November 7, 2021
In this month's newsletter article, I wrote about transitions and giving thanks. Speaking first of transitions, have you noticed that our normal transition from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas is gone? Christmas now seems to start a week or two before Halloween. There is no natural transition. But today, and most of the sermons this month, we won't skip Thanksgiving, we will focus on how we express our thanks to God. Last Sunday we gave thanks for the promises of salvation given to us as adopted children of God and for the memories of our loved ones who have gone on to be with God. Next Sunday is Kennedy's confirmation where we'll give thanks for his presence in our church family and celebrate this step in his faith journey. The next Sunday is the Sunday before Thanksgiving where we'll focus on that holiday-- before the Christmas rush at least in church. The final Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent as we begin a thankful journey to commemorating the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem. Whew! Lots of giving thanks coming up.
Today's gospel is an exceptional story of the demonstration of gratefulness. The widow, who according to the standards of this world was lightly blessed, expressed her thanks in a most generous offering. Jesus pointed out, “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." Her gift was above and beyond theirs because they gave out of their excess and she out of her need.
The collection box at the temple would have been just outside the place where the people worshiped. A long funnel-like attachment connected to the chest where the money would collect. (On screen) It would be kind of like our noisy coin offering, there was no paper money so the coins would rattle down that funnel and the more you put in, the more impressive the sound. The widow few coins would not have been noticed... except by Jesus.
I titled today's sermon “leftovers”. (I posted this on the announcement board on the west side of the building, then wondered if was a good idea as it is followed by our chili lunch announcement and it looks like we are serving leftover chili!) But leftovers is a fitting title for a sermon in November as Thanksgiving is almost as renowned for the leftovers the next day as for the actual meal. Cold turkey sandwiches on Black Friday, mmmm. But that's not the leftovers of which I speak. Going back to the gospel story, can't you see how the noisy offering of the rich were really their leftovers... while the widow gave her all.
Most of us don't appreciate sermons on stewardship. I don't and by my memory this is just my second such sermon in my twelve years here. But here we go. The budget committee met Wednesday to run the numbers, and yes, we do need money. But the point is not to give money to the church or for the budget but to give to the work of God. And we give in thanksgiving for the gifts God has given to us; gifts such as salvation, life, creation, grace, peace and love to name a few. Again, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults.” And with that exulting, we are called to give to God out of gratitude for the blessings we have received.
A key to good stewardship of God's gifts is that God gets the first share of our goods. From the earliest days of the Jewish relationship with God, the command was to give God the first fruits. Proverbs 3: 9 gives this instruction to the people of God, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits from your entire harvest.” Here we are told in God's word to give our first fruits. Offerings then were bulls and sheep and turtle doves or grain offerings. But God's share, the tithe, always came first.
We don't talk much about the tithe anymore. Some of you probably have never heard the term. It is part of the Old Testament laws, Leviticus 27: 30 says, “But every tithe from the land, whether from the seed of the land or from the fruit of the trees, belongs to the Lord. It is holy to the Lord.” Tithe in Hebrew literally means “tenth”. 1/10, 10% of everything the Israelites produced went to God. The first tenth. Today's average Christian gives less than 3%. In the Old Testament, the tithe was required. Today we are invited to give our best to God and 10% could be looked at as a minimum. And of course, that includes all our charitable giving, not just the offering to the church.
But how about our giving, are we guilty of giving God from our leftovers? Rather that setting aside a generous offering as our income comes in, do we see what the checkbook balance looks like and give a share of what is leftover? And I understand that finances are necessary and the checkbook balance does matter. Honestly, Julie and I had to wait until today to pay last month's pledge so the check would clear. Our pledge sheets that we sign says that we make a faith pledge, given in gratitude to God. And while circumstances can certainly change, it is important to make keeping our pledge a priority; the first fruits of our income. It is an important part of our faith journey with God but also critical to keep the church going.
On the lighter side, I want to share a situation that came up last week. Julie and I were working here at church and she received a strange call. A man called and asked if he could speak to the “head hog at the trough”. Well, you know Julie and she wouldn't put up with that. She said something to this effect, “Sir, if you mean our pastor you will have to treat him with a little more respect that that. You cannot refer to him as the head hog at the trough.” The man said, “I'm sorry. I'm calling because I have $10,000 I was thinking of donating to your church.” Julie paused, then responded, “Please hold a moment, I think the big pig just walked into his office.”
Our question this morning comes down to this: are we giving God the very best we have to offer? Are we giving God our first fruits or does God get our leftovers? On your pledge sheets you are asked to fill out for budgeting, we don't just ask for pledges of money but for time and talents as well. Prayerfully consider how you will complete both sides of your pledge sheet. Consider this question: Do we give Jesus the first or best portion of our time; of each day? Time in prayer, in study, in contemplating the Savior is part of our stewardship. It is hard to be a faithful servant of the master without coming into his presence and offering our time with God. Our time... You are here on the first day of the week. You have offered God the first fruits of this upcoming week! We gather to praise and give our thanks, but also to devote ourselves to living out our professed faith during the whole week. We are to humbly serve, to put others first and to not push the other hogs away from the trough to borrow my previous metaphor. Our psalm began with this, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.” As we consider the Lord's part in our goods, my final question here deals with our possessions, the fruits of our labor: money. Are we giving Jesus the first portion of our wealth in thanksgiving for all he has done for us? Or does he get what is leftover after we use our money for entertainment and treats and fun. Necessities are a real thing, but if most people study their giving, we give more to our own pleasures that to the Lord who has created this world with its pleasures.
Our stewardship message then is this: Don't give to God our leftovers, either our gifts or our talents. God deserves the first share of our days, our weeks, our talents and our treasures. Amen.
Hymn: Take My Life and Let it Be 385 HLC