Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 12:38-44
Dear generous givers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
God looks at offerings quite differently than we do. We might be tempted to have a list of those who give offerings ranked based on how much everyone gives; God’s not concerned with how much we give compared to someone else but rather how much we give out of what He has given to us. We might be tempted to desire much attention and fanfare when we give large sums of money so that we may seen by others; God says don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand gives so that your giving may be in secret (Matt. 6:3). We might be tempted to say that he who gives more is a better Christian than he who gives less; Jesus says an offering of a penny is more than an offering of large sums of money.
Clearly, God’s not going to change His mind on how He looks at offerings, so we should change ours. We should look at giving to Him the same as He looks at it.
First of all, we should acknowledge that everything we have has been given to us by God as a gift (I Cor. 4:7). We should thus be good stewards of what He has entrusted to us (cf. Matt. 25:14-30). In our use of them, we should keep in mind where our earthly blessings come from, and also remember that we can take none of them with us when we die.
Next, we should not give in order to receive praise from men. God says those who give in order to receive the praise of men have already received their reward (Matt. 6:2). What we give is a matter between us and God. He knows what He has given to us and He sees our hearts when we return offerings to Him.
The main point Jesus is teaching in the case of the widow who gave two copper coins which make a penny is sacrificial giving. Jesus isn’t teaching us to give out of our excess, but to give sacrificially. The rich people who put money into the offering box put in large sums of money. But for the rich people, it was the equivalent of a poorer person digging in their pocket to see what loose change they had and tossing that into the offering box. It was given out of their abundance, like having a cup that is so full that it’s overflowing and thinking that some of what spills out is a generous offering.
The poor widow, on the other hand, only put in two copper coins that make a penny. In the overall scheme of things, that penny has next to no value. But it was everything she had to live on. In the scheme of her life, it had great value. It was everything she had. That is sacrificial giving! Thus Jesus says that the poor widow put in more than all the others who put in great sums out of their abundance.
God does not call us to give sacrificially out of what we do not have, but according to what we do have (II Cor. 8:12). Thus the widow of Zarephath did not give more than she had, but she gave what she did have. Poor as she was, she only had a little bit of flour and oil. She gave to Elijah of her meagre flour and oil, but that gift was more than if a king had prepared a three-day feast for Elijah. The widow of Zarephath also gave everything she had to live on. She gave sacrificially and trusted in God to continue supplying her and her family what they needed.
The idea of sacrificial giving is also found with King David. When David offered a sacrifice to God to avert the plague caused by his census, he did not accept the gift of land and wood and animals offered to him by Araunah the Jebusite, but responded, “No, but I will buy it from you with a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:18-25). David recognized that giving something that cost him nothing is giving nothing. It is not sacrificial giving.
But God does not want His people to give offerings begrudgingly or under compulsion. God says He loves a cheerful giver (II Cor. 9:7), so decide in your heart how much you will give, and then give willingly and cheerfully. Give not because you feel like you have to, but out of a loving response to having all of your sins forgiven. Give out of a desire that your neighbour (whether here or across the world) will also hear the Word of God proclaimed and receive the same forgiveness of sins you have received. After all, it isn’t God who needs your money. It is your neighbour and you who benefit. You both benefit from hearing God’s Word and receiving His gifts which are supported by the offerings you give.
There are also additional benefits to be had. In Malachi, God challenges His people who were withholding their tithes and offerings to test Him. “Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” (3:10-11)
God told His people that He had been withholding His earthly blessings from them because they weren’t giving Him tithes and offerings. In fact, God tells the people that in this way they were robbing Him. But God says, “Put me to the test. See if I don’t rain more earthly blessings on you than you ever thought imaginable. Put me to the test. See if the fruit of your soil isn’t better and richer. Put me to the test. See if your meagre flour and oil given to God don’t multiply and sustain your household for many days.”
All of this flows from the forgiveness of sins. Offerings are our joyful response to the forgiveness of sins. After all, it was Jesus who gave sacrificially. He gave His very life for us. He left the riches of heaven to come to earth to sacrificially serve us. He was beaten, mocked, whipped, and crucified for us. He sacrificed His life to save us. That is sacrificial giving!
Whether you put one dollar on the offering plate or one thousand dollars, neither one earns you the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins has already been earned for you by Jesus, and He gives it to you freely in His Word, in Baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper. And Jesus’ gifts to you are no meagre gifts. The water of Baptism may look meagre. The bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper might also look meagre. But Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are overflowing with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. They give to us all of God’s promises. They give to us eternal life. And God gives these gifts to you freely. No strings attached. That is why God’s gifts to us create a joyful response from us. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.