Scripture: Mark 12:38--44; 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Hebrews 9:24-28
Subject: Giving - Extravagant Giving
Proposition: The two widows stories show us how to be extravagant givers.
This morning, November 8th is a special day among our Catholic friends. Today is the feast day of the FOUR CROWNED MARTRYS. The FOUR CROWNED MARTYRS were four men (Castorius, Claudius, Nicostratus, and Symphorian) who were tortured and murdered by the Roman Emperor Diocletian for their faith in Jesus Christ back in 305 AD. They had been commissioned to sculpt a statue of the Greek god Asclepius ( (æsˈkliːpiəs), the god of medicine and the son of Apollo. They refused to do the sculpture because of their faith in Christ. At first, Diocletian agreed to their request. But later when they also refused to worship his gods he arrested them. Later on they were tortured and killed because of their faith in Jesus. These four men along with another man named Castorius were faithful even when it meant they would be killed.1
This morning, let me ask you a question - what does it mean to be a saint? I know in our tradition we don't canonize saints but if we did, what would it take to be called a saint? What do you think it takes to be called one of the heroes of the faith? What does it mean to be one of those people who the Bible lifts up for us to emulate and respect? Well, it might surprise you this morning to see who the Bible calls saints and heroes of the faith. While some of them like Abraham, Moses or Mother Mary are quite obvious, others include people who most of us would have never even noticed.
In our Marcan and in our 1 King's passage, we find two unusual ladies whose stories are amazing. These two widows, who we are told are poverty stricken, are considered to be among the saints and heroes of the faith. One possesses only a little meal and some oil, while the other has only a penny's worth of coins. No doubt they both appeared a little haggard and worn for wear. Today, they could have been easily mistaken as either homeless or pan handlers.
It would be easy for us to mistake them for their true identity. For these two widows were:
a. Women of great faith and devotion
b. Women of great sacrifice
c. Women of great obedience
d. Women of extravagant generosity
We might just see them as two poverty stricken widows down on their luck. Heaven saw them as spiritual giants. Heaven saw them as saints in the making. I believe this morning that Heaven wants us to read their stories and be amazed at their love and devotion for God. Heaven lifts them up as heroes of the faith.
So, this morning, let's allow these women to speak to us. Let's allow their stories to interact with our life stories and allow them to influence us and help us in our spiritual formation. Let's take a few moments and sit at their feet and learn some important life lessons. For these two widows have much to teach us this morning.
It may be hard for us to put ourselves into their shoes. The widow part, some here know that life all too well. For they too, have lost their beloved spouses and live alone. However, the depth of poverty, the experience of being down to your last meal or to your last penny most of us 21st century Americans simply do not understand. It is way beyond our comprehension.
We may know what it means to go without some things we want and we may even believe that we do not possess very much. Especially, when we look around and compare our lives to those around us. We may see ourselves poverty stricken because we do not have the finest of cars, homes or other things that our friends possess. However, the truth is that the average American today is richer than 95% of the rest of the world.
We live in a land that has been abundantly blessed by the LORD. We live in a place where there is plenty of food, clothing and shelter. For all of that we praise the LORD, for He has been good to our country and to its people.
In saying all of that we must understand that these widows stories are much more than about possessions and material needs. Their stories reveal to us a great many Biblical truths. Truths that include:
The truth that Our Heavenly Father sees everyone. Our God is not simply the God of the rich and powerful, but our God is the God of the widow, the orphan and the homeless. Our God is the God who cares and loves the least, the last and the lost.
These widows teach us life lessons about what it means to truly be obedient and trust in the LORD. Both women place all they have in the hands of the LORD and depend on Him to take care of their daily needs.
These widows teach us life lessons about sacrifice and surrender. Neither woman gives to receive anything from God. While they believe God will take care of them, they do not approach God as some business partner. They simply surrender themselves to the Lord. They simply believe in God and in His servants.
And they teach us what it means to give extravagantly and what such giving does for us. They teach us what it means to practice the spiritual discipline of giving. They teach us what happens when we allow ourselves to become people of generosity. They teach us what it means to put everything into God's hands.
Why should we care about all of these things ? Why should we be challenged to emulate them in their generosity? How can doing something with our material blessings have anything to do with our spiritual lives? How can being more like these two widows help us to live out a life of holiness today? Let's look at their stories for some of these answers this morning.
I. First of all, they teach us that giving aligns us with Our Heavenly Father
You and I were made into the image of God. Genesis 1:27 reminds us of that fact. But did you know, that part of that image of God that is in us involves us also having a heart of giving? Did you know that God hardwired us to be givers, to be generous? Giving helps us to become what God wants us to be. Giving helps us to become authentic human beings.
Our God is holy. Our God is a God of love. And our God is a God of giving.
In 2 Corinthians 9:6 - 11, the Apostle Paul is teaching the congregation of Corinth these truth. He is wanting them to understand that by giving and by being generous they will in fact be more aligned to their Heavenly Father. They will be more like their Heavenly Father. Listen to part of Paul's teaching:
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”[a]
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
Listen again to verse 10 - He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.
Over and over again the Bible reminds us how much God gives us. He gives us sunshine, rain, seed and harvest. He gives us trees, plants and food to eat. He gives us His only Begotten Son. He gives us everlasting life.
Who put the sun in the sky that provides us warmth and light? Who puts the water in the creeks, streams and wells that provides us water to drink and bathe? Who created the plants and seeds that make up most of our food, clothing and shelter. All that we have around us come from God's gifts to each one of us.
Romans 11:36 reminds us of this truth:
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Our God is a giver. And when we allow God to teach us how to give we align our lives with Him. When we give we fulfill His image in us. When we give we become like Him.
II. Secondly, these two women's stories remind us that giving transforms us - it change us for the better
Extravagant giving does not come natural to most people. Sin has transformed us to be more adept to taking than giving. Sin has caused us to be better at grasping than releasing. Sin causes us to be selfish. Sin causes us to be better at receiving than giving.
And the devil does his best to deceive us to live that kind of life. He wants us to think that when we do decide to give, we must always expect more in return. He wants us always to make sure that in the end we receive more than we give. If we have to give, give only to get. Give only to make a deal and make sure that the deal comes out better for us.
But when we practice the spiritual discipline of giving we notice that our inner lives and our outer lives are radically transformed. There is something that happens to us when we practice generosity. There is something that happens when we are faithful in our tithing, our stewardship and when we give to those in need. There is something that happens inside of us that remolds and remakes us to be like Jesus.
Generosity is not something that happens by accident. You do not just wake up one morning and suddenly you become a person like God, giving and sharing. It only happens as you practice giving. It only happens as you discipline your life to become a giver.
Years ago, I did not know how spiritually intelligent our church leadership was in my home church in this area. Our little church back in Beattyville, Ky. was in need of a church organ and so we all did what we could to raise the money. Some of us children decided to pick up pop bottles, turn them in for the deposit money and then give that money. A great many people helped us and we walked quite a few miles along the highway picking up pop bottles. It was hard work but a great deal of fun as well.
However, I can't remember our church having a party for us or them using part of the money for us children. We simply were taught the spiritual discipline of giving. We had a job to do. We picked up pop bottles and took them to the store and put the money in the offering plate. We learned what it meant to give without expecting to receive something back in return. Sadly, a great many people have never been taught that valuable lesson. They have been taught to always look and see what they get in the process. They have been taught to give but also to look for some kind of pay off or reward. They have been cheated out of some very important spiritual growth.
It wasn't because our parents and church board did not love us. They simply wanted us to experience what it meant to become extravagant givers. They wanted us to be changed from the inside out. It was their goal for us not to become selfish, self-centered or self-absorbed. They wanted us become the people God wanted us to become.
They knew that if we could learn these lessons early we would not have to face some spiritual difficulties later. For they knew that the Devil will come to us and tell us that we can't be generous. They knew that the Devil would even try to convince us that our spiritual lives could be separated from our financial and giving lives. They were looking out for our spiritual health and well being. They were determined that we were going to grow spiritually into mature young men and women. Looking back, I appreciate and thank God for their leadership. They helped us grow in the LORD as extravagant givers.
III. Finally, this morning these two women's stories show us that by practicing the spiritual discipline of extravagant giving it will provide for us a way to stay in balance with the material world we live in.
I think one of the neatest tools or toys that any young boy or girl can have growing up is a compass. You don't see them as much today as you did years ago. I remember getting one either out of a cereal box or as a gift.
I remember going out in the woods back of our house and playing explorer. Supposedly, with a compass you never get lost because all you have to do is follow the right direction. You took the time to make sure that your house was located either east, or west, north or south. Compasses were designed to help us find our way and stay on a true path.
Giving to others will us do the same thing when it comes to living a life of balance. When we give to others its like the spiritual compass in our lives points to the right direction.
We all like making money and we all enjoy nice things. We also enjoy making a positive difference in the lives of other people. But how do we find balance when it come to giving and being generous? How do find balance between having the things we need while at the same time making sure that we are generous when it comes to the LORD and to the least, the lost and the last?
Sociologists tell us that most people feel that if they only made a little more that they could be more giving. That if they just had a little more, then they would use that to give to others. Usually, that amount is about 20%. The idea is that if they only made about 20% more, then they would be happier and be able to give more. However, recent studies have disproved that myth. It seems the exact opposite happens. The more we get the harder it is at times to give.
And at times we have to turn a blind eye to the pressures of our consumer capitalistic culture. We have to allow our spiritual compass to point us into the right direction. Our consumer driven world does its best to shape our priorities and values. And it tries its hardest when it comes to our money and possessions. Advertising, social expectations and the temptation to impress people all are subtle attempts to get us to buy certain items which in turn shape our priorities and values. Advertisements are really just attempts to get us to shape our lives and our values according to the way certain companies want us to live. For we are what we spend and the true treasures of our hearts are shown by what we buy.
If we allow the world to be our compass we will find ourselves
Putting ourselves first instead of God
Worrying and being anxiety ridden over money and possessions
Being the servant of our possessions and money instead of our money and possessions being our servants and tools
In this endless loop of wanting and buying and wanting and buying and never finding true happiness.
But the Bible shows us that there is another way to live. A way to live that brings us in harmony with God, ourselves and with others. This way is through the spiritual discipline of extravagant giving. By practicing generosity we are forced to ask ourselves some very important questions -
1. What exactly is our family's definition of success and wealth?
2. How much do we really need?
3. How much do we really need to keep?
4. What difference can I make in the world through giving?
5. How can I change someone else life by just giving what God has given me?
6. How can I honor God by being generous to the least, the last and the lost?
It seems to me that the Bible tells us that there is two distinct paths that we can take as God's people:
There is the path of these two widows, who were obedient in the giving and God blessed them and today they are wonderful examples of how God can use our giving to transform our lives.
And then there is the path of those like Demas who allowed his love for the world to turn him away from God. There is the path of selfishness like Ananias and Sapphira that caused them to prematurely lose their lives. And there is the path of the Foolish Rich Man who ended up losing his eternal reward over being selfish and self-absorbed.
Charles Frazier in his novel of the American Civil War, COLD MOUNTAIN, tells the story of a fiddler whose life was transformed by an encounter that he had with a dying young girl.2 The fiddler was an alcoholic who spent his time playing for drinks. One day, a horrible explosion happens and a young girl was severely burned having no hope to survive.
Her father sees this fiddler and knowing how much his daughter loves music asks him to come and play for her while she is dying. He believes that the music will assist her and bring her comfort in her final hours.
The fiddler doesn't know what to do. He agrees to go. Entering into the girl's room he beings to play. "Play me another." she asks. The fiddler plays all of his drinking songs. It isn't long until he is played out. He only knows a few songs. He only learned a few to get the drinks he needs. "Make up a tune then," It had never entered his mind to create music. But he has a go at it. Soon, the girl passes away and the father is grateful for what the man has done for his daughter. The man leaves but he is changed. Something wonderful has happened to him.
He came in just a drunk fiddler. But there was something about the girl's request to create music that touched his soul. He looks at his fiddle for the first time and sees it not as something to just play to get drinks but as an instrument that improve him and others. He goes from tavern to tavern a different man. Instead of simply playing five or six tunes he begins to create song after song after song. He begins to study and watch how others play and sees how music can lift the soul. He begins to understand how his playing can change his heart and others hearts as well. Before he knows it, his repertoire has grown to 900 tunes and many of them are his own creations.
He is a changed man. His fiddle is much more than a means to drink. It is now an instrument of transformation. It is now a way to change his life and the lives around him. It is a way that he can give life meaning.
This morning as we close perhaps it would be good for us to take a second look at our money and possessions. Perhaps it would be good for us to look at money and giving in a whole new light. Not simply as a means to providing our needs but as a way to enhance the lives of others. Perhaps this week we could take some of our money that God provides for us and begin to create ways in which that money could be used to give life and happiness to others.
Up to this point perhaps our giving has been just routine and even a little haphazard. We give a little here and there but nothing consistent. Perhaps however, we can see that God can use us to relieve suffering, strengthen His church and our community, restore relationships and even transform lives. Perhaps we can ask the LORD how He can help us find new ways to do extraordinary things for Him and for the Kingdom of God.
Perhaps we too one day will have a story about us like these two widows who simply placed all they had in God's hand and God was able to use it to transform their lives and the lives of those around them.
We are only a few days from Thanksgiving Day. I can't think of a better season for us to take the time and sit down and think about how we can be creative in our giving and in our generosity. This is the perfect time for us to practice the spiritual discipline of giving and generosity. Through our generosity, God can do some extraordinary things. Many of those extraordinary things will happen in our hearts as we find
1. How to be more like our Heavenly Father
2. How giving transforms us from the inside out
3. How giving brings balance and harmony in our lives
As we close this morning, let us sing # 533 - Make Me a Blessing
1 (see http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=3430 for more information)
2The following story is adapted from Robert Schnase little book entitled, "FIVE PRACTICES OF FRUITFUL LIVING." (Abingdon Press, Nashville - pages 135-136). This sermon and writer are indebted to both Robert Schnase writings and to Richard Foster's writing on giving in his book, Celebration of Discipline. Both books are excellent sources that provide a wealth of material.