November 06, 2006

Looking Forward to November 12, 2006 -- 23rd Sunday After Pentecost

THe Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
  • Psalm 127 (VU p. 851)
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: 1 Kings 17:8-16
  • From the Gospel: Mark 12:38-44

The Hymns for the week are:

The Sermon title is The Gift of Giving

Early Thoughts: IT is that time of year again -- Stewardship season. And there are few better stories in the Gospels around Stewardship than that of the Widow's Mite.

The widow is highlighted not because of the size of her gift, but because of its nature. Although it is small, it is a bigger part (or percentage) of what she has to live on. It is more sacrificial.

There is a flaw in much of our stewardship talk. The flaw is in how we talk about our gifts. On the one hand we are sometimes afraid to ask for gifts (is a gift still a gift if it is asked for?) and so we say "give whatever you can afford/whatever you want". On the other hand, we sometimes talk about stewardship as the gift we owe to God. Both of these are flawed because they degrade the gifts.

In the first instance we fail to highlight the importance of the gift. Not surprisingly, churches which answer the "What should I give?" question in this way tend to get smaller gifts. If we don't show whay we feel stewardship is important then those who we are educating (whether we know it or not we are educating them) will also not see the gift to the church as important--we end up giving what is left, only to find that there is little "left".

The second approach (which often includes tithing) makes our free gift seem more like a debt that needs to be paid. Gifts to God, however offered, are not payments of a debt. They may well be thank-offerings, gifts of gratitude. But they are never something we owe to God because we owe God nothing. All we have is a gift from God -- and a true gift comes with no expectation of payback.

The beter approach lies somewhere between those two extremes (not important and a debt). We need to find those ways that we awaken a desire to give sacrificially. We need to be able to explain why we give, why we find it important to give. And let's be honest, we need to name that if we make giving a priority it might mean that something else will get the "leftovers".

In the end it isn't the amount of the gift that matters. In the end it doesn't really matter if you give to God's work through the congregation, or through the Mission & Service fund, or through some other way. What matters is that you give. What matters is that we become aware of our own giftedness and respond gratefully.

There is a danger in highlighting the passages we use this Sunday as well. The story of Elijah may lead us to think that if we give we will be rewarded -- indeed there is a movement called the "prosperity gospel" that teaches just that. This is not a gift, it is an investment. And remember that the rewards God gives are not always so measurable. With the Gospel passage we may see ourselves as the widow, giving all we have/can. BUt maybe we are like the rich in their finery making a show of the gift. We need to remember that a gift, when truly given, needs no fanfare. It can be quietly slipped into the plate or under the office door. Believe me when I say that such quiet, yet large and sacrificial, giving happens all the time in many places across the country.

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