Sermon  delivered on Sunday November 8, 2009 at St Paul Church by the Reverend Allan Jones.
“For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living” Mk 12:44

The gospel story for today is really in two parts  –  the first part deals with the way in which the wealthy liked to “show-off” in public giving the impression that they were set apart, and holy and better than others. And they did many things to show this as we heard in the reading.  In their private lives however they exploited the poor and the vulnerable.

Jesus condemned their pretense and would have none of it.   It was, and is still, not the way of kingdom people.
In the second part of the reading Jesus contrasts the large offerings of the rich with the small and almost insignificant amounts of the poor, making the point that the poor widow gave more than the rich givers. But he was talking here about the share which each gave of their wealth, or in her case of her poverty, not the amount they contributed.  Indeed she put in all that she had.

If you were sitting with Jesus on that day in the temple who would have made the greater impact on you – the poor widow or the rich givers?

I rather suspect that we would all have seen the rich persons as they gave and very few would have seen the poor widow. In the normal course of things we would watch to see who is, in our context, is contributing the “grantley’s”,  we tend to pay little attention to those who drop in coins – except perhaps to ridicule them behind their backs.
In making his point however Jesus was not criticizing the rich nor was he failing to recognize their contribution. Rather Jesus was highlighting that the proportion the widow gave of herself, of her poverty, was much larger than the actual amount which either the rich persons, or even she herself, gave.  She would have felt her contribution more than any of the other persons there.

Jesus is here more concerned with the impact which the offering has on the person making it moreso than the impact it made on the treasury. We tend normally to look at the impact of the giving on the treasury and for that reason we might pay more attention to the wealthy contributors.   But the focus of Christian stewardship is more on how it feels to give, how it hurts to give.

In the gospels Jesus always brings a different and in many cases a contrasting perspective to events   Just as he was telling his disciples then, he tells us now, that to follow him, to be kingdom people, we have to be different. We have to live towards a different and higher standard because we are called to be different.

And nowhere is this requirement more clear than in the stewardship of our time, talents and our treasure.
Our giving expresses our love for God more than any words we can say or any of our actions.

The poor widow in the story expressed her deep love for God; her faithfulness to God and her total dependence on him by giving all that she had.    

This theme of faith and sacrificial giving is also captured in the Old Testament lesson for today where another widow, of Zarepath, chose to obey Elijah and to use the last of her resources to feed him first without any thought for herself and her son. To the ordinary eyes this widow had nothing to offer – but she was able to give even of her poverty. 
It is significant that this should be the text for this Sunday when we remember the sacrifice of those men who gave their lives in the two world wars –they made the ultimate sacrifice and today we remember them and honour them for this highest act of giving.

But for us in the Anglican Diocese of Barbados the text is of even greater importance as we focus attention on our stewardship today.

For us here at St Paul we have been reflecting over the past weeks on our stewardship as we prepare to renew our pledges, and in some cases make pledges, to God of our time, talent and treasure.  Today I would like us to reflect on stewardship as deliberate, planned and proportionate giving to the building up of the Body of Christ. 

In our baptism we were made “living members of the Church, which is the Body of Christ” and we “committed ourselves in love to God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit”.  In other words we gave ourselves back to God and this can only be lived out in our daily lives if we are deliberate and intentional in our actions.

The act of giving is then not one we do when we feel like and not do when we don’t.  Rather we are required to give what we commit in-spite of everything else. We make giving a discipline - a discipline based on our personal experience of the love of God in Jesus Christ, for us. In other words we give because we know that God is real in our lives and we know our dependence on God.  God gives and God owns us.

Apart from life itself one of our most precious gifts from God is that of time. It is a gift which only God can give. Indeed each of us is given the same number of minutes and the same number of seconds in a day irrespective of who we are – the smallest baby to the busiest world leader.

We cannot carry over some time from today to tomorrow nor can we borrow some from tomorrow to use today, even though we sometimes wish we could. How often have you wished- either secretly or openly- that there were more hours in the day. We seem to have so much to do in so short a time that we become overwhelmed.  But the reality is that we can only do so much in a day and we only frustrate ourselves when we try to do more.  

At the same time each of us is given different lengths of time to live and do God’s work here on earth. We do not know how much time we have and we really have no control over it either. Because of the nature of the time which we are given, both in a day and in a lifetime, Christian stewards recognize the need for a disciplined and intentional approach to the way time is spent, concerned only to   build  up of the church of Christ.

How disciplined and intentional are we in using our time? Are we happy that we are  living out our baptismal commitment?

Christian stewardship is therefore also about planning how much of our gifts we will give back to God. And we need to plan consciously because failure to do so could mean failure to achieve our stewardship goals since there are many other things competing for our gifts.  But already we plan to spend time working and shopping and recreating ourselves. In the same way we also plan time for prayer and bible study and for using out gifts for the benefit of the community?

For us, as for God’s people in the Old Testament we must plan to give of our best. For them God deserved nothing than the best of the “first fruits” and that should be our ideal as well. God deserves only the very best of ourselves.
And what does this mean for us in practical terms?

It means that as we allocate our time we first earmark the time for prayer and for serving the community and then allocate the rest. In other words we give importance to the things of God in our lives. It means also that as we budget our finances we place the church at the top of the list rather than at the bottom, after we have budgeted for the other items. As regards to our talents we should seek to offer only the best. 

Our talents are a sacred trust from God and God expects us to use them. Paul emphasizes this when he tells the Corinthians that there are different kinds of gifts and service but these all have their source in God.  He helps them to understand what these are by listing such gifts as healing and wisdom and faith and knowledge, among others, all of which are given “for the common good”.

But there are others too. The ability to sing. The ability to work with your hands.  The ability to see beauty. All these come from the same source and are for the same purpose.

And each of us has a talent or in some cases a number of talents, as God willed. Because of this no one should ever feel, or be encouraged to feel, that they cannot offer God anything for that would be to deny God within ourselves.
What are our talents that we can use to built up the community?

Finally Christian stewardship involves giving a fixed proportion of our gifts back to God.  In the Old Testament we read of the tithe, where every adult Jew was required to give a tenth of his resources back to God. The story in the Gospel today however highlights sacrificial giving – giving over and beyond the tenth, giving until it hurts in other words – and this must surely be a Christian ideal. Ideally our giving should reflect the extent of our love for God and in the end this is known only to us and God.

Christian giving is then a deliberate and intentional act which makes a first call on our time, talent and treasure. It recognizes a total dependence on God, who deserves only the best. 

And so as we prepare to make a pledge to God of our time, talent and treasure let us reflect prayerfully on our relationship with God and on how much we are led to give in expressing that love. 

Does our giving tell others how we feel about God?  Do our gifts really reflect our love for God?

We give thee but thine own
What e’er the gift may be
All that we have is thine alone
In trust O Lord for thee.

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