"Giving When It Hurts"
Near Mobile, Alabama there was a railroad bridge that spanned a big bayou. The date was September 22, 1993. It was a foggy morning just before daybreak when a tugboat accidentally pushed a barge into the bayou. The drifting barge slammed into the bridge. In the darkness no one could see the extent of the damage, but someone on the tugboat radioed the Coast Guard too inform them. Moments later an Amtrak train, the Sunset Limited, reached the bridge as it traveled from Los Angeles to Miami. Unaware of the damage, the train crossed the bridge at 70 mph. There were 210 passengers on board. As the weight of the train crossed the damaged support, the bridge gave away. Three locomotive units and the first four of train’s 8 passengers cars fell into the alligator infested bayou. The darkness and fog was thickened by fire and smoke. Six miles from land; the victims lay as food for the aroused alligators. Helicopters were called in to help rescue the survivors, which numbered 163 persons. The remainder of the 47 were drowned, eaten by the gator, or engulfed by the fire.
Although lives were lost there were many heroes in this tragic event, most notably Geray and Mary Chancey. Unfortunately, they did not receive a hero’s welcome home or award because in their rescue attempt, their lives were kidnapped by death. As they were waiting to get be rescued from the rail car they were in, the car shifted and filled rather quickly with water. So with little hesitation they both hewed their 11-year-old daughter who had cerepral palsy out of the window into the hands of a rescuer. Immediately they hugged each other and drowned in the water filled car. This was their last act of love, instead of getting out themselves; they chose to give their lives to save their child. Question! When was the last time you gave to save? Maybe you - like me- at times take the giving process for granted, but when have you gave to save? For many of us we usually give in order to get, whether it is to get people out of our face or to get folks to reciprocate or surpass that which we’ve given them, most usually give to get. I remember when I was dating this one girl; she was a fine sister, my very dream girl. Well, I gave her everything, what ever she wanted I went out of my way to get it - I mean I wined and dined her until I was broke as Red Foxx. I did everything for her but I realized that I was giving not so much because I wanted too but rather because I hoped she give me some things as well. But with leech like limbs, the more I gave the more she took and I realized at that point I should not give to get. One preacher I endured listening to, you do know there are some folks you enjoy and then others you endure. He abused one particular passage in a way that this phenomenon was perpetuated. He said, " if you give to God, he’ll give back unto you. If you give God dollars, he’ll give you dollars, if you give God tens and twenty’s he’ll give you tens and twenties, Oh but if you give God hundreds, my God will bless you with hundreds and even thousands!" In the end he stood on holy ground and pretentiously petitioned, " So what do you want, ones or hundreds,” people were sitting there amnestied in this presumptuous prophecy and in the end most of them were giving to get. I am convinced that this is not the right attitude in giving, but lest I be one dimensional, there is another extreme in giving and that is giving to be seen. This is what my grandfather in the ministry, Dr. A. Louis Patterson, would call the "Sin of Disposition, where you give but with the wrong character or frame of mind." Many times this type of giving is simply to say hey look at me, kind of like the man who stood up in church and said, "I want to give $1000 anonymously." It is all right to give when you can, but the question today is would you if you could not- when it is not as convenient? Yea, that is what I really want to know, can you give when it will hurt? Can you like the widow in our text, give all you have, to help others. Like this unnamed widow, will you sacrifice all for the extension of the kingdom? Can you give out of your scarcity instead of your surplus? Out of your poverty instead of prosperity? Seems this type of painful giving or self-emptying giving attracts the attention of the almighty. So let us explore this idea of painful giving, as it will unfold in three layers, the theology of giving, the tenacity of giving and types of giving.
In this Christian faith, giving is not an option but a command. There is a certain value placed on giving. There is a certain demand placed on giving. There is a significant level of maturity attached to giving. For giving has been placed by some to be the epitome of being a Christian. The word theology simply means human speech about God. And there is a certain type of theology, thesis, thought on this topic of giving. God ordains giving, God established giving. In the beginning, the record says that God created, heaven and earth. Lexicons agree on the definition of creating, for the exegete explanation says that to create is to give existence to a non-existent entity, to bring forth. And in the beginning God gave, God stepped out on the platform of nothing, gazed into the abyss of a thousand midnights and gave day a heritage, God gave land emancipation, and God gave them (he and she, female and male) purpose. God’s purpose in giving was to alert us to the fact that whatever is, I give. I give it or I allow for it to be given. Realized when in chapter 4 of Genesis, Eve in a dramatic monologue says, "With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man." All throughout the Bible there are examples on examples of giving, because the fact is - that’s what God does. When the Israelites were in bondage God gave them a Moses, when they were starving in the wilderness God gave them Manna, when they wanted a king God gave them Saul, when they wanted relief God gave them a song. Let me make it a bit more personal, when we needed eternal salvation from this sinful body, God stepped down 40 and two generations, put on the garb of human flesh, slid on his own blood from eternity to time and gave us Jesus and only through him can we have eternal life. I can’t stay in the bible long because not only did God give to them but God also gave to me. When I needed forgiveness God gave me mercy, when I got weak, God gave me strength, which is what God does, he gives. What has he given to you, did God give you a way out of no way, healing when you were sick, let me quote my mama here, " bread when you were hungry, water when you were thirsty, " that is what God does, God Gives. So in turn God wants us to mock what he does, God wants us to emulate and imitate what he does. Giving is important to God, because it is God. When we give it is worshipping God, it is the highest form of compliment to God. It is in response to the life he has given to us. Growing up in a home in the hood was not always peaceful. There were not a lot of things visible that would serve as encouragement. Sure there was Greater Northside Missionary Baptist church on the corner, but amidst the drugs, prostitution, and disintegrated families there was not much that was there-with the exception of a select few-- that would push me to be all I can be. But in our kitchen, which was yellow and brown, directly under the yellow clock, there was a sign that read, "Your life is a gift from God and what you make of it is your gift back to him." So the question in my mind what would I give to him. I mean - I like the widow in the text have nothing. I do not have a father, I do not have a lot of money, in comparison to others God has not given me nothing but a tough life, what can I render? Maybe I should give God just what I think God has given me? The pain involved in this query brings me to the tenacity of giving.
Let’s just face it, sometimes it is hard to give, it hurts sometimes. I can imagine this is what the widow must have been feeling. I mean for starters, her husband is not there, she is alone. In that day, widowers were supposed to be taken care of by family; those who had no family were taken care of by the government. They were usually looked upon as nobodies and in some instances ostracized by the community as though they have committed some great crime. I am led to believe this widow was one of those who had no family. She was totally dependant upon the government for support. Poor widow, literally poor.
Look at her, the very epitome of poor. Gray hair from the constant worrying of what tomorrow will bring, the sags under her eyes are the product of long sleepless nights and the abuse of the heavy tears that race from her eyes. Look in her eyes, they are crying out for answers, Why me Lord? Her body is deteriorating because often the widows did not receive the medical aid they were due, so they were usually slumped over from bone deterioration, they usually had a staff to assist them in pedestrian activities. Her clothes patched and soiled, probably from the monotony of being worn. What a sight, a pitiful sight, a sad sight. And to top it off, she was sitting in a service in which the teacher taught about abusing the widows. Can you imagine how she must have felt to be the object of discussion, for she was one of the widows in whom the scribes took advantage of? She probably felt like the past hero of the gangster thug life, Tupac Shukar, " All eyes on me." Yea, this was not the widow’s day at the temple for this was very close to Passover. All of the big shots were in the temple, listening to the young preacher from heaven. The elite were there, the Pharisee’s, Sadducee’s, Herodians and the scribes they were there. Long robes, the marks of academia, and icons of wealth were present throBut there in the pews, was this poor widow.
And so it now is that time where preachers get excited, it was offering time. It was now the time to toss your talents and tithes in the tray. Jesus sat opposite of the tray to observe the tray. Parenthetically let me say, the eyes are on you, for he knows your offering, he knows what you give, he watches you. And as the ushers direct the worshippers to give, the text begins to unfold. The widow gets up and waits her turn, she must be embarrassed. What do I have, she asks herself? As she looks around the room, nothing but wealth in the place. The religious performance among these scribes and Pharisees had reached such an absurd state of affairs, Josephus the Historian, tells us that some of the Pharisees, before they made their contribution to the great collection box, actually summoned a trumpeter to go before them too get everybody’s attention. Then the Pharisees would come up and proudly deposit a bag of gold in the treasury chest. He wanted everybody to see his ample gift. In the midst of all of this the widow is still there, now it is her time to walk around. Look, down the aisle she goes, with a very slow walk. Her clothes bring attention, whispers go throughout the room, all eyes are on her. This poor widow, continues down the aisle, despite the pain of humiliation that she is going through. She pressed on like the hemophiliac woman, and put her two leptas in the chest. It was not much but it was all she had. Have you ever felt like this widow, like everybody was better off than you? I mean here you are trying to make it and seemingly it is not happening for you. The very support you had has been taken from you and in you limit-ness you are expected to still support. I mean all you have at the offering is meager amount of money; you can’t stand at your job and announce that you and your familyare donating a lot. You are not apart of the big boys because you can’t give what they give. And that which you give is needed in some other area badly. Let’s be honest….That’s painful! That hurts!
But look at what Jesus does. Because of the woman’s gift, Jesus got all excited and called a meeting. He called the disciples close and told them about his excitement. This widow, who went through a great deal to give, arrested Jesus’s attention. You want God to stop and call an angelic meeting, give when it hurts! Be like the widow and walk through the pain and give sacrificially. How could she give, I ask the spirit? Not only that but how could she give her all? I mean how could she give to someone in need when in actuality, she was the one in need? She gave - the answer came- because she was convinced that God is not so much concerned with the sum as God is the sacrifice. God has it all anyway, so it can’t all be about sum, it has to be about sacrifice. In whatever you give, time, money, advice, give it sacrificially. It may seem like little but coupled with faith it will grab God and God can do some big things with a little. For the songwriter said, "Little becomes much when you place it in the Master’s hand." And she gave from her poverty, and all of us have a poverty. The older I get I realize poverty is not all that bad. I’ll have to agree with that wise voice that said there is a paradox in poverty. "It may be made a great curse as well as a great blessing. It becomes a curse when it fills the heart with anxious care and worry, with murmuring and complaining or leads to unbelief and dishonesty. It becomes a blessing when it compels the povertized person to cast themselves upon God who has promised to take care of his own." In a word, to give when it hurt says to God, I recognized that I am limited but I realize that I am not useless and such as I have give I thee. I am leaning and depending on you God to use my gift for the further building of the kingdom.
There are three types of giving I want to share, that I think the text teaches. Everybody has something to give. It is your duty to find where there is a need and then trust in God to take your meager offering and make much of it. The first type is the giving to God, a spiritual giving. The widow exemplifies this by attending the temple. That was her giving to God, what are you giving to God. I might as well as this question. Have you given your life to Him? Have you asked Jesus to come into your life and connect you with God? I mean have you truly said, God you are the Leader and I am the follower? Because if you have not, then God does not really want what you have, why because you have no connection to him. It is necessary for the believer to give something to God, whether it is time, talents, or tithes. The widow came to the temple and gave God time, which in some form or fashion, was a sacrifice for her. What do you give that is of a sacrifice? I know you pray but is it ever sacrificial? I know you read the bible, but is it ever sacrificial?
Then there is the giving to humankind. In the temple there were 13 treasury chests each with a different purpose but they all would further extend the kingdom. By the virtue of her donating she was helping someone else and this was a social type of gift. Who knows maybe she put her two copper coins in the chest marked "widows." Whatever chest it was it went to help someone else, have you given to help someone else? As asked earlier, have you gave to save” We all have a social responsibility to give back to mankind. Whether it is through mentoring young African American males as Brother Hooker and I do (I ’m sure others do to), lending yourself to a community center, helping a struggling family with buying school supplies for their kids, or consoling some heart-broken person. All though you may feel like you are the one who needs the help and you are the one hurting, you should still give. Maybe one night a month spend with a youth and possibly you could help save some child from making the wrong choices, just trust that God will take you limited ability and transform it into usability; and like this widow you can help someone else. Then finally there is the giving unto self, a personal giving. Let’s face it not many people give to them themselves it is mainly for others. I think, in the text, the widow gave herself faith. She said although I only have two copper coins I will give my all to God and just rely on God to supply my needs. She needed to have faith and based on her effort, probably from some idea she has of Jesus, she took a walk of faith. What do you give yourself? Do you ever just take time out for you? How about an encouraging word to yourself every now and then? Do you give yourself respect and credit? There should be a part in us all to give some things to ourselves.
In conclusion, what are you going to give? I know that these are trying times and seems like you should be the one receiving but how would you grow if you never gave. Giving--bringing existence to a non-existent entity. It is your duty, your Christian duty to give. Concentrate more on the quality rather than the quantity. In the midst of the pain attached to letting go something you really need, think about the fact that God gave his son. Be assured that it hurts sometimes when we give but be reassured that if it will build the kingdom the pain will be pacified. The saints of old use to say "we’ll understand it better by and by." How are you doing in your giving? Are you giving out of surplus or out of scarcity, out of plenty or out of poverty, out of lots or out of little? Giving when it hurts that’s the job, kingdom building is the wage and the kingdom needs you to give in some way. And although it hurts, it’s painful, Jesus will minister to the hurt in ways you’ve never imagined. Go ahead - Grab God’s attention!!