1 Kings 17:8-16 Psalm 146 Hebrews 9:24-28 Mark 12:38-44
At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 an armistice was signed between the Allied Forces and the Germans ending the fighting on the Western Front of World War I. That was 100 years ago today, and at 11:00 this morning we will participate with the National Cathedral and other churches throughout the nation in ringing our church bells in remembrance of all who served in the Great War. Each year since 1918, this and other nations have celebrated this end to the fighting and all the sacrifices people made to achieve peace. In the United States, after World War II, the celebration was expanded, making this a day to honor all veterans, living and dead, who have served in our military.
The men and women who serve in the military serve us. They not only pledge alliance to the flag, they pledge alliance for what the flag stands for – our safety and our freedom. Ultimately, they are committed to making this a better and peaceful world. The bells that are rung today are for peace, and they are rung to honor those who were willing to sacrifice their lives for us to live in peace. So to our veterans, I say thank you.
Our readings today talk of a different type of sacrifice. In 1st Kings, Elijah asks a woman to bring him some bread and she says she has just enough bread and oil to make enough for one last meal for her and her son. After eating it, she says they will die because they will have no more food. Elijah tells her to make him a small loaf anyway and that God will not let her and her son go hungry. I’m not sure if she believed him, but she did as Elijah said. This is an example of sacrificial giving.
Hebrews talks also of sacrificial giving, the sacrifice Jesus made for the sins of others. Then, in the gospel reading, Jesus tells us of a poor widow who placed two small copper coins into the treasury, or offering plate. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 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.”
When I worked at a homeless program in Atlanta, there was a man who came into the office after the meal had been served and all the lunch sacks distributed. He asked for food, but there was none left. In the room was an emaciated woman who reminded me of the women in the commercials raising money to feed people in Africa who are dying of starvation. I don’t know her story, I only know she was homeless and looked like she hadn’t eaten a meal is several weeks. She heard us tell the man there was no more food and spoke up saying, “I don’t have much, but I can give you something . . . it was a given to me.”
She had so little, but she knew he had less. She, like the widow who put everything she had into the treasury, saw what she had been given as a gift to be shared. Most of us have more than we need to survive, but many of us are afraid we don’t have enough to share. We do not give from our abundance, because we are afraid. I know I often catch myself holding back for fear that I don’t have enough.
As we begin this year’s stewardship drive, I want us to ask ourselves three questions before deciding what we might pledge. These are the same questions I asked the stewardship committee to answer.
The first is, “Why give?” I’ve shared with you before that I believe giving needs to be part of our spiritual discipline. One that requires us to place people over possessions. When we value people more than possession, we can let go of the fear that we don’t have enough and give thanks for what we do have. We see the world differently; we see how our lives are connected to others. We also find that our gifts, combined with the gifts of others, are capable of accomplishing more than any one of us can accomplish on our own. So, whether we give $20 or $20,000 dollars, what we give makes us a part of something that greater than ourselves.
The second question I want you to consider is, “Why St. Paul’s?” There are lots and lots of wonderful places and causes to which we can give our money – and our time. What we have to give is limited, so my question is why give to St. Paul’s. I know why I give, and it is not simply that St. Paul’s pays my salary. I give to St. Paul’s because it is my community of faith, it is where I am feed spiritually, and I consider you a part of my family. I’m not alone in considering you a part of my family, several of the committee member said they give to St. Paul’s because they love this church and their church family.
I not only love what St. Paul’s offers us, as members, I love what it offers this community. We offer an understanding of God as loving, liberating, and life-giving. We celebrate creation and teach that all people, without exception, are valued children of our God. This is a gift to our community and by giving to St. Paul’s we make it possible to share this message of love and acceptance to others. We seek to draw people to God rather than scare them into believing. We seek to offer this message of love to those who feel judged or who think they are unworthy of God’s love.
The third question I want you to answer is, “Why Pledge?” Lots of people give to St. Paul’s, many of our members give – but only about half pledge. So, “why pledge?” When I asked the stewardship committee this question, some of the answers were:
How difficult life would be if I tried to pay my monthly bills without knowing how much money I had coming in. The church has to have some idea of its income in order to plan for its services.
Pledges are necessary to assist in planning and programing for the church.
I know pledging is needed for a church to prosper.
And, one person after noting the church’s need to plan where it will spend money, added, “for me to make a formal commitment for my giving.”
A spiritual discipline requires commitment, and as part of my spiritual discipline I pledge to St. Paul’s as well as other places that I believe are making a positive difference in the world today. It can be challenging at times, because I am human and have a tendency to want to hold back more for myself and left others carry the burden. My pledge is not only a formal commitment, it is part of my spiritual discipline that has me consider what I value most.
And, it reminds me that I a part of something far bigger than myself alone. Since there are so many needs in this community and the world, I must also decide where my gifts will have the greatest impact.
Like the homeless woman in Atlanta, the widow had little to give, but Jesus says, “this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.” The greatest impact of our gifts, therefore, is not to be measured in how much we give but on what our gift does for us. This is why I hope you will give – not because we need the money, we do, but because you and I need to give. Giving like prayer, changes us!
Let us pray.
Loving God, you gave us the gift of your Son, you gave yourself to us that we might come to know you and your desire for us to live in your love and in peace with one another. Help us, we pray to honor what you have entrusted to us by sharing what we have to spread your message of love and acceptance in this world which so desperately needs to know you. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.