesn’t come from our Lord, that we need his grace in every way. What is the greatest need we have, and we all do have it? It’s the need we express week after week, that need for forgiveness. Are we ready to admit our poverty in spirit before the Lord? Are we ready to confess that we are sinners in need of salvation? Are we ready to confess that we are too quick to trust in our own ways, in our own ability, in our own resources? Then let us turn to our Lord and Savior in faith. Jesus, God the Son, gave his life as a sacrifice for our sin. He gave the riches that we need, his perfect eternal life. As we look to him in trust, he will give that life to us. We don’t really bring anything, just a couple of copper coins. He brings us forgiveness, life, and salvation. And he delivers it to us freely, richly, as we trust in him and receive from the Word of God. Let us pray. Lord of all, let us see that we in ourselves are poor widows with no inheritance. Yet as you give us what we need through Word and Sacrament, make us trust you and live as those who have received all your grace and mercy. Have mercy upon us, Lord Jesus, Amen.

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