Commended by the Giver

March 25, 2018

Everyone enjoys being recognized for the good they have accomplished even if they do the “No really, you don’t have to” thing.  They enjoy being thanked and acknowledged for what they’ve done, maybe not publically but people want to know they have made a difference in their world.  The scripture that dearest to the heart of many is the picture of Jesus welcoming us into heaven saying, “well done my good and faithful servant.”

But the same doesn’t always hold true for money, at least for a lot of us we aren’t comfortable when we are recognized publically for our giving.

Apparently, there are some things that shouldn’t be talked about in public, sex, your giving and being a Habs fan.

When we did the capital campaign to raise the initial funding for our building there were three of us who made our commitments publically.  It was part of the plan for the pastor and the campaign directors, to publically make their commitments as part of the leadership process and it was open to others on the leadership team if they desired to, and one other person chose to.  We had people leave the church over that very issue or at least that was the excuse they gave.

What was it the man said, excuses are like noses everybody has one and they all smell.  And so we were told that by publically stating what we intended to give we were putting people on a guilt trip.  Guess we should have talked about sex, actually that is next month.

Or maybe we aren’t comfortable with seeing other people being recognized for their giving.  We like to keep it a secret.

As a matter of fact people have a scripture that they trot out whenever the issue comes up, words of Jesus from the sermon on the mount, you are probably familiar with them Matthew 6:3-4 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Of course, that criticism was levelled at people who wanted others to see how much they gave, right? All you have to do is go back one verse and you read Matthew 6:2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.

If the truth be known too many people use that scripture for the opposite reason, they don’t want people to know how little they give.  But if we look into the gospels we see a couple of examples where Jesus very publically commended people for their giving, what they gave and how they gave it.  And in doing so condemned others for their lack of giving or at least the attitude with which they gave.

So here we are in week last of our Stewardship month, “Giving to the Giver.”  You can all breathe a sigh of relief.  Money month almost over.

For those who are visiting with us or new to Cornerstone this is an annual event.  Each Spring I take the opportunity to teach the theology of stewardship, which is a fancy way of saying we look at what the Bible says about money, what got, how we get it and what we do with it after we get it.  Nice thing is that means I won’t ambush you about money throughout the year.

And we culminate Money Month with an event we call Step Up Cornerstone which happens today, and we will be talking more about that later in the service.

Sometimes pastors choose to not speak about money in church, maybe in hopes that somehow their people will learn about it on their own, perhaps by osmosis.

Or maybe it’s because they feel that talking about money is too personal or too obtrusive. but Jesus talked a lot about money, he talked about the way people make it and what they do with it after they have it.

And because money is talked about in the scriptures, and because Jesus seemed to attach a great deal of importance to it, to the point of linking it to our eternities it is something that needs to be addressed. And we can’t just ignore it because it bothers some people and offends other people.

Seriously, what would happen if every preacher prepared his messages in an effort to not offend or bother anyone?  You might as well open fortune cookies.

During Week one we spoke about “The Giver”, that would be Jesus.  In week 2 we looked at “The Giver on Giving”, last week was “Giving to the Giver” as we looked t practical examples of people giving to Jesus.

This week we are going to look at some folks whose were commended by Jesus for their giving.

The first story comes from the scripture that was read earlier.  Jesus has been invited to have dinner with one of the religious leaders, a man by the name of Simon.  In the social climate of the day it was probably a big deal for this young Galilean preacher to be invited into the home of a Pharisee.

And as they are sitting down to eat the well planned evening takes an unexpected turn.  The scriptures tell us this Luke 7:37-38 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

So, there you are at the Bishop’s house just getting ready for the meal and in prances a floozy in a vinyl miniskirt, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels.  Well, she probably wasn’t dressed that way, but she might as well have been because her hair was down and that sent the same message.

We think of the Hijab as kind of a Muslim thing, but Jewish women were covering their hair 2000 years before the Koran was written and Christian women for 600 years before Mohammed began to preach.

Not sure what is exactly meant by immoral woman, some versions simply say she was a sinner, but she had probably either been accused of adultery or was a prostitute.  Which understand, not trying to justify anyone’s actions but if she was a woman who had been widowed and had no family or her husband had left her and she had no one to care for her there would have been very few options open to her as far as occupations went 2000 years ago.

Regardless, she falls in front of Jesus and pours the perfume she had brought on his feet and starts wiping them clean with her loose hair.  Well their host is a little put out, at her for crashing his party and at Jesus for not stopping her or condemning her.  Continuing on in the story we read Luke 7:39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

Makes perfect sense but after Jesus tells a story, he was pretty good at that, he makes this statement.  Luke 7:44-47 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

So, Jesus commended the woman and in so doing condemned Simon.

The second example we have is a very familiar story found in the gospel of Mark.  Jesus had been teaching in the temple and we are told that he moves over close to the offering box, which by the way is located on the back table by the sound booth if anyone is wondering, and we are told that he watched what people were giving.

That’s kind of rude, at least many people today would think that it was.  Just imagine if I stationed myself back by the offering box and checked your envelopes as you put them in.

Wouldn’t have to say anything I’m sure that my expressions would speak volumes. The Bible tells us in Mark 12:41 Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts.  In the King James and New King James versions, it reads a little differently.  Mark 12:41 Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much.  Did you notice that the difference there?  It said that he saw how they were giving.  It wasn’t just a matter of the “what” it was a matter of the “how”.  He moved it from a decision of the head to a decision of the heart.  And if we continue the story Mark 12:42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.

You may remember from Sunday school or church as a child that she put in two mites, or maybe you have even heard the phrase “a Widow’s Mite”. A friend of mine in Truro told me one time as a child he couldn’t understand why the widow put two “Mice” in the offering box, or how she got them through the slot.

But it wasn’t mice it was a mite, which is from an old English word for a small Flemish coin, but Old English wasn’t spoken 2000 years ago in Galilee and the woman didn’t put a Flemish Coin in the offering box. Instead, it was a Greek coin called a lepton.

Found this out on a website called “Forum Ancient Coins”.   I learned this:  The lepton is the very smallest denomination and is probably the true “widow’s mite.” In fact, the lepton is probably the lowest denomination coin ever struck by any nation in all of history!

As a matter of fact, the word Lepton literally means a thin one.

So realistically here is Jesus watching what people are dropping in the offering box and how they are doing it.  Rich people are putting in lots of money, the Bible actually says “large amounts” and along comes this widow lady and drops in her two cents. Now to be fair it doesn’t say how much the rich folks were putting in, it just comments on the quantity not the value of their gift.

Have you ever heard the expression “A Kansas city bankroll”?  It is a term for a roll of money consisting of a roll of one-dollar bills wrapped in either a fifty or a hundred dollar bill, to give the impression that the person had a pile of money.

There have been some commentators who have suggested that the rich folks weren’t necessarily putting in huge amounts of money, just large amounts of money.  That is they may have been throwing in a handful of leptons, just sounded like a lot when they landed.

That was free, but from a worldly perspective you would think the ones who should be recognized are those who put in much but instead Jesus points to the woman and says  Mark 12:43-44 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”

Do you get that?  Jesus commended the widow and condemned the rich people.

 

What do we learn from these two very different stories?

Jesus Commended Giving that was Sacrificial

What Jesus was teaching us here is it’s not what we give but what we keep that matters.  When we did our capital campaign back in 04 our tagline was “Not equal giving but equal sacrifice.”  We challenged the people who made up the church to give sacrificially in order to see this building become a reality.

And we had gifts that ranged from $700.00 to over $70,000.00

And what was a sacrifice to me may not have been a sacrifice to someone else and vice versa.  That’s what

Jesus was looking for; the amount of the gift doesn’t matter nearly as much as it’s cost to the giver.  Both the widow and the woman with the perfume gave sacrificially.  They didn’t give from what they had they gave from what they didn’t have.

And God is still watching what we give and what we keep.  There are people in this congregation who do both.  Some give out of their means and some give out of their meanness.  You know what I mean, when it comes to giving some people stop at nothing.

And our giving to God should cost us something.  If you don’t miss it, then it probably isn’t a sacrificial gift.  God isn’t looking for a tip, what you put in the offering box isn’t the admittance charge to the service.  It is your sacrificial gift to God.  William Barclay said “It may well be a sign of the decadence of the church and the failure of our Christianity that gifts have to be coaxed out of church people, and that often they will not give at all unless they get something back in the way of entertainment or of goods.”  And that’s not a sacrifice.

Which brings us to the next point.

Jesus Commended Giving that Had A Certain Recklessness to It. In both of these cases there didn’t appear to be a great deal of wisdom in the gifts that were made.  Jesus said the widow gave all she had and if we read the story of the woman who washed Christ feet the perfume is referred to as both expensive and rare. This wasn’t dollar store stuff.

To some people the amount of money that others give to the church seems reckless, “How can you justify giving that much?  What about retirement or the kid’s college funds.”  Questions that could have been asked to both of these women.

For most of us we could figure out something to do with the money we give to the church, we could invest it or we could spend it we could save it.  There would be all kinds of options and none would seem as reckless as giving it to God.

But let’s look at a different story in the bible: in Luke 12 Jesus tells the story of a rich farmer whose did incredibly well, and so he did the wise thing, he reinvested what he made in order to make more.

He was wise, at least in most people’s minds he would have been wise, let’s pick up and let Jesus tell the story, Luke 12:16-21 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!” ’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

It would appear that he made the right investments.  He may have invested for this life but he certainly hadn’t invested wisely in the next life.  And maybe that was the reckless investment.

And sometimes that means that it doesn’t work out right on paper.

There is another story and this one we wouldn’t have expected.

Here we find Jesus in another one of his discussions with the religious leaders of the day.  Those discussions never seem to end well, and this one is no exception.

Let’s pick the story up in, Luke 11:42 “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

Jesus Commended Obedient Giving

This is kind of cool, Jesus never said anything nice about these guys, in various places in the bible he calls them hypocrites, fools, snakes and corpses.  And yet here he is saying “Way to go with the tithe guys.”  He condemns them for ignoring justice and the love of God, but he goes on to say “You should tithe, yes.”

Now I understand that these guys weren’t necessarily tithing because they loved God, or with pure motives.  But they had taken to heart the commandments found throughout the Old Testament to return one-tenth of what God had given them back to God. They were even tithing their herbs which they weren’t required to do, that would be like tithing your winning Tim Horton’s Tabs.

They tithed because the believed it was the right thing to do and for all the things that Jesus condemned these men for he didn’t criticize them for their giving.

It is fitting that while God is honoured by our worship that he should also be honoured with our giving.  And if you are singing about how much you love God but that isn’t demonstrated in tangible ways he must be shaking his head in confusion.

Two thoughts to close, Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:9 Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce.  Are you doing that?  We mentioned a couple of weeks that compared to most of the world we are stinking rich, obscenely wealthy, so how do we honour God with that wealth?

And Martin Luther wrote these words 500 years ago, “People go through 3 conversions: their head, their heart and their pocketbook.  Unfortunately, not all at the same time.”  Where are you on that faith journey?


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