Proper 27 · Mark 12:38-44 · November 8, 2009
By Rick Marrs
Several years ago, the parish I was serving invited the District’s Mission/Stewardship Executive to preach for our “New Consecration Sunday.” He surprised the congregation with this opening: “Sometimes Christians ask me what portion of their income they should really give to God and his Church? When they ask it like that, I tell them ‘You should give it all!'”
The implications for stewardship in this pericope are obvious. However, the preaching is complicated by the two-fold nature of the reading: warning about the abuse of clerics and the faithfulness of the poor widow.
First Jesus warns all those listening to him as he is teaching in the temple “Beware of the scribes.” According to William Lane’s 1974 NICNT commentary on Mark, clerics of eminence “…wore white and left the bright colors to the common people” (p. 440). When scribes and other clerics walked down the street, people rose respectfully. They were given the prominent positions at banquets, almost like they were ornaments for the feast. Many pastors today may not feel that their position affords them so much respect and authority, but there are many within congregations that distrust pastors. They may have had bad experiences—real or imagined, financial or personal—with pastors earlier in their lives. A pastor who is regularly visiting his people in their homes will be more knowledgeable of such issues and seem more approachable to his parishioners. He should make a conscious decision about whether or not w. 38-40 should be commented upon during the sermon itself. If he knows of any times that he has been guilty of pretence, this could afford him the opportunity to repent and ask for forgiveness. See Ted Kober’s book Confession and Forgiveness (CPH, 2002) for models of how to do this.
The focus of this reading is on the faithfulness of the poor widow. It gives the preacher an obvious opportunity to teach about Gospel-motivated stewardship. Many Christians feel guilty about stewardship, feeling driven by the Law to give more. Others rarely consider their stewardship of time, talents, and treasures to be a part of their Christian walk. Our American individualistic psyche wants to keep “what is mine” and not admit that everything we have comes as a gracious gift from our Lord. Church leaders sometimes become so focused on church budget issues and paying the bills that they fail to acknowledge the spiritual trust issues underlying each individual Christian’s life of faithful stewardship. The poor widow had two small copper coins; she could easily have kept one. But she exhibited her trust in the Lord by giving all she had. We have a Lord who has given everything of himself on the cross. Teaching stewardship is about helping Christians connect Jesus’ sacrificial love with their daily faith-filled decisions.
The website advertising for Herb Miller’s New Consecration Sunday materials trumpets the financial results (“15-30% increases in giving!”). That is unfortunate. As a pastor I was honestly much more impressed with how that program focused a congregation’s emphasis on faithful stewardship, responding to the gracious Gospel of Jesus Christ. God doesn’t need our riches; they are mites to him to start with. But because of the riches he has given to us in Christ, we will desire to faithfully “give it all” back to him. My former congregation members did start giving 8-10% more on average after each of our New Consecration Sundays, but it was because many Christians, new and old, reconsidered the importance of sacrifice.