Everything – November 8, 2015


Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 Mark 12:38-44


Entrepreneurs and promoters leased the Los Angeles Convention Center to display the nearly 30-thousand objects left from the estate of the entertainer…Liberace. Thousands of people willingly paid six dollars each for the privilege of viewing the remains of Liberace’s personal materialism. This was followed by an auction at Christies in Los Angeles…where another admission charge of ten dollars was levied in a desperate attempt to regulate the crowd. In a crazy sell-off…a king’s ransom was paid by the bejeweled crowd for Liberace’s belongings On that incredible night…money was the only speech understood by the auctioneer. It also spoke in other ways. As the evening progressed it spoke volumes about the heart of the dead entertainer and the hearts of the bidders. Money talks. This has been a truth since the beginning. Because he knew this…Jesus chose the Temple treasury for his parting shot before leaving the Temple for good. The giving…or holding…or other use of money…shows the state of the heart as few other things can. Because of this Jesus chose this place to create the contrast with the phony righteousness of the religious establishment with true devotion to God. The treasury where they placed their offerings consisted of thirteen brass treasure chests called trumpets because they were shaped like inverted horns…narrow at the top and enlarged at the bottom. Each bore an inscription telling people what the offering would be used for. Jesus found a place to watch the givers without drawing attention to himself. Like many of us Jesus was a “people watcher”. He watched their motives as well as their actions. Neither the widow nor the rest of the people had any idea they were being watched. But…hear the words of the Scottish minister…George MacDonald…who…in the nineteenth century wrote…”When we feel as if God is nowhere, He is watching over us with an eternal consciousness, above and beyond our every hope and fear.” What did Jesus see as he sat across from the treasury chests and watched the worshipers make their deposits? At first he saw that many rich people threw in large amounts. We should not assume that he disapproved of all the offerings of the wealthy. Very likely there were a number who had noble motivations. But…Jesus also saw much that displeased him. Public giving in a setting like that promotes self-conscious ostentation…people acting important. Think about this…would the stars have turned out to support “Live Aid” if there were no cameras and they could not stand to sing with Stevie Wonder? What would happen to our great national charities today without celebrity benefits…or published donors’ lists…or bronze plaques…or pictures taken with crippled children? The huge Passover crowds and the public display of the offering trumpets created some outrageous preening and prancing. You can imagine the hush that came over the crowd when a notable person approached…perhaps with an offering too heavy to carry himself…and the loud gasp at the sound of a great number of shekels crashing into the brass trumpets. Can you imagine their faces and the “see if you can top that” expression of those donors? Jesus also saw something that made his heart applaud. He saw the poor widow put in two very small copper coins. Jesus…and everyone else who saw her…knew that she was a poverty-stricken widow because widows wore distinctive clothing…which in this widow’s case was probably worn and tattered. She probably approached the trumpets quietly…her head bowed…hoping to draw no attention to herself. She did not know that Jesus was watching…but she knew that God was and that was whom she came to please. She was living out the Shema…loving God with all she had. She gave everything. On this Passover she was silently saying to God, “I love you, and all I have is yours.” The Passover crowd had been “oohing” and “aahing” over the generosity of the rich…yet Jesus had remained unmoved. But when the widow passed by…though he sat still…Jesus was inwardly standing on his feet and applauding. She was a rare flower in a desert of official…formal…phony devotion…and her true beauty made his heart rejoice. Jesus told his disciples that the widow put more in the treasury than all the others…she gave all she had. Jesus’ praise of the widow should give us some things to ponder. When it comes to giving…the posture of our heart makes all the difference. The I.R.S. doesn’t care what is on my heart when I write that check to charity. But, the Lord cares whether I give lovingly or begrudgingly. Paul told the Corinthians, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3) But…if I give a penny with the same heart as the widow it is a great gain to me and to God. God weighs our motivations. This truth can be a comfort or a terror. Which is it for you? God can do great things with small offerings. Those two pennies…given quietly with the widow’s motive…have produced more for the Kingdom in the 2,000 years since than all other gifts presented that Passover week. These two miniscule coins have been multiplied into billions and billions for God’s work as humble people have been liberated to give from their little. When the judgment comes Jesus will square the accounts. There is nothing to show that the woman ever knew what Jesus thought of her gift or that she ever became a prosperous woman. The judgment will show her work. She will be first with God. This last observation…God is egalitarian. There is no advantage with God for the poor or the rich…for the unlettered or the educated…for the known or the unknown. Billy Graham has no advantage over the humblest believer…and vice versa. All of us…without exception…can do great things for God. Is it possible for a Church to love and give like the widow? Has it ever done so? The history of the Apostolic Church answers with a loud yes. Paul told the Corinthians: “And now…brothers…we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial…their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able…and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own…they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected…but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-5) God does not want our money. God wants us. Yet…we cannot give ourselves to him without giving our money. It is so true…money talks. It tells us where our hearts are. What does our giving say about us…individually and as a church? There is a disease which is particularly bad at this time. It is called cirrhosis of the giver. It was actually discovered about 34 A.D. and became the death of Ananias and Sapphira. You’ll find their story in the book of Acts. It is a serious condition which makes the victim’s hands unable to move when it attempts to open a billfold or purse or put a check in the offering plate. The cure seems to be to remove the person from the House of God…since the condition disappears when the person is in other environments like restaurants…golf courses…and shopping centers. Then…there’s no trouble moving the hand from the billfold or purse to place money in the hand of another person. Some data to share. Over 300 billion dollars was given by Americans to charities in 2014…which includes all places of worship. That seems like a big number. It includes business and foundation giving as well as individual giving. Total giving…however…is only about 2 percent of all income received by Americans…not even one-half of a tithe. That 2 percent number has been consistent since the data has been collected….about 50 years. Yet…holiday retail sales last year grew by over 4% and the growth rate is expected to be greater this year. The Barna Group has been researching religious questions in the world for a couple decades. They have done it well…and are considered quite credible. Their research consistently shows that only five percent of professing Christians actually tithe to their church. All others give less than ten percent. Actually this disease is really not a problem of the hand. It is a heart problem. The best remedy is to fall in love with God…with Jesus…with all your heart…with your everything…for where your heart is…there will your treasure be.