By Fr. Justin Clemente. Delivered to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican) on November 20. 2022, Christ the King Sunday. A Sunday for stewardship & generosity in the life of God’s People.
A Picture of True Generosity
If you were to hold up to others an example of true generosity, where would you look? Perhaps a wealthy philanthropist like Bill Gates or Paul Newman? There are many other well-known figures we could name: Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller Jr, and Johns Hopkins, just to name a few.
But when Jesus holds up a picture of true generosity, he goes to the place we might least expect. He goes to a poor widow who gives, compared to others, an incredibly small amount. The two coins she puts in the offering were lepta and were the equivalent together of 1/64th of a day’s wage. Not a great sum of money – pocket change to most of us. But the small amount great meaning for her. As Jesus says (v. 44), “she put in everything she had – all she had to live on.”
Today, we bring to a close a month of celebrating and focusing on stewardship and generosity. We began, you remember, with Jesus’ call to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s – that is to say, everything. Today, we end with an example of someone who was utterly dependent upon God for everything.
There are at least five things we learn from this passage.
1) The Lord’s Presence in Our Stewardship (v. 41)
The first thing I want you to notice is the presence of the Lord. He is observing and instructing his disciples. This is an area of concern for him. The Lord looks on her and all who come to the offering box! Jesus knows what is in man and sees the intent of those who give. What does the Lord see when he looks upon your attitude toward stewardship?
Our third stewardship principle, which I spoke to last week, says this: “Our decisions about possessions are spiritual decisions. As we grow in giving, we learn to trust God more and more. Stewardship is part of our growth as a disciple.”
Bishop John is fond of saying that we are tempted to believe that when were baptized, somehow our wallet didn’t’ make it into water. Not only our wallet, but our whole selves! As Paul says to the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7) This morning, as you see Jesus observing those giving at the temple, see his presence in every area of your life, not least of all in how you are willing to trust him with your finances.
Let me back up, though, because I need to define stewardship. What is that? Richard Foster points to three ingredients: “When we receive what we have as a gift, and when we know…what we have is to be cared for by God, and when what we have is available to others” we have an attitude of stewardship. The liberating, wonderful message of Christianity is this: your kids aren’t yours, your spouse isn’t yours, your house isn’t yours, your car isn’t yours, and your bank account isn’t yours. If you don’t believe me, just wait – they will all eventually leave you. But you do possess Christ. He will never leave nor forsake you, and in his service is perfect freedom.
Please understand, in talking about stewardship today, I am not trying to bind you up with impossible burdens. I want your liberation. I want you to believe that you are not on your own shepherd. I want you to believe that your justification is in Christ, and not in the balance of your checking account. I want the gifts and calling of your life to be places not where you prove how much your worth, but places where you freely display the goodness of the God you serve – the one who has already told you what you’re worth at the Cross!
Our Catechism, To Be a Christian, gets incredibly practical when it speaks of stewardship:
Q: As his steward, how does God require you to use your possessions? A: As I am able, I should earn my own living so that I may set aside offerings for worship, give alms to the poor, and care for my dependents; and I should use all my possessions, gifts and abilities to glorify God, better the state of the creation, and love my neighbors.
The Lord desires to be present with you – better yet, he is present with you – to guide and direct you, and give you the joy of being his steward.
2) Stewardship is For All God’s People (v. 42)
Jesus does not run to this poor widow and tell her to put her leptas away! Many of us would have been tempted to tell her to keep what she had. Whoa! What are you doing – you need that. That’s all you have!
In fact, there’s a connection with v. 40. Jesus tells us that the scribes were devouring widows’ homes. In spite of false leadership, she chose to trust the Lord. None of us are exempt from trusting God because of our situations. None of us are exempt from using what we have to bring glory to God’s name – no matter how seemingly small or big we think our gifts are.
As a Christian, if you come into the church and you say something like, “Gee, I just don’t really have much to offer. I can’t teach and I’m not gifted in the same ways others are,” I want to know that that is actually a false humility! You are keeping God from getting the glory over the good gifts he’s poured into you! He wants the glory, so you can have the joy of serving him and serving others.
3) It Is Not the Size of the Gift That Matters, But the State of the Heart (Vs. 43-44)
It was not the amount, but her heart that mattered. Others gave what they could easily stand to lose, but she gave herself. Her trust to the Lord. This is the great and First Commandment: trust me, says God! That’s the attitude I’m after today.
Listen, you can come into the church and give for the wrong reasons – you can give money to gain control. You can sing to self-exalt. You can teach to elevate yourself and your own intellect. Or, you can offer your gifts to God for his glory. It’s all about the heart.
4) Having More Money Is Not the Issue (v. 43)
When it comes to finances, having more money is not the issue.
We would like to believe that it is other people who have a problem with money. “Look at that rich person,” we might say, “They have a real love of money problem! They need to take that to the Lord and deal with it.” But when it comes to us, we usually believe that our problem is only practical: “If I just had more of it, then I would be more generous.” Of course, the only thing that having more money does for any of us is simply to reveal more of who we already are.
According to Reader’s Digest, “About 70 percent of lotto winners lose or spend all [their winnings] in five years or less.”
One lotto winner said, “After we won the lottery, we bought an eight-bedroom, seven-bath, 10,000-square-foot mansion because we could, and it sounded amazing.” “Well,” she says, “Now we’re selling the eight-bedroom, seven-bath mansion because it’s impractical for a family of four.”
Who we are in small matters, will only be written in larger script later on.
We simply cannot talk about stewardship without the call to financial peace. Our culture encourages us to live above and beyond our means no matter how much money you make. The call to stewardship is the call to honor the Lord with our time, talent, and treasure. This means living within and even under our means.
Every time I think about the call to financial peace, I think about the old Lending Tree commercial:
“I’m Stanley Johnson,” he begins. “I’ve got a great family, I’ve got a four bedroom house in a great community. Like my car? It’s new. I even belong to the local golf club. How do I do it? I’m in debt up to my eyeballs! I can barely pay my finance charges. Somebody help me!”
According to LendingTree, Americans have $925 billon dollars in credit card debt alone. For many of us, this is the way we were taught to live. It is not the way of the Kingdom of God. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)
5) She Becomes Our Example of the Goal: Generosity (v. 44)
This poor widow becomes our example of a truly generous person. Like her, each of us comes to God not out of our abundance, but in our poverty. We are the beggars he made into sons and daughters. In our giving, and in our stewardship of our whole lives, we are not trying to pay God off. He has given us more than we could ever give. It’s telling that she was commended, not for how large her gift was, but for what she had left. Nothing.
Our fourth stewardship principle as a church says that “we are called to give generously, with a tithe as our baseline.” Financially, the true goal in the life of the Christian is generosity, not the tithe. The tithe is a milestone, not a destination. In response to the blessings of the new covenant in Christ’s blood, the attitude of the Christian is not, “Lord, what do I have to give away,” but instead “Lord, what should I keep?”
Lest we forget, the first Christian church in the Bible was so overwhelmed by the grace of God that an entire church of thousands gave up their rights to all their possessions (land, houses, you name it) to the glory of God, the building up of the church in its mission, and the care of the poor and needy. I don’t know about you, but I have barely begun to be a truly generous person.
Today, you’ve received a pledge card. This is new for us. Please understand – this is not about measuring up to my – or anyone else’s – standard but God. My prayer is that each of us who call New Creation our home church will prayerfully consider what the Lord is asking us to give in year ahead. Three words describe what we should be praying toward: sacrificial, proportional, and regular giving.
Sacrificial: At the end of the year, when your get our statement of giving, will it hurt a little? Will you say, “Man, I could have used that!” That’s a sacrifice. It’s also in our passage: the Lord seems to measure the value of the gift by how costly it was to the giver (v.44)
Proportional: Based on a percentage. You may have never done that before. If the Lord calls you to start at 5%, great! 10%, great! 15%, great!
Regular: Don’t give only when it’s convenient or when you think of it. Commit to give regularly, be it every week, two weeks, or monthly.
Please take this with you, pray over it, and bring it back to either put in the offertory or give to a member of Vestry by our Annual Parish Business Meeting (December 11).
Our last stewardship principle is this: the motive for giving is joy, gratitude, and thankfulness.
Psalm 116 says, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.”
If our giving is not based on thankfulness, it’s merely fundraising. The motive for our giving is not flattery, not to be thought of as a benefactor, not as a “tip” to the pastor for doing a good job, not guilt, not duty, not because the church “needs” it, but thankfulness! In Jesus Christ, God has given us everything we need, how can we then do anything other than live with an open hand, saying with widow in this passage, “All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own have we given you!”