WHAT CAN I GIVE 1-8-17
WHAT CAN I GIVE?
January 8, 2017
By now you're probably thinking, "Here we go, the preacher is going to try to get me to give more to the church. I should have just stayed home today." Well, don't get too defensive just yet, because I know that many of you do a great deal for the Lord and for others. Many of you could even be used as an example of what Christian giving should be. In fact, I thought of the prayer of King David, after his people brought their gifts towards the building of the temple, in 1 Chronicles 29:14-17: "But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you."
Surprised? You might now be thinking, "But the congregational prayer... that didn't sound like you thought we gave enough." (Heavenly Father, the Wise Men eagerly travelled far to bring expensive gifts to the Christ child, and humbly worship Him. Yet too often we grumble at having to travel only a short distance to gather here, and reluctantly offer our meager gifts. Forgive us Lord, and accept the worship and gifts we offer to you today, in gratitude for all you have done for us. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.) Well, first of all, none of us can say we have never grumbled. None of us can say we never woke up on a Sunday morning and wished we could just stay in bed, whether we actually got up for church or not. And none of us can say that there weren't times when we put that money into the offering plate because we knew we should, but we would have liked to use it for something a bit more selfish. None of us are perfect. And while I do know and appreciate just how much a lot of you do for the church and the community - just as those in King David's time did to build the temple - what matters most to God is also in the verses I just quoted. David said, "I know, my God, that you test the heart." Yes, it is what is in our hearts that matters the most.
In our Gospel reading (Mark 12:41-44) Jesus didn't applaud the rich Pharisees who threw in bags and bags full of money. Why? I'm sure a great deal of good was done with the money they contributed. And I'm sure our church would make good use of a few extra bags of money, too. But God looks at the heart. That extra cash wasn't even going to be missed by them. Instead it was buying them what they wanted, prestige and honor among the people. It was making them look good and righteous and praiseworthy. But Jesus didn't praise them. Instead, he praised the poor widow, whose heart he found to be pure and full of love. She had only thrown two small coins into the offering plate, but those two coins meant she didn't eat that day, and maybe not the next day either.
So this message isn't about trying to make the number after "Offering Last Sunday" on the hymn board bigger. Not that Corky would mind that, of course. But rather it is about having a heart like that of the Wise Men, or the people that contributed towards the building of Solomon's temple. Or as in our Epistle reading (2 Corinthians 9:6-8), the heart of a cheerful giver, not one that gives grudgingly or because they feel pressured to do so.
Yes, we have bills to pay. Yes, we have to pay apportionments to the Methodist Church. Yes, we will continue to help those in the community that are in need. And for all of these we need money. But God has promised us that if our hearts are right in his eyes, he will provide and bless us so that we can give. For what did that last verse of our Epistle reading say? "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." (2 Corinthians 9:8). Now I'm not saying this to sound like one of the so-called "prosperity preachers. I'm not promising you wealth and riches if you throw a few extra dollars into the plate. That's not how it works. You don't give so you can get more back. You give because you love God, and you love God's people, and you have a heart full of gratitude - not a heart full of greed. Giving to God shouldn't be like investing in the stock market, hoping to double or triple your investment. Nowhere in our Gospel reading does Jesus say that after the poor widow threw her last two small coins into the temple treasury that she won the Lotto. But she was noticed by the Lord and her giving was immortalized in God's Word. And beyond that she received something far, far better yet. For Matthew 6:19-21 says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." That widow had more treasure stored up in heaven than all of the rich Pharisees put together. For all of eternity, her wealth will far outweigh theirs. For her heart, and her treasure, was in God's Kingdom, not man's. Those Pharisees however, had an abundance of treasure on earth, but none in heaven. Because it also says in Matthew 6 (1-2), "Be careful not to perform your righteous acts before men to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be praised by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their reward."
Remember the little play that Ed and I put on during our Christmas Eve service? Pepita wanted to give a gift to the Christ Child, but neither she nor her brother had any money. At Pedro's suggestion, she picked some small wildflowers growing alongside the road, and laid those down in the chapel. And in the eyes of the Lord they became beautiful poinsettias.
So... What can I give him? I give him my heart! Because when you give your heart to the Lord, you have given Him everything, just as He has given everything to you. Amen.
You all received one of these bears at our Christmas Eve service. Now I'd like you to give you another one for you to give to a friend...