“You are Welcome Here!”
Mark 12:38-44, November 11th, 2018
Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard
Read Statement of Faith
“Hear now these words of scripture from the gospel of Mark, chapter twelve, verse thirty-eight thru verse forty-four.”
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.”
“Having heard this ancient writing with our ears, let us now open our hearts to these words of Jesus, as we seek their meaning for us in the Twenty-First Century.”
“You are Welcome here!”
Today, is stewardship Sunday. A day when the members of this congregation, this faith fellowship, are asked to make a promise, a faith promise. Now, if you are a visitor, please, do not feel obligated to fill out a faith promise card. Today, we simply want you to feel welcome here! Pray with us, worship with us, put something in the collection plate, or not. Our prayer is that you will find what you are seeking during this sacred hour and that you will want to come back next Sunday and continue your journey of faith here with us. Most everyone recognizes that before any one of us can make a faith promise, we will need a time of reflection. Believing in the sacredness of worship is a good place to start. Coming to believe that God has invited you to become part of this faith fellowship happens over a span of time. Time is an elusive thing, and each one us experience the passing of time differently. So, let us begin this time by feeling welcome here. Let us relax and consider what this thing stewardship is all about.
For those whom have made this church, The Riviera United Church of Christ, their home church, we have some responsibilities. How we accept them, our obligations, and how we act upon these commitments is up to each one of us personally. Stewardship, any act of stewardship… is an act of faith. Perhaps some of you are not sure about making this your church home, but you enjoy the music or some other aspect of our fellowship. Possibly you are just coming for the coffee, the cookies and the fellowship after church. If this describes you, please know: we welcome you here. We pray that you will be nourished and fed. For those of us whom have become part of the living – breathing aspects of this community, we feel a sense of love and admiration, gratitude even for all that this church represents to us. When you reach this level of peace and joy in being a part of this fellowship then your acts of stewardship become second nature.
Wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here.
True stewardship is an act of grace. Through God’s grace, kindness, and charity, combined with your thankfulness, these have become part of your character. There is a good chance you have made Christ, the example of the Christ figure, something or someone, you look up to. You have come to view God as a friend whom you have come to know through the teachings of the man Jesus. You feel empowered and refreshed by the breath of God through the Living Spirit of the Divine. You feel compelled by an urge to give back out of gratitude. You do not ask how much is enough? You ask what more can I do? You do not wait for someone to urge you to increase your giving. Rather, you give for the joy of giving. You give because you can and because you care! That is what the heart of stewardship is all about. Today, is just an opportunity for each one of us to be reminded that our church, needs our gifts of time, the gifts of our talent and our gifts of financial support. Each one of us must decide what we are able and willing to give.
I have chosen today’s scripture passage, one of my favorites, because it speaks to the true nature of what it means to be charitable and offers the purest understanding of the quality of giving. As we look upon this lesson, we need to look to see ourselves in this writing. If you are open with yourself, you may see a reflection of various types of giving that you identify with. Perhaps you see too few choices and that is also understandable, for Jesus made this observation a really long time ago. Things have changed. Yet, human nature has not! Some people go on television to announce their gifts of charity. In of itself this is not a bad thing. Another’s act of charity may help others to see how they can offer assistance as well. Most of us do follow the examples of others. So, in of itself, making public an act of giving is not a bad thing. If, however, we do this to gain recognition or to sensationalize how good we have become, well, that smacks of egotism and is not healthy for you and goes against the nature of charitable giving. In our scripture today, Jesus clearly speaks against this sort of flagrant flaunting of one’s abundance.
Jesus does, however, lift up the humble gift from a poor widow. Her gift was small, certainly in contrast to the wealthy whom Jesus observed offering their gifts. Take note here, Jesus did not condemn or criticize all those whom were able to give abundantly. Rather, he was contrasting how the poor widow was giving out of her poverty not out of her abundance. Jesus is making a point for us to consider. Her gift was ‘in essence’ all that she had. Just to play with this thought for a moment, consider what would happen if everyone in this room did that. Meaning we would follow her example literally and give everything to our church! (I know, that is hard to grasp!) Let’s break that down a bit and make it more feasible. Consider this: If everyone who currently gives ten dollars each week would give say… five more, what a difference that would make. You might need to give up stopping at your favorite coffee shop or at least give up a snack or two each week. If you give twenty-five dollars a week and were to give ten more, you might need to cut back a bit on your spending habits to keep within your budget.
Let’s take that right up the scale of giving. If the folks who give a hundred dollars a week increased their giving in the same manner… and so on what a difference it would make! If everyone gave just a bit more than what they have been giving, we could manage our needs more effectively! Such a shift would give us the ability to consider hiring a sexton to clean our church every week. (Giving our volunteers a rest before we burn them all out!) There would be no more deficit spending! (Our finance and stewardship committee members could get some needed rest as well!) We could perhaps hire an office administrator to help manage needed administrative functions. (This would take off some of the burdens we have placed upon the backs of a select few of our fellowship.) We perhaps may even reach a point where we could consider such things as a paid leader of Christian Education! (Imagine having someone dedicated to reaching out to the children living within a few miles of this church!) And a pay raise for our employees! (They sure deserve it!) There might even be funds left for us to be more deliberate in our outreach efforts – helping more people in our community. We could even start putting a bit aside thereby having a prudent reserve for unforeseen emergences. An old finance manager, at my home church where I was ordained, once said: “churches don’t really have a money problem, but we do struggle to keep our members and friends aware of the needs of this their church.”
Of course, we know Jesus was simply trying to make a point about what it means to give from our hearts. Imagine giving, simply because we know it is the right thing to do! That’s what the poor widow was doing. She didn’t give much, just a couple small coins, like a penny. But, for her it was all she had. She virtually gave everything to the collection box at the synagogue that day! Why did she do it? Jesus didn’t tell us. But we can make some assumptions. No one expected her to give that day. Yet she did anyhow! No one was banging on her door telling her to give to the church (because they knew she had virtually nothing,) but she did. Was it because she wanted to show her gratitude for life itself, and to the community that offered her a place to worship? Was it because she believed it was God’s temple and God’s work to which she gave? Reasonable assumptions but we will never know for sure. We are simply left with what we can assume, which was that Jesus’ words were clearly pointing to her as an example. Through her action we are able to see and hear what heart felt charity, heartfelt giving, selfless giving is all about!
Stewardship for this church means our management of the resources we have, to operate this facility, and to employ those needed so that we, as a faith community, might be a church which serves the people of God. This includes educating others about the Christian message. Teaching our children, thereby, not allowing the connection from generation to generation to be lost. It means employing a Pastor with recognized credentials and training to assist this ministry. It means finding a way to get things done utilizing the time, the skills and talents of this community to get the work done, relying on the financial gifts from members and friends to facilitate those things that must be purchased or paid for. Our tradition of worship causes us to want music, so we employ a Music Director and an accompanist to lead and play music; this takes financial support.
My friends, only you know what resources you have which you are able and or willing to share… keeping this ministry healthy. Rich or poor or somewhere in between there are ways which your gifts can make a real difference. Jesus is telling us to give from our hearts like the poor widow! Most of us here are proud of the openness, the all inclusiveness of this our fellowship. We seek to offer an extravagant welcome to all! We are proud to be able to say we do not discriminate based on race, creed or color, nor do we sort out the rich from the poor. You are welcomed here! We don’t care if you come from Harvard or from jail, you are welcome here! We neither care if you are gay or straight, handicapped or disabled. You are welcome here! Most of us are very open to whatever it is that our visitors bring as they become part of this community. We especially welcome whatever their uniqueness adds to our fellowship. You are welcome here!