Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
How much is enough!
Mark 12: 34-44, November 8th, 2015
A number of years ago, when I first took up golfing, I paid for a few professional golf lessons. I learned a lot from my instructor. He took me through the basic skills of golfing, like how to grip the club and how to address the ball, while lining up properly toward the target, that little hole on that far off green. He stressed the importance of keeping my eye on the ball, when swinging the club, and not on trying to see where it was going before I had actually hit that little white golf ball, off that tiny little tee. Yes, he tried his best to teach me what I was capable of learning as a rookie. But, one of his lessons still stands out, especially in light of our message this morning. He told me that once I had decided what club to use, and what type of shot to take, and what strategy I was trying to employ; that is to say how I planned to hit the ball to the next most desirable location (preferably in or closer to the ultimate goal, the hole itself), that at this crucial point I needed to fully ‘commit’ to the shot and ‘swing’ the club. He always finished his speech to me and the others he was instructing, after we had hit the ball, by saying: “good effort!” He was telling me I had to be ‘all in’ every time I swung a golf club – if I hoped to be successful.
I watched a little bit of football last week. I think it was the Denver Broncos playing against, let me see now… oh yes, it was the Green Bay Packers. Well, first let me say, I do enjoy watching football from time to time, but I am not much of a fan. Lois and I have a friend that really gets excited when her team is playing, and so does Lois. If they are watching a game, they usually ask me to keep quiet; can you imagine that! So if you are a real fan, please understand I am not choosing sides in this analogy. I just want to make a point. Actually, I was pondering what a coach might say to his team at half time – if his team was behind in points. I never played football, so I have never actually heard what is said in the locker room at half time, other than those censored words we hear on television from time to time. But, I doubt that the coach says: “Now fellows, it’s only a game and if you don’t want to fully commit to a play, it’s ok.” No, I suspect that he gets a bit more animated about it and says something like: “Listen here fellows, if we have any chance ‘at all’ in capturing a win today, you have just got to put your hearts into it! You have got to commit a hundred percent to each and every single play! So let’s get out there and make it happen!
Yes, football season is in full swing, and I truly suspect the coach doesn’t tell his players to only half commit but to fully commit to the play at hand! When they get together to practice one can only assume the coach is trying to push them into doing what they do better and better. I know, for myself at least, that every time I fully commit to something – it comes out better. Ultimately, we all need to practice, from time to time, striving to learn how to be better at the things we do; learning more clearly what it means to commit to what we are doing. At a Bible study class I was at this week, one of the fellows said: “We are here to learn how to be better… better Christians, for we are not yet good enough, we don’t have this down perfect yet!” That was a very humble thing the man said. How many of us this morning, feel there is room for improvement on how we live into our lives as faithful committed followers of Jesus?
One theologian tells us this about our central character in our morning’s scripture lesson: “The widow, one of those who was prey to the scribes, still, in the midst of hardship, trusted God’s promise to be her God.” /Timothy J. Hoyer/ It is easy to buy into this. Why else would a poor destitute widow give all that she had to the church treasury if she did not fully believe in and fully trust in God? As we allow this to soak into our consciousness let us listen to the words of Nancy Rockwell. She puts forth what is a very well documented fact; a fact that devastated a number of churches just about the same size as this our beloved church, during the recently passed deep and long economic depression within our local communities. “When times get tough many stop giving, so they can buy a little more… And then this woman comes, and puts her coins into the church.” /Nancy Rockwell/ When we compare ourselves, by any reasonable measurement, to this women, how do we rate ourselves? And do not deceive yourselves in thinking that human nature has changed all that much in twenty centuries. Look deeply at the poor widow’s plight and the over flowing and blatant wealth of the others in this accounting. Only you can answer the question for yourself, as you look to see where you are in this scenario.
Alyce M. McKenzie Professor of Preaching and Worship, tells us that: “Over the past several weeks, the texts from Mark have featured varying levels of commitment or lack thereof. In response to Jesus’ ministry, some people were all in, some were all out, and others were almost all in…” So the question that needs to be asked this morning, of each and every one of us is this: “Are you all in, or are you all out? Even as we pose this question, we can be assured that most of us are almost all in, or at the very least, partially in. This is self-evident based on all the good works that have been funded by your acts of generosity, with both your time and your combined talents; as well as with financial support of and for this beautiful church. In light of the tremendous effort this past week, to pull together such a major event such as the Rummage Sale, it would be difficult to not have seen how many of you were truly: ‘all in’ to make it the success that is was!
I have heard it said that we ought to live ‘whole heartedly’. Now this statement applies to all areas of our lives, not just one game or one special event. Another way to put this is with a simple question: how deeply are we willing to commit to our actions each day? We can also bring this into our relationships and involvement here at church as well. How committed are you to the wellbeing of those around you; especially those that you currently are worshiping with this morning. One pastor puts it in these words: “…if we remember that we are called to be stewards of each other – each member committed to the welfare and wellbeing of the rest of the community – maybe we can experience again and anew God’s blessing of us in and through the family of faith.” /David Lose/ Certainly this is something we might want to work really hard at committing to!
Truly, there is true ‘power’ in a group of like-minded people, gathered together for the same cause. Remember that old saying: The sum is greater than the parts that make it. Individually our contributions are not sufficient to get the job done. Yet, when we put our hearts, our minds, our diverse talents, and our treasures together, well let me tell you, there is no way anyone can stop our continued forward motion as a church serving the people of God in this community! If you are looking for a way to make a difference in this church, in this community, or even the larger society we are a part of, this is a strategy, this is a methodology you may be well advised to adapt to as you move forward.
My experiences, each day, involve my sense of understanding; understanding how the ‘Spirit of God’ intercedes in my life, and moves me ever forward. I also have an awareness and an understanding that my power, my ability to accomplish any meaningful task comes from a power outside of me. Oftentimes to do this takes a… well it takes a leap of faith. When I look to this account of the widow it helps me to realize that sometimes we need to take a risk! The widow, she took a risk! Sometimes we need to do what she did and give to something we believe in without holding back! That oftentimes means risking it all in belief that we can make a real difference! If you have never felt this feeling, you really need to experience it for yourself! It is an awesome sensation!
When you try to decide what portion or how much you can give, keep in mind today’s lesson. Look to the widow as she gave out of her poverty. Look to the commitment she made as she went ‘all in’ with her offering to the church, to the God she so trusted! David Ewart tells us that “The widow who has given ‘all she had to live on’ foreshadows the coming contribution of Jesus to his mission… Like the widow, Jesus holds nothing back.” I cannot tell anyone other than myself: what is the correct amount of time talent or treasure to donate to any effort, charity or church. That needs to come out of your heart, your sense of gratitude, and your feelings of commitment. But I can tell you that you will feel good about yourself when you do what is in your heart. And you will sleep well at night!
What is the worth of a gift you ask? Only you, the giver, can make that determination. Do what you can and feel good about it. Giving is a personal decision. A decision that only you can decide upon and then commit to.
The time of our formal stewardship campaign is at hand. Have you considered, seriously considered, what level of commitment you are willing to make. Let’s not wait till half time. The coach does not want to be forced to have that heart to heart talk with the team about what it takes to win, half way through the game. Let us now make the play, take the swing, make a decision, and commit to it, remembering to follow through, like a good golf shot. Whatever you decide, if we fail to reach our goals – let’s do it trying; let’s be all in!
“Let us now open our ears, as-well-as our hearts, as we listen now to these words from the New Testament, the Gospel according to Mark, chapter:12, verses: 38-44”
38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,
39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!
40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.
42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.
43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.
44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
“Allow God to move us to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of these ancient writings.”