For The Love of God is Giving
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"For The Love of God is Giving"
The widow Jesus points out in today's passage is considerably different than one I read about in newspaper article a number of years ago. It seems that in Indianapolis, a wealthy widow was found dead in her home. The police discovered over 5 million dollars in cash stuffed in trash cans, shoe boxes, drawers, tool boxes, paper bags, the pockets of clothing and even in a vacuum cleaner bag. Most of the money was in $100 bills. Two million of the money was found in a trash can next to the widow's bed. Mrs. Marjorie Jackson, dressed in flannel pajamas and a housecoat, was found on the kitchen floor. There was no foul play.
It seems Mrs. Jackson was the widow of a very wealthy husband who died leaving her an estate of over 14 million dollars. There we two brand new Cadillac Sevilles in the garage, each with less than 1,000 miles on them. It seems that in the past, the police had responded to numerous burglary and vandalism reports from Mrs. Jackson's home. But when they arrived, Mrs. Jackson would order them off of her property. When police arrived to investigate this time they had to cut three padlocks off of the driveway gate just to get on the property.
Mrs. Jackson is considerably different than the nameless widow in our passage. Mrs. Jackson was wealthy. Our widow was poor. Mrs. Jackson hoarded her money and was paranoid that someone would steal it so she hid it all over the house. Our widow was generous and gave all that she had. Mrs. Jackson's life was miserable because of her money. Our widow's life, though she had very little, was filled with joy. (1)
What was the difference? What made the difference? It was their attitude toward what they had. And that's what I want to talk about today. God's love for us is very giving. God gives us life. God gives us hope. God gives us forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. God gives us His only Son as our Savior. The love of God is giving. And when we operate out of that understanding of life, then we will live with the same attitude as the widow whom Jesus lifted as an example. There are three qualities which she possessed, which we need.
I. GIVING BEGINS WITH HUMILITY:
A. All that we have and all that we are is the result of God's graciousness. God created us. God provides for all of our needs. Not our wants and desires, but our daily needs. The talents we have are given to us by God. We use and build upon those God given talents and abilities in order to earn a living for our families. We may buy stuff with the money we earn but even those things can be attributed to God because we used our God given talents to earn the money to buy the things. There is nothing which we have which does not come from God. God is our Creator. We are the created. God knows our needs just like parents know their children's needs.
Remembering this helps us focus our thoughts and our lives upon God. A life focused upon God is exactly what God most desires for each of us. Not because God is an old meany who doesn't want us to have any fun. But simply because a life focused on God gives life joy and quality.
There's a story about a little girl who climbed up in her grandmother's lap, looked at her white hair and wrinkles and then asked, "Did God make you?"
"Yes," she said.
Then the little girl asked, "Did God make me too?"
Grandma said, "Yes."
"Well," said the little girl "Don't you think God's doing a better job now than He used to?"
The little girl might have been mixed up about when God created her Grandmother but she sure got the notion of being created right. Knowing where we come from and where all that we have comes from keeps us humble.
B. The very first attitude the widow had was HUMILITY. Someone might argue that she didn't have any choice but to be humble, she was poor and she was a widow in a time when both were thought to be non-persons. Apparently though, this widow didn't let societal expectations or treatment effect how she felt about herself or her relationship with God. Her humility lead to her generosity.
Let me explain a little bit about the Temple offerings. There were as many as six big offering boxes in the Temple. All were located in a central area within the Temple proper. Each had a metal horn or a funnel like contraption, sort of like toll booth baskets into which you threw your money. The coins would clank and clink around as the offering jingled its way into the offering box below. The more money you threw in, the more noise it made.
The reason that's important to know is that Jesus compared the widow's gift with the gifts of the rich and the powerful. They came and made a big show of their offering. Many of them would come with their entourage and toss their money into the coffers making as much noise as possible. The noisy Temple would grow quiet because they could hear the sound of that money bouncing and jingling into the offering. It was like hearing the sound of a Pachinko Machine or a Slot Machine paying off. Everybody turns to listen. And when it keeps going off, they all come over to see who the lucky person is.
The noise which the rich and the Pharisees made while giving their offering drowned out the sound of their gift. However, the noise of the widow's humble gift of two small coins, drowned out the noise of the Temple. Above all the noise of the crowd, the Son of God heard her gift and noticed her humility.
II. GROWS OUT OF LOVE:
The widow's humility grew out of her love for God and her knowledge of God's love for her. Out of this love, she responded by giving her gifts and herself to God. And it's the same with us. In his first letter, John says, "We love because God first loved us." (1 John 4:19) That's how we operate. We love God because we found out that God loves us. We found out, through the daily blessings of life; through the talents we have been given; through the witness of nature; and especially through the love of Christ, who died for our sins. God love us.
It's not what we have done but what has been done for us that causes that love to grow. It's not our love for God that makes us humble, it's knowing that God loves us in spite of all the horrible things we have done. God loves us.
There's a Dennis the Menace cartoon, it shows Dennis and Joey leaving the Wilson's front porch, each with a handful of cookies. Joey has this surprised look on his face and Dennis says, "Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we're nice, but because she's nice." (2)
Dennis is right on target. It's not what we do but what God does for us. And Mrs. Wilson is living out the Golden Rule. Dennis and Joey are just responding. We love God because God loves us. Our giving is motivated by our love for God. We give to God and God's work through the Church because God loves us. That was what motivated the widow. And Jesus noticed. The one who gave the most noticed the one who gave so little which turned out to be so much. The one who gave his life out of love for God responded to the one who gave what little she had out of her love for God. And the greatness of the sound of that small gift still echoes in heaven because it was given in humility and it grew out of love.
III. RESPONDS OUT OF THANKFULNESS:
A. The widow's gift of those two small mites, less than a penny by today's standards, was given in humility, grew out of her love for God and was given out of a deep sense of thankfulness. True giving always responds out of thankfulness.
There are three kinds of giving. There is grudge giving, duty giving and "thanks" giving. Grudge giving gives but doesn't really want to and feels forced into it either by peer pressure or guilt. Duty giving gives simply because it knows it's supposed to and is afraid of the consequences if it doesn't. But "thanks" giving gives out of the spirit of love, the spirit of thankfulness that grows from humility and a loving relationship with God.
At one time Rudyard Kipling was so popular that his writings were getting ten shillings per word. There were a few college students, however, who didn't appreciate Kipling's writings. They got together and facetiously sent him a letter enclosing ten shillings. It read, "Please, send us your best word." They got back a letter from Kipling, "Thanks." (3)
Thanks is the best word. Everyone likes to be appreciated. Everyone likes to be told "thank you" for a job well done, even God. The widow responded out of humility and love with "thanks" giving. Jesus heard that silent thanks as those two little coins made their clinking sound in the offering. Jesus heard and was moved.
B. "Thanks" giving should be how we give to the Church. We should give thanks for the blessings we have received from God. Our families, our health, our faith, our friends, our job, the abilities we have. We should be thankful for all things because all things come from God.
We should even be thankful for tithing. That may sound strange but we should be thankful for tithing. Why? Because it's all God's anyway. Everything that we have, everything that we are comes from God and belongs to God. It's really only on loan to us. We are stewards of what God has entrusted us with. Some of us are stewards of a greater amount than others. But we are all stewards of what God has given us.
And all God asks that we return for God's work in the world through the Church is a tithe, ten percent. We get to keep the other ninety percent for ourselves to do with as we like. Imagine that. Not even the government lets us do that. Social Security alone is seven and half percent. If you are self-employed or have to claim self-employment for Social Security reasons like I do, you pay fifteen percent. Then you pay your taxes on top of that. All God asks for is ten percent We get to keep the other ninety percent.
That's even a better deal than you get at most restaurants. The last time I checked, the going rate for tips was 15 percent. And what do you get? Oh, you get a great meal and good service but four to six hours later you are hungry again. All God asks for is a tithe, ten percent. Through Christ Jesus, God's own Son, God offers us the Bread of Life, so that we will never hunger again. God offers us the well that springs up inside so we can drink deep and never thirst again. We get all of that and ninety percent, too. It sounds to me like tithing is a bargain.
Years ago, Bishop Fulton Sheen was interviewing Jackie Gleason on a television program. Bishop Sheen asked the comedian, "When you meet Jesus, what will you say?"
Gleason replied, "All I could say would be thanks." (4)
Gleason, like the widow had the right idea. They both gave out of their thankfulness. The widow's giving began with humility, grew out of love and responded with "thanks" giving. Our challenge is to be like the widow.
The widow challenges us to let our giving begin with humble acknowledgement that all we have and all we are comes from God.
The widow challenges us to let our giving grow out of our love for God.
And she challenges us to respond with "thanks" giving. Giving that is made thankfully for God. And giving that is thankful that we get to keep ninety percent.
Like the two different widows, the one from the scripture and the one from the news, our attitude toward what we have and what we give makes all the difference in the world. What does Jesus hear when your offering goes into the offering plate?
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Source Unknown
2. Dennis the Menace by Hank Ketchum
3. Bible Illustrator for Windows, 1990-1994, Parsons Technology
4. Herb Miller, Money Is Everything (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1994), p. 56.