Sunday, April 26, 2009

Creating Home ... With a Shared Sacrifice

April 26, 2009
An Equal Sacrifice
Mark 12:41-44
Homestead UMC is in the middle of a capital campaign called "Creating Home" for the purchase of land to relocate the ministries of our church. These sermons are to encourage our congregation and listen to God's call on our community of faith to extend its reach in ministry and mission through relocation.

Jesus was taking a break. He was in temple teaching and had faced a number of tests to his teaching, so he was taking a break.

He sat on one side of temple watching the crowd of people. On the opposite side of him was the treasury. The treasury was a series of thirteen offering boxes that looked like suitcases, but were made out of metal. There was a slit in the top of those boxes. People would place their offerings through the slit on the top. Little signs were placed on each of the offering boxes indicating the various ministries funded by each of the offering boxes. One said building maintenance; another said utilities; another said rabbis’ salary; another said widows and orphans.

Now this particular day there are many people putting money in the treasury. First Jesus notices that there are many rich people in the temple that day. I am guessing it was hard to miss them. They put large sums of money into the treasury. The metal boxes assured that you could hear what they were doing. No doubt they dropped the coins in with great flare so that when they dropped them in the metal boxes the noise rang throughout the temple space.

Then Jesus notices a widow. He would have had to work hard to notice her, though Jesus always seemed to notice those the society forgot about. She was probably trying to blend into the background. I imagine she quietly approached the treasury, took out her two coins – the last two she had to live on - and dropped them quietly into the treasury.

At that, Jesus’ break from teaching is over. The time for teaching has begun again. This time rather than teaching to all the folks in the temple, he pulls the disciples aside to teach exclusively them. The lesson is for those who are trying to follow Jesus, for the disciples, for us. Jesus lauds the example of the widow’s giving two small coins and he questions the motives of those giving large sums.

Jesus’ teachings must have surprised the disciples. Certainly the large sums of money would have been useful. Why wouldn’t those gifts please Jesus? And the widow’s gift was minimal. What makes that so special? Shouldn’t Jesus be more pleased by folks giving equal shares?

Jesus teaches that the widow’s gift is sacrificial. It was given out of her living expenses. She had learned to trust in God for her needs. She was dependent on God working through others for her living needs. All the widows were dependent on that. So her sacrifice was enormous. As she dropped those two coins in, there was nothing left to rely on except God.

Those giving large sums were giving from a different place. They were giving out of their abundance, giving from what was left over. It was not a sacrifice for them. They hardly knew it was missing.

It isn’t that both gifts are not useable in ministry. The large sums and the two small coins would both be useful in ministry.

But Jesus calls all of us to an equal sacrifice. Jesus calls us not to give out of our abundance, but to give from a place of sacrifice: to surrender something in our lives in order to contribute to the needs of others; to forgo some comforts so that others might be comforted; to give up something that God might use it as a blessing for others.

Jillian, Rebecca, Deanna stood in the ticket line for the movie theater at the mall. They had planned for this day and saved for this movie - a romantic comedy. They had high expectations for the movie experience.

Out the corner of Deanna’s eye, she could see Betty. The three girls dressed in the latest fashion, unlike Betty who always dressed plainly. Betty was short and a little overweight. The three girls were trim and pretty. Everyone at school knew Betty lived a small apartment and there were rumors spreading that Betty’s father lost his job.

“Look who’s here,” Deanna whispered. She nudged the others and pointed to Betty. Rebecca turned and glared at the girl behind them. Betty turned her head so she wouldn’t see Rebecca’s cold stare. Rebecca and Deanna whispered and giggled as they pointed occasionally at the unpopular girl. But Jillian stood back and remained silent.

The three girls approached the ticket window and ordered the tickets for the movie for which they had waited. They pooled their money together to buy the tickets. “$15.75, please,” the man at the ticket window said. Rebecca realized she had a one dollar bill instead of the five-dollar bill she thought she was carrying. As they counted their money, the girls realized they were a dime short.

Deanna shoved the money toward the man at the window. “Come on! Give us the tickets,” Deanna demanded. The man behind the counter shook his head. They only had enough money for two tickets, and that was that!

Everyone could see the disappointment in the girls’ eyes.

Suddenly, a hand reached from behind and placed a dime on the ticket booth counter. As the girls turned, they saw Betty walking away. All three girls knew who gave them the extra money.

“Great!” Rebecca said. “Now we have enough money for tickets!” She began to shove the money to the man at the ticket counter.

“Wait,” Jillian said in a low voice. “I’ve changed my mind. You two go in. I’ll see you later.”

Deanna and Rebecca stood speechless as Jillian ran to catch up with Betty. “Thank you,” Jillian said to Betty as she pressed the dime back into the plain girl’s hand. “Do you want to go to the movie with me tomorrow?”

Sometimes a small sacrifice for one person is a huge one for another. For the three girls, a dime was nothing more than a small coin. They might not think twice about spending a dime. For Betty, the dime meant a lot of saving. It was a huge thing to give up and she would have to think about this kind of sacrifice.

Like Betty, the poor woman gave up something for which she had to save. A few small coins worth less than a penny, but her small gift and her huge sacrifice impressed Jesus. Here was someone, like Betty, who was willing to give up the little she had for the good of others.

Jesus calls us to do the same.

Through the Creating Home campaign, we can do the same. We are not called to an equal share. We do not take, say, our first step goal of $300,000 and divide it by the number of members and then know what our “share” is. God does not call us to equally distribute the numbers. We are not called to an equal share. That is not what God honors that day in the temple. That is not a Biblical principle.

Instead, your share in this important work is based on the resources God has entrusted to you. You are a God-appointed custodian of resources for this time and this ministry project. God calls us to give an equal sacrifice, to surrender some of what makes us comfortable, to give a sacrifice that will be a blessing to others.

What does it look like to equally distribute the sacrifice? For one person, $10 / week will be sacrificial. It may mean not going to the movies every week. It may mean giving up eating out once a week. It may mean dropping the cable package to basic. For others it might take something more in the $150 / week range to be sacrificial. It is not about equally distributing the numbers, it is about equally distributing the sacrifice; each of us surrendering something for this important work of God

The question lingers in my mind…I hope it does in yours as well. What little things can we give up for the good of others? Daily coffee? A family vacation? A weekly meal out? A portion of our savings account? That new car?

That day in the temple God honored the gift of a humble woman, not because of the amount, but because of the sacrifice. God will honor our sacrificial gifts, as well. May we learn together what it means to surrender before God for the good of others. Amen.

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

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