Extravagant Generosity

Mark 12:38-44
Gratitude Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert
November 11, 2012

 In the early years of my ministry, I had a strong discomfort with stewardship sermons.    But in the last decade, I have become more accustomed to preaching and more comfortable talking about money.   After all, our finances are a big factor in life.   How we spend or save our money says a lot about our priorities.
2 Corinthians 9:7-9 says  Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.  My job is not to help us meet the budget, whatever that might be for next year, but to encourage you to live as faithful, generous disciples of Jesus Christ.    Living with generosity of spirit and resources is a fruitful and joyful way to live.   Hands and hearts open, not clutched tight.   A funny illustration of the tight-fisted man:
A husband went into a department store to buy an anniversary gift for his wife.   He asked the store clerk, "How much does this perfume cost?"   “$50” she answered.   He was shocked.  “Fifty dollars for that small bottle!” he said.   “Can you show me something cheap?”   The clerk reached down under the cabinet and pulled out a mirror and held it up to his face.
(slide) I have observed that money attitudes are tied up with depth of faith.  How much do I really trust God and others, or do I just rely on myself?   Faith in God vs. Fear that it’s all on me.   Also the issue of control vs. surrender– is God in charge of my life or am I?   And the issue of gratitude vs. dissatisfaction.   Do I count my blessings, giving thanks to God, or am I never satisfied with what I have?   And finally, the issue of humility vs pride.   Can I be content to give God whatever I am capable of giving, without worry of comparison with others – others higher or lower.
Trust vs. Fear.  Commitment vs. Control.  Gratitude vs Grumbling.  Humility vs. Pride.

Today’s story from Mark’s Gospel will help us see some of these issues played out.  NRS  Mark 12:38 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."

Beware of pride, Jesus says.  The pride of having so much that one loses compassion for the one who has very little.   The pride of expectation – that I deserve a better life than this other person.   I deserve the respect and the comforts of a life of prominence and prestige.  I think it is interesting that Jesus sits to watch what people are putting in the temple treasury.    He is interested in what we give and with what attitude we give it.  Our commitment and trust in God matters.     But clearly what doesn’t matter is the amount, in comparison to others.   What matters is the amount we give in comparison to what we actually have in our bank accounts.   What matters is giving sacrificially.  That’s what the widow did.   She actually gave all she had to live on.    She was “all in.”  Now that’s extravagant, especially for a widow or orphans, who in Biblical times were the most vulnerable and weak, with little opportunity to improve their lot.
Jesus tells his disciples that the poor widow who gave the two mites, which would be the spending equivalent of two dollars for us, gave more than all the wealthy people putting in large sums because she gave all she had to live on.
In other words, the widow gave so much that she was forced to trust God.   Now perhaps she had to go without food for a day until she got paid the next day, assuming she was earning daily wages.   Perhaps she knew she had family she could rely on for food that day.   But the point is, she put her last dollar in.
Helen, a woman living in subsidized housing in the church where I grew up was like this widow.   Helen was single, poor, and in the end, homebound at the end, but she would get her social security check and immediately take the ten percent and say in her unpolished accent, “Dis here belongs to God, not me.   Take it to church, will you?”  Helen put me to shame with her top priority giving. 
Often times, we figure out what we need for our lifestyle before considering what belongs to God.   Sometimes we consider what will help us with taxes.  Do we ever consider lifestyle adjustments?  In fact, giving is one area of life in which we can make measurable growth in faithfulness.   I can try to live up to the high standards of maintaining love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, and so forth.   But I will always fail and it is difficult to measure, especially if you ask me, versus asking my family and friends.   With pledging, I can make measurable growth in trusting God.    I remember in our early marriage when it was hard for Richard and me to put $20 a week in the plate.   But every year of our marriage, we have tried to increase our giving, and decrease our wasteful discretionary spending.   Every year I share with you our pledge, because if I’m asking boldly for yours, it seems only right that I should be accountable for mine. This coming year we are giving $200 weekly to the operating fund, and we anticipate pledging $100/week to the special fund for future building expenses beginning in the first quarter of next year.   This is what we will put on our pledge card for next Sunday.
This total of $300/week next year will really stretch us, even though we have two comfortable 5 figure incomes.   But we have three in college, and very little saved for retirement, which makes me nervous.  I often want to retract out of fear, but I keep reminding myself that God can be trusted to provide.  I can let go of trying to control the future.   I can be generous in thanking God, but never prideful enough to think that I’ve really reached the goal, or achieved more than others in giving. 
Now it must be said that $20/week is a stretch for some people, especially if you are single, or if this is a new discipline.   If you’re trying to get into better shape physically, you don’t just go out and run ten miles the first day.   You would collapse.   You might have a heart attack or a stroke.   No, you start small and build.   The same is true with financial giving.   Start with something manageable.   Budget it off the top, not bottom of your budget.   If you’re like me, you have to think first about where you waste money or where your primary fears lie.
We give to Peace Church, first and foremost, because we are thankful for all God has given us.  (click)  Everything we have is a gift from God, so we can at least give a portion back in gratitude.  Secondly, we give to Peace Church, because giving is a spiritual discipline and we need to grow spiritually and have not matured.  (click) The commitment we make now in pledging helps guide our discretionary spending next year.  We give to Peace, thirdly, because we believe in Peace’s mission and want Peace to thrive.   (click)  A growing church has a growing budget.   In the last year at Peace one of every 10 dollars has gone to missions, to benevolences beyond Peace.  Six out of every 10 dollars given at Peace goes to personnel, and 2 dollars out of ten go to pay the rent and bills, so there’s only 1 dollar out of every ten that we can actually choose to spend on advertising, youth conferences or curriculum or coffee for Sunday mornings.   It is a tight budget.
I invite you to consider what we might be able to do as a church if most of us were able to continue or increase our giving to Peace for operations, but adding a commitment in February to a special fund for building costs.   Would you be able to give half of your pledge again to help Peace secure a permanent location for ministry?  $100 to operating and $50 to building each week?   $20 to operating and $10 to building each week?   You may not have noticed but the Manatee Association of Realtors have not taken these buildings off the market, even after we assured them we would happy to continue renting for the next three years.   We had a plan.   God laughed.   We’re still working and praying.  We’ll keep you posted.   We have come way too far for God not to complete what was started seven plus years ago.    We can trust God to carry Peace forward, with your sacrificial and generous support.   Join us in giving as you are able.  Whatever it is, make it your joyful sacrifice of praise.  Don’t give ‘til it hurts, give ‘til it feels good.
(slide) I want to end with some gratitude for our Veterans on this day of remembrance, because their sacrifice is a good witness like that of the extravagantly generous widow.    Think about it.   All of us value the freedom, opportunity, comforts and the protection we enjoy in this country.   I suppose all of us have a role to play in the preservation of those values, but the veterans have, like the widow, been willing to put their very lives on the line for these privileges which we all enjoy.    What a debt of gratitude to we owe to them for their sacrifices.   Similarly, we owe a debt of gratitude to all people at Peace who are sacrificing to preserve the values of this church through generous giving.
(slide) A missionary once asked a new convert, “Pablo, if you had a hundred sheep, would you give fifty of them to the Lord’s work?”  He answered, “You know I would gladly give them.”   “Pablo, if you had fifty cows, would you give twenty-five to the Lord’s work?”   “Yes, you know I would be more than happy to do that.”  Again the missionary asked, “Pablo, if you had two pigs, would you give one of them to the Lord’s work?”  “That’s not fair,” Pablo replied. “You know I have two pigs.”   Many people are extremely generous in theory but not in practice. They say, “If I only had a million dollars, I would give half of it away.” This is simply not true.   If we aren’t faithfully giving five or ten percent of our money right now, we likely wouldn’t give away half a million dollars if we had it. (Kent Crockett, Making Today Count for Eternity, p. 151-152) 
So start with where you are, not where you’d like to be, in terms of financial security.   Give what you can with a grateful heart and that nerve-wracking leap of faith.  Trust in God to get you to the other side of the week, month, year, or the other side of life.   Fear not.   Let God control your future by making a commitment to put God first.    Spend more time in gratitude than in grumbling.   And in humility, refuse to compare yourselves with others.   Extravagant generosity begins with trust in an extravagantly generous God who gives us 1000 gifts every day, if only we would open our eyes.  As Ann Voskamp said in her book 1000 Gifts, “Slapping a sloppy brush of gratitude over everything leaves me deeply thankful for nothing.”   So join us for lunch today as we continue counting our blessings, one by one, seeing more clearly all God has done.