November 12, 2000
"When Enough is Not Enough"
Sermon by Rev. Sherry Parker
Dundee United Methodist Church
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Please note: Because I do not use notes when I preach, the text in the written sermon may vary slightly from the spoken sermon. My prayer is that in both my writing and my speaking the Holy Spirit works to make this message worthy of God's purpose.
Scripture: Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
When Jesus gathered the disciples to point out the gift that the poor widow gave to the church treasury, he was pointing out an injustice. The rich and poor alike were expected to offer money as an act of piety or spiritual discipline. The money used for work of the temple and to support the priests. Now the rich had no problem with the fee. Jesus watched as the wealthy put in large sums of money. For them, it was just a few coins tossed in the collection box. Their behavior, much like the scribes who wore robes of honor and took the best seats, was in expectation of admiration based on their piety and generosity. But the woman, whom we are told was a widow and poor, lived a very different life. Women in the time of Jesus had very few rights. A woman who lost her husband lost everything, her means of living, her protection, and her position in society. All the property owned by her husband went to the closest male relative. Women who found themselves outside of the protection of a male relative's household were destitute and abandoned. This woman who went to the temple to worship God lived on the social and economic margin of her community. And yet, she gathered what few coins she had and gave them to support the temple. It was her act of faithfulness.
Many of you have heard this story from the Gospel of Mark. The story of the "widow's mite" is often used as a lesson to encourage stewardship and generous giving. Yet, the reality of the story is that the woman, in order to practice her faith in the most holy of places for the Jewish people, had to sacrifice her entire living, while others standing near her gave out of so much abundance that they didn't even notice the gift. I can't in good conscience suggest this morning that anyone here model their giving after the woman's example. First, it would not be possible in the tradition of our church. There is no tax, no fee, for worship. All are welcome, whether a gift is given or not. Second, I doubt that few of us, despite our various burdens in life, have fully experience the complete poverty and loss that this widow lived with.
So this morning I do not presume to bring you a lesson about the amount of money the widow or the more wealthy worshipers give at the temple. Instead, I bring a question that rises out of their actions. It is a personal question and a question for our community of faith: In faithful living, what is enough?
Does this declaration sound familiar? "I've already done enough. It's someone else's turn." It should. It's a common observation heard and acted out in many places. We may have heard it said within our own families as one family member points out the responsibilities of another. Where ever there are tired volunteers, school, community service organizations or churches, people will note that some do too much while others do too little. Among volunteers who work with the poor, the hungry and the homeless, similar words are heard. "I've given enough. It's time for others to help." Even citizens of this nation have expressed this sentiment for the entire country. "In this world the United States has given enough in military forces and aid to the needy. It's time for other countries to step forward and do their part. Enough is enough."
How many have experienced the feelings that someone else should do more, give more, or serve more. I walk around Dundee, and I'm tired of seeing the trash. I pick up bags with the remains of meals from Taco Bell, McDonalds and Burger King off the parsonage and church lawn. I know you've picked them up off your lawns. I sometimes think that if everyone just waited until they got home to take care of the garbage, the town would be a lot cleaner.
Perhaps you've been a parent or an educator involved in the school and you've thought to yourself, if every parent would just take an interest in what is happening in their child's classroom, in their child's life, things would be that much better for all the children.
Unfortunately, we cannot by force change the behavior of another. And I believe it is unethical and even immoral to manipulate through guilt or shame, so that someone might do what I think is right, even if it is what I have required of myself. Our responsibility lies with our own choices, and the moment we start looking around and judging our actions based on the deficiency of another's, we lose the genuine spirit of giving.
Stewardship in the Christian sense is to faithfully care for the gifts God has given. Stewardship encompasses our responsibility for our families, for God's creation and God's church. Stewardship campaigns often seem to concentrate on commitments of money, but the stewardship picture is much larger. It embraces all that we do as well as what we give to indicate our thanks and praise for our Creator.
In the membership vows of the United Methodist Church members agree to support the church with their prayers, their presence, their gifts and their service. Others, who choose not to formally take the vows of membership, demonstrate through their actions that they understand the importance of prayers, presence, gifts and service. No one of these practices is greater of importance than another in stewardship of the church.
Stewardship is not a game of comparison. I will not be a better steward than another based on my presence, my financial gifts, my prayers or my service in this church. One either is practicing stewardship or one is not.
And this is for each of us to decide ourselves. In terms of the church, I can ask of myself: Do I attend enough, do I pray enough, do I give enough, do I serve enough to know that I am a faithful steward of God's gifts? I ask these questions, not in comparison to the person sitting beside me in the pew or my brother or my neighbor, but in a simple request before God, "Lord, show me what is enough."
What was enough for the rich who deposited their money in the temple treasury, standing there before the crowd? Was it enough to give large amounts out of an abundance that would still exist? Was it enough to be present at the Temple when the leisure time to do so was available?
This is the message that Jesus gives to the faithful who live in abundance and comfort: greater knowledge means greater responsibility; from the one to whom more is given, more is expected. As the Epistle of James states : "Not many of you should become teachers, my brother and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged by a greater strictness." (3:1).
What was enough for the widow who gave two pennies? The widow, who gave so much of what she had, was impoverished in two ways. First, Mark indicates that she had little money. When she gave away the two pennies, she gave away her living. But the widow was also vulnerable in a society that had little regard for women. Whether a woman was wealthy or poor, she had little power over her own destiny. In this widow's act of devotion, she gave enough to put trust fully on the Lord. Some would observe that by giving away what she had, she gave herself up to disaster. In truth, she gave herself up to faith.
Faith in God and not faith in one's wealth and status will establish one in the kingdom of God.
What was enough for God to give? God gave mercy and infinite patience. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command, God set them out of the garden of Eden, but with the promise they would be cared for. Even Cain, who killed his brother, was given a mark by God, so that no one would harm him. God sent a flood, but redeemed a remnant of humankind. God brought the people out of Israel out of Egypt although their devotion was fickle and temperamental. God saved the chosen people from sieges and battles, invasions and exiles. And yet, God's people continued to sin, to turn from God. It seems that all God had done would be enough to show the power and love of God, enough to compel all to follow.
What was enough for God to give?
God chose to be incarnate and walk among us as Jesus. As Jesus taught, as he healed and loved, it was not enough for a hard-hearted people. Enough came finally in sacrifice, in death, in glorious resurrection. There would be no more death for those who believed. There would be no more sorrow for those who knew Jesus. Jesus gave more than he needed to. Jesus gave all he was. That was enough.
As we make our decisions about how we will care for our gifts, our times, our time and resources, not just in this month, but everyday, we cannot measure our service, our prayers, our presence, our gifts by what anyone else in this world does or does not do. Faithful stewardship is not a contest or an end goal, it is a way of life. Stewardship is not in the amount of service, caring or giving, but in the act itself. How much, in each of our lives, is enough care? Enough compassion? Enough thankfulness? In faithful living how much is enough?
Craddock, Fred. Preaching Through the Christian Year: B. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1993. Newsom, Carol. The Women's Bible Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992