24th Sunday after Pentecost
November 8, 2015
“Give Into Uncertainty Rather Than Give In to Uncertainty.”
God’s grace, mercy and peace be to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The basis for sermon is the assigned Gospel lesson for today from Mark 12.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
“Oh great. Here it comes. A sermon about money.” Well, yeah…but give me a chance, okay? You all know the story, but you don’t know all the story. Some things everyone knows about the account of the widow’s mite. I suspect we all know the story itself; it’s really very simple: Jesus watched the people putting money into the temple 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. Upon seeing this, Jesus said, “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.”
Jesus could see people put their offerings in the temple treasury. In His day, offerings weren’t handled the way we do today in church at a specific moment in the service. Instead, there were 13 receptacles in the temple courtyard. Worshipers would walk up and drop in their coins. They had no paper money, just copper or silver or gold. Often, people would mill around and actually watch and give an appropriate reaction when a particularly shiny offering was made or there was a large jingling as the money was deposited.
Then along comes a woman, a widow, obviously poor, with a couple of little copper coins. These were the smallest coins in circulation—in today’s money, a fraction of a cent. But Jesus tells his disciples that her offering was the greatest of all. Sure others gave more in terms of raw dollars, but she gave all she had to live on.
Now something you may not know—or may not always consider—about the story of the widow’s mite: It isn’t primarily a story about proportional giving. It isn’t primarily a narrative about giving at all. If it were, the emphasis would have been all those rich guys puttin’ money into the treasury—undoubtedly they were giving a hefty proportion. 10% was commanded; you can be sure anyone giving for show would exceed that!
The Widow’s Mite is primarily a narrative about faith. Faith is recognizing what God has done for us in the past and believing what he will continue to do for us in the future. What’s the most important aspect of the text: mite, poor, or widow? It’s the fact that she’s a widow! She’d lost her husband, which in those days meant she’d lost her source of income. Yet somehow this woman believed God had still done right by her and she trusted that he would continue to do so in the future.
One thing no one knows for sure about the story of the widow’s mite. What happened to her after she gave? We like to think we know: Maybe Jesus and the disciples took her under their wing, maybe she was blessed to receive even more than she gave, maybe she became part of Jesus’ entourage, but that is kind of unlikely.
It’s no accident that Mark doesn’t tell us what happened. If he did, it would ruin the story. If he did give us some earthly happy ending, we might think the point is that if we do what God wants, he’ll automatically take care of us. If we tithe, our income will go up next year. If we pledge to give 10% or more, God will be sure we don’t lose our jobs. That way of thinking is called a “prosperity gospel,” and it’s a wrong view of scripture. God cares for us and provides for us because he loves us, not because we make a business deal with him, looking for divine dividends of your initial investment.
Mark fully intends to leave us in uncertainty about what happened to the widow, because our Christian offerings are always to be given in the face of uncertainty; they are always an exercise in faith. We don’t know about our jobs next year. We don’t know how long our pensions or savings or Social Security will last. There’s no telling with certainty that your investments or 401K plans are making money. We don’t know we won’t face catastrophic bills. Losing your job and unexpected bills are absolutely possible. They’re always possible – they are a condition of a sin-stained world – because God doesn’t promise that kind of security.
What we do have is a far greater security—one that is altogether certain. Our lesson from Hebrews reminds us, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time . . . to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:28). Here’s something that’s never uncertain. Christ is coming back for us. Heaven is one certainty every Christian can hold on to. Jesus has secured it for us. His death and resurrection has made it certain for everyone who believes. And if we mattered to God that much, we can also be certain that he will care for us every day in the meantime—somehow.
This was the faith of the woman. Not that she’d have a meal tomorrow; she really didn’t know where her next meal was coming from—or if there’d be one. She was giving into uncertainty, wasn’t she? Maybe she would starve, but if so, it would be the culmination of what she’d really been trusting all along. She didn’t trust her money; she trusted in God. God tells us all we need to know to give into uncertainty rather than giving in to uncertainty.
You don’t know for sure your income for the coming year; you don’t know you’ll have an income. You don’t know you’ll have a job. You don’t know what your expenses might turn out to be. But you don’t have to give in to that uncertainty. Even our Treasury department knows better; our US currency is stamped “In GOD We Trust” – a freedom preserved by the brave men and women who have fought and died – TRUE sacrificial giving – to keep America free through the decades, and we are ever so thankful today and always for those who served.
You do know that by faith you have the Lord. You do know he has earned for you eternal life, and that’s absolutely certain. And you do know he already cares for you and that he’s going to care for you because of the cross and empty grave. That’s certain too. In these trying times always be ensured that because of Christ Jesus you can give into uncertainty rather than giving in to uncertainty.
There…that wasn’t so bad, was it? Amen.