Summary: Turning the holiday into a Holy Day requires God’s people to have generous hearts that reflect the heart of God.
ADVENT CONSPIRACY: GIVE MORE
Big Idea: Turning the holiday into a Holy Day requires God’s people to have generous hearts that reflect the heart of God.
Well we will be talking this week about “giving more.” Usually we think about giving gifts when I say that but there is a sense in which being a good receiver is also an important part of the gift giving exchange.
Before my sermon, I thought I would give you a few quick tips on being a good receiver of gifts … well, actually, I thought I might give you a few tips on “Eleven Things You Should Never Say When You are Given a Gift.”
• Thanks for the gift – you never did like me did you?
• What is this?
• Well, well, well …
• I really don’t deserve this
• Not again!
• I think I should just...well...maybe if...um...thanks.
• To think, I got this the year I vowed to give all my gifts to charity
• Well, we all know it’s the thought that counts
• I remember when these were really popular … I think it was 1993.
• I thought they banned these already.
• Is that all?
I’m just trying to be a blessing.
Let’s read Mark 12:38-44.
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Hmmm. That does not seem to be your typical Christmas text. That seems more suitable for a stewardship campaign than it does celebrating our savior’s birth. But, from a wider perspective, it certainly speaks to our Advent Conspiracy theme of “spending less and giving more.” In fact, it speaks volumes.
If I was to give you a “big idea” (the sermon in a sentence) for this week’s sermon it would read something like: “Turning the Holiday into a Holy day requires God’s people to have generous hearts that reflect the heart of God.” Notice it says nothing about price tags and fat wallets. But if “spending less and giving more” is our trajectory then the story of the widow’s mite is ideal.
The widow and her small but generous gift to the treasury have come to stand on a pedestal in our churches as the model of generosity and selfless giving. The problem with being on a pedestal is that the object is prone to be seen in a one-dimensional way. If we are not careful, we’ll see only part of the widow and we’ll tend to see the same thing every time we look at it.
This need not be the case. For example: have you ever asked yourself why this widow was so poor? That is why I started our reading a few of verses before the story – I think Jesus exposes exactly why she only has two mites to rub together. Listen again: “As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”
In Mark’s telling of the widow’s story, Jesus begins by scolding the scribes in the temple—the religious and societal leaders in the widow’s worshipping community.
Jesus says that the scribes “devour widows’ houses.” They abuse their trusted position and take advantage of the disadvantaged—the poor, the orphans, the strangers, the widows. These men are very likely the reason the widow only has two coins.
Simply put, the religious institution—the community to which she gave all she had—failed her.
She only had two coins because she was invisible in society. She had worth only as long as she could serve a purpose to the institution; only as long as she went along with the program.