Praying, reading, worshiping, and sharing have been the first four spiritual disciplines to help us build up our faith. We have two more to disciplines in our Faith Builders series. Today, we focus on giving.
For this, we turn our attention to a person who often goes unnoticed, who flies under the radar, whose name no one seems to remember, and who often gets lost in the crowd. And yet this same person is the one who Jesus lifts up in our Gospel reading as a shining example of financial generosity.
Jesus and the disciples were people watching one day. They weren’t sitting on a bench at a shopping mall, but they were watching the hustle and bustle of a large crowd of people making their donations to the Temple treasury.
There were some big time donations being made by some pretty impressive and well known people. They were dropping in some serious coinage as a display of their power and wealth.
These are the names that you see in the first pages of the annual financial report under the heading, President’s Club. It’s the annual gift that could buy a new car. It’s such a large gift that you just might get a call and be invited to serve on the board of directors.
As they watch this impressive display of financial giving, Jesus points out the obvious that it’s so easy to focus on the people who are making the big donations. That’s the easy part. There’s a reason why most people know who you mean when you say Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. They’re rich. They have a ton of money. And they donate more money to causes than we can ever imagine.
And I like it that Jesus doesn’t trivialize the giving of those impressive donors. Everyone is called to offer their financial resources to be a blessing to others. That’s something that we are all called to do.
But Jesus doesn’t want the disciples and he doesn’t want us to only focus on the dollar amount of the financial gifts. Jesus wants us to focus on something much more important. Jesus wants us to focus on the spirit in which we offer our gifts.
And for this, he points out a poor nameless widow who drops in her two coins into the Temple Treasury. Those two coins will not get her name printed in the top donor category. She won’t even get listed under that last category called, “Other Contributions.” She will largely go unnoticed. She will remain nameless.
But Jesus noticed. And Jesus lifted up this poor widow as an example of what it means to be fully committed to God. She gave her financial gift out of her poverty and gave all that she had. Jesus wants us to see that giving is not just about the dollar amount. It’s about the heart. It’s about the spirit in which we offer our gifts.
We might even say that Jesus doesn’t just notice the size of our financial gifts. He also notices what’s in our checking and saving accounts. Jesus sees the big picture. He can see what’s important to us. He can see where we place our priorities.
Someone said to me one day that when he reviewed his spending over the past several weeks, he was shocked with how much money he spent on entertainment. It can be shocking when we do the math and think about how we are spending our money vs. what we say is important in our lives.
Sometimes what we say is important doesn’t translate into our practical everyday lives. We need to do a better job of going from the theoretical to the practical.
Maybe you heard about the preacher who visited a farmer one day and asked him, “Joe, If you had $200, would you give $100 to the Lord?” And the farmer said, “Sure, I would!”
And then the preacher asked him, “Joe, if you had two cows, would you give one cow to the Lord?” And the farmer said, “Well, yeah, if I had two cows, I’d give one of the those cows to the Lord.”
And the preacher asked him, “Joe, let me ask you one more question. What if you owned two pigs? Would you give one of your two pigs to the Lord?”
This time the farmer got angry and said, “Now, that’s not fair preacher, because you know that I actually own two pigs!”
Sometimes what sounds great in theory doesn’t always translate into real life generosity.
This is why the bible talks about the principle of tithing our financial resources. Tithing is the biblical model of giving 10% of our financial blessings to the work of Christ and his church. Some have said that the biblical principle of tithing acts as a great equalizer because if a poor person puts $15 into the offering plate one Sunday morning and a very wealthy person puts in $1,500 that same day, and both gifts represent 10% of that’s week’s income, then their gifts are equal according to Jesus’ math. The call is for equal sacrifice, not equal gifts.
The widow in our Gospel reading has much to teach all of us about love, trust, and the nature of God. She didn’t have much, but she gave all she had because she loved others beyond herself. She gave because she believed those coins could be multiplied by God for God’s work. She knew that God could be trusted to be faithful beyond any bank or possession.
A friend of mine shared his faith journey with me. Early in his marriage he would attend church on occasion but not very often. A buddy of his invited him to attend a spiritual weekend retreat which he did and during that retreat, he experienced God’s love in a way that he had never before experienced. That weekend became a major turning point in his life.
When he got home after the retreat, he told his wife all about it. He told her about how he had experienced God’s love and grace in such a real and powerful way and how he made a commitment to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ during that weekend. And so he asked her, “How much do we give to the church each week?” He had never asked her what they give each week.
She told him the amount and he said, “Oh, my. That’s nowhere near what we should be giving. We need to at least triple that amount.”
Not only did that weekend retreat change him inwardly, it also had a huge impact on his commitments in the key areas we have been focusing on these past several weeks. He began praying and reading his bible on a daily basis. He started attending worship with his wife and family every single week. He became intentional in sharing his new found faith with the people at work. And he began to tithe his income to the work of Christ and the church.
If you would do the math, even before this man’s spiritual renewal weekend, he was giving a whole lot more money in the offering than the poor widow in our Gospel reading. But it wasn’t until after that spiritual weekend that he realized that his gift was so small in comparison to her great sacrifice. He was now wanting to make up for lost time. He realized what the poor widow already knew, that our giving is a response to God’s gracious love in our lives.
To help us with this fifth commitment of giving as part of our Faith Builder’s series, up on the screen are some choices for us to consider. I’m going to give us time to think about these choices and which one we would like to be our commitment in this area of giving to Christ and his church.
I invite us to look up at the screen on some giving options for us to consider. Like previous Sundays, you can see the various options that are listed. I’m going to read these possible responses.
• No, I am not ready to commit at this time.
• Yes, I am ready to commit as follows:
You’ll see that it says, “General Budget” which supports over fifty vital ministries through our church. It then says that from this coming January 1 to December 31 of 2020, that I will give so much money every week or month or quarter or year for an annual total amount of so many dollars.
And then at the bottom, you’ll notice an option where you can indicate if this will represent a tithe or 10% of your income to the work of Christ and the church. If it’s not a tithe, you can put down whatever % of your income that represents. This is between you and God.
And finally, you also have the option of checking the last line that says that in the years ahead with God’s help, I will step up toward tithing. This might mean that instead of giving 2% of your income to Christ and the church, that you set a goal to give a higher percentage the following year until you reach the biblical principle of tithing.
I think the last paragraph is very important with this Sunday’s commitment on financial giving. It says that giving will be the greatest joy in my life. I will make my contribution to Christ and the church the top priority in my personal budget.
This week, many of us will be receiving a mailing that will include a 2020 Financial Estimate of Giving card to support the work of Christ and the church. Look for that mailing this week and prayerfully consider your commitment in this area of giving as we prepare for a new year of ministry here at Athens First, and return the card at your earliest convenience.
As Wendy plays some music, we’re invited to think about what God is calling you and me to give in this coming year.
I’ll close with this thought. Many of us are familiar with the Bible verse, John 3:16. It’s probably one of the most recognizable scripture references in all the Bible.
That’s always been interesting to me because it’s a verse about giving. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” He gave his only son.
You’d think that the most familiar verse wouldn’t be about giving but about something else like our happiness or feeling peaceful. Instead, this well known verse is about giving.
We notice sacrificial giving, like a poor widow giving all that she had to bless others. Like the God of creation giving us his only Son to die on the cross.
Deep down, we know that God has created each one of us to be generous givers. It’s at the heart of who God is. And it’s at the heart of who we are called to be.
Faith Builders: Giving
Sermon Discussion Questions
October 20, 2019
Our Faith Builders sermon series is focusing on six key areas which include praying, reading, worshiping, sharing, and we have two more to go. This week’s focus is on giving. For this area, we turn to a nameless widow who teaches us what it means to give generously bless God and God’s kingdom from our heart. This story is found in Luke 21:1-4. She gave all that she had into the Temple treasury and Jesus noticed her sacrificial giving.
Why do you think that of all the examples of generous givers in the Bible, probably the most generous of all isn’t even given a name? What does this say about where our focus should be when we offer our gifts to Christ and the church?
In the sermon, a true story was told about a man who gave what he thought was a generous amount to support the work of his local church. But when he attended a life-changing spiritual retreat, he realized that his financial contribution did not truly match his newfound gratitude for God’s many blessings in his life. After this spiritual awakening, he and his wife reconsidered and increased their giving to match what they were feeling in their heart. Pastor Robert defined financial giving to Christ and his church as “my response to God’s gracious love in my life.”
Share a time when you became more aware of “God’s gracious love in your life.” How did this new awareness have an impact on your life?
For each Sunday of our Faith Builders series, we have been given time during worship to consider making a commitment in these vital areas of our faith. For this week on giving, we contemplated these possible commitments:
- No, I am not ready to commit in financially supporting Christ and his church at this time.
- Yes, I am ready to commit in the following way…
(Because this is such a personal decision, our church will be soon sending a mailing out to the congregation inviting us to consider our estimate of giving to the church in 2020.)
As we continue to reflect this week on our financial support of Christ and his church, use this prayer from Sunday’s worship service:
Gracious God, you have blessed us with many gifts. We are here today because you have led us to this place. You have given us your Son, Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior. You have given us this church to help us grow closer to you so that we might be a blessing to our community and world. You have given us so much. Help us to offer our very best gifts to you so that we might be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Forgive us for when we take your gifts for granted and for when we neglect to share your gifts for the sake of your kingdom. Give each one of us generous hearts. In your name, we pray. Amen.