Meeting Jesus: The Widow’s Offering

Meeting Jesus: The Widow’s Offering
A Message on Luke 21:1-4
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 27, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 21:1-4 (NRSV)

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

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Today as we continue our sermon series, “Meeting Jesus,” we are going to turn to the 21st chapter of the Gospel of Luke and look at a poor widow who gave two “mites,” or two small copper coins, at the Temple in Jerusalem. Now this is also found in the 12th chapter of Mark, but today we’re going to focus on Luke’s account.

Now I am aware that technically the widow doesn’t specifically “meet” Jesus. But Jesus does see her and remarks about her to those around him, so I say that’s close enough.

We need some context, though, as to why Jesus is saying this, and perhaps more importantly, who he is saying it to. If we back up one chapter in Luke we find that Jesus is dealing with the religious leaders of the day who are upset with him because he is bucking the status quo. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Scribes were very much “this is the way we’ve always done it” kind of people, and Jesus was upsetting the religious apple cart.

Chapter 20 begins with Jesus in Jerusalem where he is teaching in the temple. The chief priests, scribes, and elders come to Jesus and try to trap him with questions. They ask him by whose authority he is doing all the things he is doing. He responds by asking them a question about the baptisms John was doing, whether it was of heavenly or human origin. They were afraid to answer, so they didn’t.

Then he tells the parable of the wicked tenants, about how they not only wouldn’t pay the appropriate share to the landowner, but beat and even killed those sent to collect it.

Then the religious leaders send spies to ask Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to the emperor. Jesus asks for a coin, asks them whose image is on the coin, and then tells them to give to the emperor those things that belong to him, and to give to God the things that belong to God.

Then some Sadducees come and asked Jesus about resurrection. The Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection, so they had all their arguments lined up to counter him. But he answers them in such a way they are afraid to ask him any more questions.

Then Jesus asks them how David’s son can be the messiah, before completing the chapter with this charge against the religious leaders:

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20:46-47

It is then that Jesus witnesses the widow placing her two coins in the treasury and commends her for it within hearing of the religious leaders.

Now the scribes were the ones that interpreted the scriptures for the people. We have to remember that printing presses were not available in the 1st Century Holy Land, and the scriptures of the Old Testament were written on scrolls. So the scribes not only kept these scrolls but also interpreted them for the people.

Now some people today, especially the TV preachers, have interpreted the passage of the widow giving her last two coins to mean that people should give all they have to their ministry. They say that if you give everything to them then God will bless you financially, as if God is an investment firm that will provide a great and generous return on your investment.

No. If the love of money is the root of all evil, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy, then why would God try to give us more? Now don’t get me wrong, I think there are blessings received when we give to God, but it is extremely rare that those blessings turn out to be financial.

I think that what Jesus is saying in observing the widow giving her two coins, her last two coins, is the hypocrisy of the scribes who guilted the widows into giving everything they had to the treasury.

Now today is Commitment Sunday, and you may be thinking, “That’s a weird thing to say on Commitment Sunday.” And in all probability our financial secretary, Sarah Hugghins, is probably having a spell of high blood pressure right now, wondering where I’m going with this, but I want to make something perfectly clear: If you are down to your last two cents, don’t give it to the church. Instead come to our food pantry on Thursday (actually see me after worship) and the church will give you some food.

I don’t want to guilt you into giving to the church. Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t give to the church. What I am saying is if you only have two pennies then don’t give them to the church.

If, however, you are not impoverished, and I mean truly impoverished, then I am asking you to give to the church. I am asking you to pray to God and then complete an estimate of giving card and drop it in one of the baskets on the altar rail in just a few minutes.

Why am I asking you to do this? It’s simple, really. We are working on the budget for the church for the coming year. In order to do that we need to have an estimate of giving so we can estimate what the income for the church will be. We then base the expenses of the budget on that estimate.

I think it’s more important this year than in years past. We have lost a lot of faithful saints this past year, either through death or from moving away from Jacksonville. Sarah as estimated how much those people gave, and it comes up to about $23,000. That’s a lot.

To quote that ol’ country song, “Who’s going to fill their shoes?”

Statistics show that for every long term church member lost, it takes five new church members to match that financial level.

The reality is that ministry takes money. The electric bill has to be paid every month. The water bill has to be paid. We have to have insurance on this wonderful facility. We have arguably the best children’s and youth programs in the area, but they aren’t free. Our Adopt-a-School program is making a difference in the lives of West Side Elementary Students as well as teachers and staff. Our food pantry feeds between 50 and 75 families every week.

We have an excellent staff here at JFUMC, but they need to be paid as well. As the Bible says in both Deuteronomy and 1 Timothy, “Do not muzzle the oxen when they are treading out the grain.”

Bottom line is it costs to be the church. It was that way in the first Century, it’s been that way throughout the years, and it’s still that way now.

Giving to the church is a spiritual matter. It is a matter of the heart.

I asked Sarah Hugghins to break down our giving in terms of how many people give how much. Here is a graph that shows that.

Out of 224 giving units, this is how they break down: We have six giving units that give more than $20,000 a year. These six giving units contribute more than 34 percent of our entire budget. (Thank you, by the way!) We have one giving unit that gives between $15,000 to $20,000, five who give between $10,000 and $15,000, two who give between $8,000 to $10,000, 15 who give between $5,000 and $8,000, 28 who give between $3,000 and $5,000, 54 who give between $1,000 and $3,000, and 114 that give between $1 and $1,000.

And we also have 69 people who, unless they give cash in the plates that Sarah can’t count, who don’t give any.

Now I want to be clear that as pastor I don’t know who gives what. That is by my choice. As a matter of fact, that goes against what us pastors are told by stewardship specialists. They say pastors need to know what everyone in the church gives. But the reason I don’t want to know is that I don’t want to even subconsciously treat someone differently when it comes to pastoral care.

So, as you fill out your estimate of giving card please know that I will not see it. Sarah Hugghins, our financial secretary, is the only one that sees them. The only one I see is the one that Pam and I fill out and turn in. (And yes, we do turn one in, in case you are wondering.)

Also be aware that the estimate of giving card does not obligate you by legal contract to give that amount to the church. It is an estimate of giving, and if changes in your financial situation changes happen during the year your estimate of giving can change. We’re not going to send some guy named Guido to track you down in hit you in the knees if you get behind. No. Sarah sends out quarterly statements, and that’s it. No guilt, no pressure.

Let’s talk about terminology for a minute. Let’s talk about tithes and offerings. The Bible tells us to give a tithe of our income. Well, what is a tithe? A tithe is 10 percent of your income. There is some debate as to whether that is gross or net income, which is something you need to decide for yourself. But a tithe is 10 percent.

Offerings are anything above that, those gifts that you give in addition to your tithe.

As Christians we are obligated to support the church with our giving. As United Methodists when we join we make a covenant agreement to support the church with our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.” We don’t get to pick and choose which those we want to do and which ones we don’t want to do. It’s all of them, and that includes gifts, both monetarily and in other ways as well.

Giving is a part of who we are as Christians, as United Methodists, and as members of Jacksonville First United Methodist Church.

So my challenge to you today is to be generous in your gifts to the church. Before you turn in your estimate of giving consider raising it one or two percent. You don’t even have to do the math. Just write “+ 2 percent” beside your estimate. Sarah will do the calculations for you. Help us to continue the legacy that those that have gone before us were instrumental in establishing.

And if you only have two pennies, let me know. I don’t want you to give it to the church. Meet me after church and we will get you some groceries. After all, we are the church.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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