Looking forward to our Every Member Response next Sunday I have chosen a text from Luke for this sermon’s stewardship theme. This is from the 21st chapter:
“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.” (Like 21:1-3)
Well, the story may be moving, but it isn’t logical. Why would the widow put in all her money – two coins of little worth? She could have put in one coin and used the other to buy food. She still would have been giving 50% of her income. 50%. Half. Enough to warm the heart of the temple treasurers.
Do you suppose she did it because she figured the temple needed it? Maybe the roof leaked. Maybe it had a mortgage. Maybe the rabbi needed a raise.
Maybe it was pledging month at the temple. Maybe the treasury committee had added up all the expenses and had divided it by all the temple goers and had declared that everybody owed 100 coins. And she only had two. So she threw in both and lived in fear that she would be criticized for not having the other 98.
Maybe, at the temple, pledging time was like the one Lutheran church where they handed out the proposed budget at their annual meeting and ole Clem didn’t think it was specific enough. So Clem stood up and said, “I demand to see the budget broken down.” The pastor replied, “Then why don’t you come back in August, Clem. The budget usually breaks down about then.”
And, you know, that’s the way Every Member Response time happens in too many of our churches. The budget is prepared by listing the expenses. The expenses are added up. And – surprise! -- they are more than last year. Then the stewardship committee goes out and tries to get the income line to match the expense line. Members make out their statements of intended giving from guilt and fear. Guilt that they can’t give more and fear that the church might fail if they don’t. Isn’t that what Every Member Response Sunday is often about – the church’s need to receive.
But I don’t need to preach a sermon on our need to receive. You know we passed a deficit budget this year. You know we needed to do a Try-A-Tithe Sunday to make up for it. Yes, things are tight.
But instead of talking about the church’s need to receive, I’d like to talk about our need to give. In the last century, an American tourist traveled to Poland to visit the famous rabbi Hofetz Chaim. Noticing that his room had only a table, a chair, and some books, the American asked, “Rabbi, where is your furniture.” The rabbi replied, “My furniture? Where is your furniture, my friend?” The American said, “But I am only a tourist, passing through.” “So am I,” replied the Rabbi. “So am I.”
When we use the word “stewardship” that is what we are talking about. Taking care of those things God has given us as we pass through this life. Interesting word, “steward.” In the Old English it was something like “sty-ward” and meant the warden of the sty, or the person who was in charge of the pigs. It is the English word we use to translate the biblical concept of someone who is in charge of something which belongs to someone else. A steward was usually one who the master of the house employed to take care of all the business. The stewards never actually owned any of that which they took care of, but they cared for it just as if it were their own.
We – you and I – are taking care of things which God has entrusted to us throughout this journey in life. It all came from God in the first place. We are not sty-wards just of the pigsty and the accompanying manor house. We are not stewards of even just Rabbi Chaim’s simple table, chair, and books. But we are asked to care for something even more precious. Something which, as scripture tells us, neither rust nor moth can consume – the Word of God.
In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God. This word was always a redeeming Word – a creative essence which made order out of chaos and light out of darkness. This word became flesh and dwelt among us. And died for us. That all who believe and are baptized may be saved.
That’s where we come into this ethereal proclamation of an elusive theological concept. You and I were born in flesh and blood and, for most of us, before too much time passed we were brought by loving parents into the midst of a loving congregation and baptized. The Word was spoken – the word which has been with God and is God – the Word was spoken and the water was poured and you and I received the greatest gifts we will ever receive: forgiveness of sins, deliverance from the power of the devil, and everlasting life.
You’ve heard me say before that we ought to recapture Halloween as a religious holiday. It used to be that time of year where, on the eve of all Hallows Day (which later morphed into All Saints Day as we know it) – that adults and children alike were invited to mock the forces which no longer hold power over baptized believers.
And since the devil no longer has power over baptized believers, people dressed up like him – mocked him. Since death no longer has power over baptized believers people dressed up like death – skeletons and corpses (today, it would be zombies.) All these things can be laughed at by those who have been handed the victory by the one who won it for us on the cross. It is no longer a contest between God and Satan. God won. As our presiding Bishop Eaton said, “If there is a hell I think it is empty.”
This, I think, is why the widow put in both her coins. God had given her everything he had. She was giving God everything she had… because she had faith and trust and thanksgiving for an all-powerful and an all-loving creator.
Next Sunday is Response Sunday here at CTS. You have been mailed Statements of Intended giving for you to bring to the altar during the service next Sunday. These are not pledges. They are not contracts. It is simply a statement of what you intend to give to CTS during the coming year. If, for some reason, your income should be reduced, you may need to reduce your giving. On the other hand, if it increases or if you receive a windfall, you may choose to increase your giving. This would be a particularly good year for us to be reminded that you can give stock which has appreciated in value. You can claim the appreciated value as a deduction on your tax returns and also avoid paying capital gains.
Also, more and more of us here at CTS are converting to electronic giving. We highly encourage this. Bishop Graham tells me that, nationally, less than half of our Lutheran offerings are given by check. That way your gifts come to church when you can’t. Contact your bank or see Heather about our Simply Giving program.
Each year, also, I encourage us all to consider proportionate giving. Check out line 34 on your tax return – the adjusted gross income. Ask yourself what proportion of that is right for you. Some of practice the spiritual discipline of tithing. A good place to start is proportional giving. What proportion is right for you?
For the widow, the proportion was 100%. I’m guessing that’s not your proportion. It isn’t mine. But neither is it like the family who came home after church one day and were talking at the dinner table. Dad didn’t like the pastor’s sermon. Mom said the choir sang off key. Sister said the pews were too hard. Brother listened to all this and said, “I didn’t think it was a bad show for a buck!”
I only preach one money sermon per year. You have heard it. Please consider your Statement of Intended Giving prayerfully and carefully before you bring it with you next Sunday – Response Sunday.
Scripture: Luke 21:1-3