April 3, 2019- The Widow’s Mite, the Shema, and the First Commandment-Mark 12:41-44, Deuteronomy 6:4-8, Matthew 22:34-40

poor widow

And he (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all 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 (ESV)

Jesus’ account of the poor widow isn’t meant to guilt trip us into putting all of our money in the collection plate. Jesus isn’t really even talking about just our money.  While we should be good stewards of what God provides us, and we should be mindful of our giving of time, talent and resources to the mission of the church, Jesus is really talking about the First Commandment and what it is to take it seriously.

We can all agree that the shema – which is the primary prayer and petition of the Jewish people- is good.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-8 (ESV)

Jesus underscores the shema as being the foundation of God’s Law as well:

But when the Pharisees heard that he (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)

So the question Jesus asks of us is, “Do you really love God with all your heart and soul and mind? Do you really love other people like you love yourself?”

The answer to this question is, “No, we don’t.”

We don’t love God with all our heart and soul and mind – and we certainly don’t love others like we love ourselves because we can’t. No matter how hard we may try, we fall short.  Cats meow, dogs bark, and sinners sin.  As long as we live this life in these imperfect bodies, we will still be subject to the curse of sin. We are powerless to love perfectly, and we cannot love God and others in and of our own strength.

We can only love God and others, as imperfect and fallen as we are, by the grace of God in Christ.  We, like the poor widow, have nothing to offer God but ourselves in our weakness and poverty.   Jesus loves God, and loves fallen humanity perfectly in a way we are not capable of.  He gives us the faith we need to be able to give even our imperfect selves.

This isn’t to say that the Law is a bad thing. The Law is a good thing because it shows us our desperate need for Jesus.  Jesus lived out the Law perfectly, not only in love toward God, but also in love for us.  He gave His life- which was all that He had here on this earth- so that God would see us as being justified under the Law.  He freely took the punishment that brings us peace (Isaiah 53:5.)

That is what love is, and why it is so difficult for us to trust God so fully that we give freely of ourselves for the good of others. In Christ, we know love.  In Christ – by His grace, through faith, we are free to give all that we are and all that we have to Him.

June 6, 2017 – Courage in Generosity- 1 Samuel 25:18-19, 1 Kings 17:8-16

 

Generosity

Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys, and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 1 Samuel 25:18-19 (NRSV)

Not only did Abigail respond in a crisis, but she responded generously, and with prime provender. She didn’t pack up the generic mac-n-cheese or last week’s stale potato chips.  She sent the very best of her household’s goods- not leftovers, not expired canned beets and dented cans of creamed corn, but the good stuff.  She brought out the stuff you would serve to your own family and friends.

It takes a certain amount of selflessness to give others the prime stuff we would rather keep for ourselves. But it is true courage in generosity to give the best of ourselves to others, even when it is at risk of our own personal loss.

Many of us are not wealthy as Abigail was. Many of us are at places in our lives in which we don’t have abundance to give freely and to be generous from.  It is good that God Himself is the source of all good gifts.  Even if we think we have nothing to give, God provides.  It is often when we come to the end of ourselves and of our resources that God gives to us and through us, just as the story of Elijah and the widow illustrates:

Then the word of the Lord came to him, (Elijah) saying,  “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”  So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.”  As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”  But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”  Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.  For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.  1 Kings 17:8-16 (NRSV)

elijah-and-widow-of-zarephath

It takes courage to be generous when we have very little. But God can multiply that very little and make that very little to be something very significant.

God calls us to come as we are, to bring what we are able, and to let Him make us His heroes through our generosity.

 

 

December 23, 2016- Bringing Gifts-Matthew 2:10-11

star-of-bethlehem

“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:10-11 (NRSV)

There’s a saying that it’s more blessed to give than to receive.  How do we really feel about that statement though?

Sometimes it’s really easy to focus on our own needs and lose sight of what those around us might be going through.  It’s easy to be so focused on one’s financial or material needs that it’s hard to remember that another person could benefit even by a blood donation at the Red Cross, or a by donation of clothing or furniture that we aren’t using anymore.

It’s even easier, when we are suffering and in pain, to wall ourselves off and not be aware of the ways we might be able to alleviate the pain and suffering of others. In so doing, we just become more deeply mired in our pain and more stuck in a bad situation. We often have no idea how much joy we could give- and receive- by reaching out to someone who might also be in pain or suffering.

Yet in giving, and in gratitude, we receive far more than we could think to ask for.

The wise men brought Jesus precious and expensive gifts, and this was a beautiful act. Yet there is no gift they could have brought that would compare to the gift He came to give us.

How can we be a blessing- and receive a blessing- by giving today?  Not necessarily materially or financially, but how can we give a gift of service, or care, or time?