What Would Jesus Say About Our Offering?

small_304589198Have you ever thought you had privacy when you really have not? There is something about putting on a full-face motorcycle helmet that can make you think you have as much privacy as sitting in a car, and so I have heard at least one motorcyclist singing at the top of his lungs while waiting for a light to turn green! We take privacy seriously at Calvary and have all the policies and procedures in place to ensure people’s givings are kept confidential. I am not aware of what people give. But one thing we cannot do is ensure that giving is kept hidden from the Lord’s eyes. Let us consider one moment that Jesus was watching the offerings:

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.” Mark 12:41-44 (NRSV)

A few questions may help us get into this passage:

1. Who is the example of generosity?

The rich put in a lot of money while the poor widow put in very little. Yet according to Jesus she is the example of generosity for she is making the greater sacrifice. Suppose I were to peach on tithing and everyone walked away convicted that they ought to give 10% of their income. Now suppose one such person earns a million a year, and therefore commits to giving $100,000 a year. We would certainly celebrate such generosity and the opportunities it would grant a small church like ours to increase in mission and ministry. Now suppose a single mom with children and rent earning $25,000 a year commits $2500. Who is more generous? I do not know this from experience but I would think you could live quite comfortably on $900,000 a year. I also do not know this from experience but I would think a family living on $25,000 per year would miss the $2500 very much.

Now we need to make a decision. By commending the generosity of the poor widow is Jesus commanding those of little means to give what little they have or is he challenging those with abundance to break through to greater generosity? For the rich, a 10% tithe may keep the religious police happy, but does it please the Lord? For the poor, a 10% tithe may keep the religious police happy, but does it further cripple people who are already financially beaten down? Which leads us to our next question.

2. Is Jesus celebrating or lamenting?

We tend to assume that Jesus is celebrating the generosity of the poor widow here. However some Biblical scholars think rather that Jesus is lamenting over what he sees. Consider what Jesus said immediately before this:

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.” Mark 12:38-40 (NRSV emphasis mine)

What we may have here is Jesus pointing to the poor widow as an example of someone who is “devoured” by the religious leaders. That she, “out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (v.44) may be something regrettable. It is worth noting that Jesus next speaks about the destruction of the temple. The poor widow has just given all she had to support something that will soon be under judgement.

Or perhaps we have both, that along with a condemnation of the scribes’ warped religiosity is a commendation of the widow’s generosity. The religious leaders are looking to take all the poor widow has to live on, and soon they will be looking to take the life of Jesus. But the poor widow’s heart is generous and she gives what she has to live on, pointing forward to the supreme example of generosity, Jesus, who gives His life.

We can tend to get pretty religious when it comes to financial support for the church. Jesus has a lot to say about money, yet he never directly commands or commends a tithe. Nor does it appear to be a theme within the early Church as we encounter it in the New Testament. But generosity is something that is very much commended by our Lord and the apostles. Generosity is a character trait the Holy Spirit develops within us as we yield our lives to the Lord. The question is not “are you tithing” but “are you being generous toward the Lord’s work?” What generosity looks like will be different for each person. 10% may be a good goal for a great many, but it may not be wise for some, and may not be generous for others. We do well to drive not deeper into religion, but deeper into our relationship with Christ to discern the answer to that question. Which leads us to our final question:

3. If we were the ones Jesus watched putting our offering into the treasury that day, what would He say?

This part is for you to write: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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Being Foolish with Abundance

small__3538871771Inheritances can be a terrible source of stress for families. The first ever funeral I presided over was graveside with everyone standing, yet they still managed to have a centre aisle. A fight over inheritance had already formed the family into two distinct camps. And I had to decide which of two receptions I would attend! So if you want to avoid fights over your possessions when you die, spend you children’s inheritances well!

Inheritance was a thorny issue for a man who seeks the help of Jesus: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13 NRSV). Jesus goes on to speak not about relationships and conflict resolution as one might expect, but money: “And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’” (Luke 12:15 NRSV) Then follows a parable about an inheritance:

The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? ’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this:I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. ’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? ’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21 NRSV)

The fool in the parable is foolish for three reasons.

First, the fool is keeping an abundance for himself. ‘I’ shows up a lot in his thinking. In fact the only conversation he has is with himself. When you look at your plans for your abundance, your budget, does ‘I’ show up a lot? And when you look at the expenses column, how much of that has been on treasures you can not keep?

20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? . . . 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:20,33 NRSV)

Second, the fool may be keeping an abundance for a rainy day that may never come. How many of us think ahead and fret over the troubles that may come upon us? And we build our abundance to ensure we will be okay when the rains of trouble fall. We do not know if they will ever fall on us, but we do know that they are already falling on others. We can help others from our abundance, but we won’t if we are overly stressing over our own future.

22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens:they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow:they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. (Luke 12:22-30 NRSV)

This does not mean that we should not plan for the future, and planning ahead for potential unforeseen financial difficulties is wise. But there is a fine line between between worry about, and proper concern for, between obsessing over, and taking responsibility for.

Third, in hoarding an abundance, the fool is able to relax:

Then he said, ‘I will do this:I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:18-19 NRSV)

Isn’t relaxing a good thing? Yes, and the Lord makes provision for it through commanding Sabbath rest. But the Kingdom is not built through relaxation. What potential Kingdom projects would never see the light of day because the fool was taking it easy? He had so much potential that was about to go to waste.

I am reminded of a slogan popular among atheists recently: ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ Some Christians responded with ‘There is a God, Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ Either way, that sentiment could lead to a lot of wasted potential. With Jesus it is rather: “Jesus is Lord, now stop worrying and pick up your cross and follow.” Stop worrying about abundance, but show concern for a hurting world. We are not to obsess over our own abundance, but we are to obsess over Christ’s Kingdom and the abundance of love that is part and parcel of it.

31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:31-34 NRSV)

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Being Sheepish in Our Generosity

small_3491337641The following is a very familiar passage, so familiar perhaps, that we might skip through it rather than read it carefully. So to help us slow down and read more carefully, let me ask you as you read it to identify what the sheep are and are not aware of:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? ’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 25:31-40 NRSV)

What are the sheep aware of? People in need and how to help. That was easy, now, what are the sheep not aware of? Easiest to spot is that they are not aware that in serving “the least of these” they are really serving the King. They are also not aware of the potential for a reward through their service. Finally, the sheep are not aware that not only are they serving the Son of Man, the King, through serving others, they are emulating Him. Being generous in a time of need is the kind of thing God does. Consider the exodus from Egypt:

7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10 NRSV)

God saw the need, he heard the distress of the people in need, and he helped. That rescue of God’s people in the Old Testament pointed to an even greater rescue to come for people facing the greatest need ever. In Biblical times, and today there is slavery, there is oppression, there is division and painful dividing. There is addiction, there is violence and violation. There is conflict, international, and interpersonal. What is at the heart of all that? Exactly that which God came to save us from: sin. There are many who are unaware of sin, who are unaware of needing a rescue, but before we are ever aware of our need for God’s love, God knew our need and had the rescue already planned out. Sin separates us from God and destroys our ability to be fully human and in full relationship with other humans, but God was moved to help: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28 NRSV)

As sheep, we are called to emulate the Son of Man, Jesus, and be gospel people. Yes, sometimes we will sense and know a specific call from God to “go here and do that” or better, “go there, and help them.” But whether we sense that specific call or not, we all have a call to be gospel people. What do gospel people do? Gospel people proclaim God’s gospel, the good news of God’s rescue of us from the penalty and power of sin in Christ. But Gospel people also live the gospel. Having been rescued, we seek to rescue. Having been helped in our need, we seek to help others in their need. How much of ourselves are we to give? How much generosity is enough? To answer that we do well to remember “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.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NRSV)

Being in the midst of a bathroom renovation I was interested in a recent tv show highlighting some really spiffy bathroom renovations. One such cost over $500,000. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to stand before the Lord someday and explain why I felt that was necessary. Nor do I want to stand before the millions living without running water and explain why I need a loo worth half-a-million American dollars. But are there financial decisions I will be ashamed of? Are you and I really aware of the need and our potential to help? What does generosity look like in your life?

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. ’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you? ’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. ’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:41-46 NRSV)

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