Mark 12:41-44 & 2 Cor 8:7-14 Dedication Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert 8 November 2015
“It’s not fair.” In societies around the world, fairness is one of most fundamental moral values. A number of recent research studies make it clear that children begin thinking about fairness early in life. Three-year-olds sometimes take actions to remedy unfair distribution of prizes, and even 15-month-olds show sensitivity to unfair behavior that they see. However, every parent knows that self-interest often overrides these concerns. (Gail Heyman, PhD, Psychology Today.com) After all, when does a kid scream out, “It’s not fair!” Is it when the brother or sister is being treated unfairly, or when he or she has less than another. I remember very clearly the importance of cup height when doling out juice to my young children. It did not matter if one cup was wide and actually had more volume. No, for children the taller cup was always the better cup, unless there was one with a curly straw or some other factor of coolness.
To some degree, we are all in need of growing up, with regard to fairness. The most generous people are the ones who have grown up, who have stopped hoarding for selfish purposes and starting giving altruistically, because they see the needs of others.
So the first step in maturity is to seek first to understand another, then to be understood. Only when we develop the ability to step into the shoes of another, can we truly learn to be generous – generous with our whole self.
In both the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus invites the disciples to see life from the perspective of a poor but very generous widow, and in the Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, where he challenges one congregation to think hard about the needs of another, are we able to truly see what fair balance means.
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." (NRS)
2 Corinthians 8:7-14
7 Now as you excel in everything-- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you-- so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. 8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something-- 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has-- not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. (NRS)
What matters in life is not what happens to you, but what you remember and how you remember it. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Laureate in Literature What are the life stories you tell yourself about you? Are you busy thinking about how life is dealt you a short-hand? Are you always feeling sorry for yourself? Is your glass half empty? Do you think life is just not fair?
Do you think everyone else is better-off than you? Better-looking, younger, healthier, more successful, luckier, enjoying a better life?
If you are busy telling yourself that story, you are no more mature than the kid who is whining to the teacher because somebody else got one more piece of candy or the front of the lunch line two days in a row. Sorry to be harsh, but it is hard to stay happily married, if you are always assuming that someone else has a better wife or husband. Think about it. It is hard to be content with your home, your clothes, your car, your job, your grades, your children, if you are always coveting, wishing for someone else’s? The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but it took a lot of chemicals to make that happen. It is hard to be content and truly enjoy the food you have on your plate and in your refrigerator, if you have an insatiable appetite for more, more, more. Cannot ever get enough! And why it is that the wealthiest people always seem to be longing for more while those with simple lifestyles often notice how blessed they are?
Jesus drew his disciples’ attention to the widow. Remember in Jesus’ day, among the reasonably healthy people, the poorest of the poor were widows and orphans. Very different from naming a widow today. Widow is not synonymous with poor. Jesus did not speak to the widow nor to those giving large sums. He talked to the disciples – to make sure they understood that that her offering, which was two lepta, which if you bring into today’s currency, was about two dollars. So she’s like the guy Dirk saw in McDonald’s. She’s got just about enough to pay for a cheap dinner.
Let’s put it in a modern context. She who lives on one income or one social security check gives twenty-five dollars/week to church is giving far more than the one who has many investments and gives $250/week to church. Now in the church budget, the first person is giving $1300 annually, and it is a challenge to that’s person’s lifestyle to give that. But the second giver ($250/week) is giving 13,000 annually and it is no real hardship whatsoever.
This is what Jesus is talking about when he says, the widow is far more generous because she is giving what she needs to live on. She will have to make adjustments in the way she lives. She will actually need to depend on God to because of her offering.
Now in our other scripture reading, Paul challenges the Corinthians to be generous and uses the example of the Macedonian churches north of the area of Greece where Corinth is. Macedonia included the Philippians and the Thessalonians. So Paul says to the Corinthians, who are in a wealthy port city, “See the poorer churches in Macedonia were very generous in their love.” He wants them to get on with being generous.
8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something-- 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has-- not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.
When we give to the presbytery and the whole denomination, our gift is based on our congregation size and our budget size. Not all churches give what the presbytery asks, but the ask is a fair balance, based on what each church has. And our church always gives at least as much as is asked, because we know the value of gifts to the connectional church. We would not be here without those gifts. So it is easy for the presbytery to determine the fair balance, because the budgets of our churches are known.
We don’t know what the fair balance is for you at Peace. A flat tax would not be fair. For a poor person to give 10% of income is so much more than for a rich person to give 10% of income.
What I want of us to remember is this: Though Jesus Christ was rich, yet for our sakes, he became poor, that we through his poverty, might be made rich. When you understand fully how richly blessed you are, then you want to give generously. Because you know you have more than enough, and you also know many people are struggling. And when the community has greater need, it is the duty of those who have the most disposable income to help the most. Not that I encourage laziness on anyone’s part, but those who have more, have more responsibility – in order that there may be a fair balance.
If we all had equal ability to contribute here at Peace, the individual pledge would be $60/week. That’s what it takes to make our operating budget – an average of $60 per week from each family or individual. But for all of us to give the same amount when we have very different circumstances would not be fair. If you never have to worry that you will be able to pay your bills and buy your groceries, if you eat out all you want and have money for a vacation, then maybe you could and should give a lot more than $60/week. Consider it. So that there’s a fair balance between your abundance and other people’s need. Some of us need to give 2, 4, or even 6 times the average gift because we can without personal suffering. It’s the joy of giving because you can make a real difference. Think about your pledge today. Have you just written down a reasonable amount or have you stretched yourself? It is not too late. Don’t turn a pledge that has not challenged your lifestyle. Some of you can join Richard and me in giving more, with no trouble, and others of you can be relieved of the pressure, knowing that somebody else is giving more than average to ease your load.
I remember times in our life when we were juggling bills, fighting off credit card debt like a monster in a real-life nightmare, because we could not live on what we were earning. That is a miserable feeling. That’s why Richard and I want to take the pressure off you and share the burden. Remember that Jesus not applauding Richard and me for our giving.
He is noticing the one who struggles to give, but still has the faith to do it anyway. If you are in a deep hole, then by all means, don’t make a pledge you cannot keep. Just promise a couple of dollars each week. Surely weekly gifts to God are worth more than a cheap burger and fries. Better for you too. Decide what you are able to give and be both bold and cheerful about it. You have control over giving and your attitude about giving. If you are worried God will not take care of you, if you are thinking others should give more out of fairness, then you cannot be a cheerful giver.
When it comes down to it, life is not fair. Some people have more comforts than others. Some have hardship than others, and that’s why we want to be as generous as we can with the three T’s - time, talent, and treasure – all important gifts to give. Our faith is rooted in the knowledge of a God, who came to earth as Jesus Christ, to give his life for us. He spent his life teaching that God values the poor, the lowly, the sick, the outcast, the financially weak. We know that he gave up what he had – power, wealth, even life itself – that in giving it to us, we would know life, and that by following him, we would see that giving generously to others is the best way to have a joyful and meaningful life. As John Wesley said, “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” As that other important, but not quite so reverent Englishman Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”