Make your own free website on Tripod.com

THE MEASURE OF GENEROSITY

 

A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister of Trinity United Church, Montreal, QC.    November 12, 2006.  Mark 12:38-44.

 

"Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  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 12:43-44

 

            In Jesus’ time, widows had a hard time of it.  There was no government pension or allowance to provide for women who were not married.  They did not own property.  The law required that a brother of the deceased husband should marry the widow – if he were not already married.  But what if there were no unmarried brothers-in-law?  Then widows usually had to beg to stay alive.

 

            Most likely the widow in this story was one who had to beg.  And when she came to the temple, there were no offering envelopes, so anyone standing nearby could see what she – and everyone else – contributed.  This widow gave what she could, which was two cents.  Not a very impressive offering compared to what many of the others donated. But Jesus said that she gave more than all the others, because she put in all she had.

 

            So what is this about?  Let’s go back to the story of creation in the book of Genesis.  How does it say that God created man and woman?  It says that they – we – were created in God’s image.  Created like God.  Created to be like God.  So, when we think about it, when this woman gave all she had, she was being like God, who in sending Jesus into the world, also gave all he had.  He gave his only Son.  The church has always distinguished between Jesus and all the other people created in God’s image.  He was the “only begotten” Son – the one in whom all the fullness of God was present and could be seen.  Unlike everyone else, he was “without sin.” 

 

            This, of course, has given and out to lots of people.  “How can we possibly be godlike, when we live in sin?”  “I’m not perfect, you know.”  We know all the lines.  And yet, here is Jesus pointing to this poor widow as an example to follow.  Oh, he didn’t come right out and say, “Do as she has done,” but the message is pretty clear.  Like the widow, we too should give our all – all that we have, and all that we are – to God.

 

            So then, we should dedicate ourselves completely into God’s service.  And we should bring our sons and daughters and dedicate them to God, as Eric and Natacha have today.  And then there is the question of what does God expect us to put into the offering?  As you know, I like to refer to our “tithes and offerings.”  The implication here  is that our tithe is what is required of us, while offerings are what we give after we have given what is required.  And there is a long history of seeing the tithe as ten percent of our income.  But this story about the poor widow puts another slant on the question, doesn’t it?  It says that  we should give our whole living to God.  Not, of course, in the sense of putting it all in the offering plate, but that all that we spend it on – the necessities of life, the extras, the luxuries – they should all be dedicated to God as well.  God wants our all.  All that we have and are and do.

 

            Do you remember the song we used to sing about that?  You know, the longer I am in ministry, the more I realize how our hymnody – our church music – works to form us as followers of Jesus.  This is true of the golden oldies that many of us grew up on – such as “Come let us sing of a wonderful love.”  And it is also true of newer modern hymns and songs that have become favourites for many people – and that are helping form our young people in faith.  Right now I am thinking of two songs that relate to our scripture passage today.  One says,

 

                        Freely, freely, you have received; freely, freely give. 

 

…and then there is one that used to be popular, but didn’t make it into our hymnbook:

 

                        All that I am, all that I do,

                        all that I'll ever have, I offer now to you.

                        Take and sanctify these gifts for your honour, Lord.

                        Knowing that I love and serve you is enough reward.

                        All that I am, all that I do,

                        all that I'll ever have I offer now to you.

 

                        All that I dream, all that I pray,

                        all that I'll ever make, I give to you today.

                        Take and sanctify these gifts for your honour, Lord.

                        Knowing that I love and serve you is enough reward.

                        All that I dream, all that I pray,

                        all that I'll ever make, I give to you today.

 

One of the neat things about these songs is how they make this same connection between how God gives, and how we should give.  God gives his all for us and to us.  In the same way, we should give our all for God – and to God and God’s people.  Some will say that this isn’t possible.  But here I am reminded of Chesterton who said that “"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."  (Chapter 5, What's Wrong With The World, 1910)

 

            So then the challenge is put to us.  God is giving his all for us.  And many of us have given our all for God.  But we can’t just stop and say, “I’ve done my bit,” can we?  No, we can’t.  The amount of our time and our treasure and our talents that we are able to give changes, as our lives change and our circumstances change.  But whatever we have and whatever we do – and whoever we are, God wants our all.  Let us fully commit ourselves – all that we are and do and have, all that we dream and make and pray – completely in the service of God.

 

             Amen.