11/12/06, P-23-B

“They Devour our Houses”
Mark 12:38-44

oday’s story from the New Testament Gospel of Mark, preserves the beautiful example of a widow who did not tithe on the 10% plan that was expected of all Hebrews; she practiced the 100% plan: She gave her all. All the money she had was just two mites, about a penny. Read along with me as I follow my careful paraphrase of the text.

“As Jesus taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in fancy clothes, and to be greeted with respect in the market places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They receive the greater condemnation.  Jesus sat down and watched people putting money into the treasury. Many rich folks put in large amounts. A poor widow came and put in two mites. Jesus called his disciples and said to them, ‘This poor widow has put in more than all who were contributing. The others have contributed out of abundance, but she out of poverty has given all she had to live on.                                         

Jesus was especially sensitive to the plight of widows because his mother was a widow. Since a widow could not inherit her husband’s property, Jesus as the first born son, had probably been responsible for his mother’s financial affairs. This may be one reason that Jesus’ teachings raised the legal and financial place of women in society. However, in the first century widows could find themselves put out of their home by the scribes who acted as judges and law enforcement officers.

In today’s story Jesus places a widow ahead of all those who were at the Temple, even the fancy scribes and the well off persons who could give major donations out of their wealth. But our precious widow gave all she had, out of her poverty. We all hope that her house was not possessed by the scribes. She will be one of those folks who we will want to look up in Glory.

Jesus may have been recognizing that most of the time women have a more sensitive and giving nature than do men. Typically, women seem more open to spiritual things. Over the Christian centuries women have been the ones who have led the way in worship attendance, involvement in church programs and in Christian Stewardship. In most homes women are the major decision makers when it comes to proportionate giving and tithing to their church.

In our text, Jesus seems to be recommending the 100% plan of giving; or at least He hopes that we can get to the point where we are willing to give it all up for His Kingdom. The old preachers used to challenge us to be willing to consecrate all we are and all we have to follow Jesus’ plan for our life. It is by our willingness to give up our worship of money that we are often entrusted with larger amounts of money that can be used to further the work of Christ’s Church. We are called to give our all as a “Living Sacrifice to God.” It would be impractical to give all of our wealth away, even during our Pledge Campaign which begins today, the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day.

Money in itself is not intrinsically evil, although just in case, you notice that we pray a prayer of blessing over our offering plates each Sunday.

I worked at a cotton mill one summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. I was put on the loading docks to stack heavy cartons into railroad boxcars along side strong men who had been on the docks for years. I had just been called to preach and wanted to show off my recently acquired knowledge of the Bible.

One day I said to a group of men, “You fellows do know that money is the root of all evil.” “No sir!” a retort came back; The Bible says that, ‘The Love of money is the root of all evil.”

I have known many generous and wonderful Methodists who have been blessed by God with a lot of money. They have also reveled in the joy of giving back a major proportion of their possessions to their church. They have been sincerely grateful for the privilege to give back to God a major portion of the magnanimous amount that He had allowed them to shepherd while on earth. I have also known a lot of dear folks, who have pledged only a small amount, but it was their tithe, and in God’s sight they were giving just as much as the one who had given so much out of abundance. Tithing levels the field between rich and poor.

Your Pledge Card is just as important as anyone’s, if it is later translated into actual cash. A thief stole a bank bag from the Lutheran Church in Augusta one Sunday afternoon, which was filled with One hundred thousand dollars--- in pledge cards. Would we not have loved to see the disappointed look on the thief’s face when he opened the bank bag; just paper cards with names and amounts inked in.

However, our cash is just ink on paper which is given a value by our government. We can take it and use it for good are not so good. Isn’t God great that he has given us a lot to give back?

Our level of generosity is a distinguishing benchmark of our relationship with Christ and His Church. Giving magnanimously is a great joy to those for whom Christ has richly blessed. We give with gratitude because He has done so much for us. Most of us feel that we have what we have today because of Christ’s blessing on our lives. If it were not for our salvation we do not know how we would have come this far. Thus, we give with cheerful and grateful hearts. Our motives are purely to build up His Church so that others can be reached, just as we were.

It will be a beautiful sight at the end of our Thanksgiving Sunday worship service next Sunday as we join in the pageantry of bringing our Pledge Cards to the Altar as we sing the hymn, “I Surrender All.” If the widow from today’s story were here she might bring all she had as a challenge to us. Some will pledge far more than a tithe, some will be moving toward a tithe. Some will tithe on their gross income, some on the amount they net after taxes, and other payroll deductions. The challenge is to pledge and give more than we think we can.

This year’s Pledge Campaign is perhaps the most critical campaign that our church has ever had. We will be casting our votes with pledge cards that will allow our beloved church to move forward. Our basic operating budget is bare bones and we feel that it well within our congregation’s ability. However, the counting of the cards will enable our church to begin 2007 with assurance that we will be able to fulfill our goals.

Every amount pledged is important. If every individual, or family, will return their card with their best and prayerful amount inked in, we can accomplish our goal. This allows all of us to give proportionately as we are blessed. This means that every prayerful response is blessed by God and we believe that all of those represented in a pledge; children, teens, young adults still at home, young couples, single persons, and the poor, and rich widows and widowers all have the spiritual opportunity to receive God’s blessing through our church.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
11/12/06, P-23-B