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Giving IN TO Uncertainty OR Giving INTO UNcertainty

November 11th 2012 by Joel Schultz

As the church year and 2012 draw to a close, today's Gospel text turns our attention to the issue of financial stewardship. In the story of the widow's mite, we see a woman who lived a life filled with uncertainty and yet was able to give all she has because she trusts that God will continue to care for her in this life and the life to come. Read or listen to find out how we also don't give IN TO uncertainty, but rather give INTO uncertainty.

Proper 27B – “Giving IN TO Uncertainty OR Giving INTO Uncertainty?” – Mark 12:38-44 – November 11, 2012

Our text this morning is the familiar story of the widow’s mite, and although our Consecrated Stewards program begins again in January, it is a story that fits well at the end of the church year when we are thinking about financial decisions as a church and as families for 2013. I hope that between now and our commitment Sunday on February 10th you spent some quality time thinking about your financial stewardship.

I’m sure, though, that some of you haven’t yet made that important decision. Perhaps you even struggle with it and just don’t know what to do. I can understand that, because you don’t know everything that’s going to happen in the coming year. You don’t know for sure what your income will be. You don’t know what your overall financial situation will be. You don’t know your whole story for the coming year, and that can affect your giving to the Lord. So maybe you don’t want to pledge at all. Or maybe you’re afraid to pledge too much. We can be plagued with uncertainty and it can affect our giving to the Lord.

Well, today, in His Word, God has a better alternative for us than just giving in (pause) to uncertainty. A lot of things are uncertain – including some things in our text. Let’s look at the story of the widow’s mite together. We’ll start with some things quite certain and move to some things less certain, and we will see what God has to say also about our uncertainties.

“And [Jesus] sat down opposite the [temple] treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And [Jesus] called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on’” (vv 41–44).

Jesus sits down in the temple and can see people put in their offerings. Offerings weren’t handled the way we do today, at a specific moment in the service. Instead, there were thirteen receptacles in the courtyard of the temple. Worshipers would walk up and drop in their copper or silver or gold coins. Often, people would mill around and watch – and give an appropriate reaction when a particularly large offering was made. As Jesus sat there that day, there were plenty of those offerings, probably duly noted by the people.

Then along comes a woman, a widow, obviously poor, with a couple of little copper coins. These were the smallest coins in circulation – in today’s money, a fraction of a cent. But Jesus calls his disciples and tells them her offering was the greatest of all. Other guys gave more in raw dollars, but she gave all on which she had to live. We all know the story, don’t we?

All of you probably also recognize that this story teaches proportional giving. Jesus said the rich had given out of their abundance. It was a surplus, an overflow. They made a lot, and they gave a lot. But the woman gave all she had, 100 percent. The total dollars couldn’t compare, but percentage-wise, her gift was tops.

Proportional, or percentage, giving is always the way God prescribed. Old Testament Israel was required to give 10 percent of their crops or whatever form of income they received. The tithe was God’s system of percentage giving. One reason God prescribed percentage giving is that it works at any income level. Some folks say, “If I had a big income, I’d give a tithe, 10 percent, but my income is small.” The nice thing about percentage giving is that it grows or shrinks with the paycheck. It works for everybody. Here in the New Testament, in our text, God still speaks about percentage giving, but he doesn’t demand a particular percentage. We can give more or less than 10 percent, right?

Right. But offerings should still reflect the way we’ve been blessed. How do our financial blessings compare with those of the widow in our text? More importantly, how have we been blessed spiritually compared to those Old Testament people who had to give 10 percent? They were blessed with the promise of a Savior to come someday. We are blessed with the certainty that the promise has been fulfilled. The Savior, Jesus Christ, has come. We know He died and rose from the dead for us, that He has taken away sins. Could we really consider giving a lesser proportion of our income than people who only looked ahead for the promise? The story of the widow’s mite teaches us that percentage giving is alive and well and God’s plan also for us in the New Testament. You all knew that too, right?

Okay, now something you may not know – or may not always consider – about the story of the widow’s mite: It isn’t primarily a story about proportional giving. It isn’t primarily a story about giving at all. All those rich guys putting money into the treasury – undoubtedly they were giving a hefty proportion. Ten percent was commanded; you can be sure anyone giving for show would exceed that! But someone could even give 100 percent and not be commended by Jesus. If we think giving gets us in good with God, then no percentage is good. The story of the widow’s mite is not primarily about giving.

It’s primarily a story about faith. Faith is recognizing what God has done for us in the past and believing what He will continue to do for us in the future. The widow in our text had so little of everything except faith. She had lost her husband, which in those days meant she’d lost her source of income. Yet somehow this woman believed God had done right by her and trusted that He would continue to do so in the future.

Christian giving is always a matter of faith. Do we recognize what God has done for us in the past? Do we trust He will be there for our future? God has given us all we have. God has given us a Savior. Do we believe He will continue to provide and save in the future? If we believe as the widow did, our giving will be in substantial proportion also. Christian giving is primarily a question of faith, isn’t it – of trust that God will take care of us. The widow in our text trusted totally.

Now, one thing no one knows about the story of the widow’s mite. What happened to her after she gave? We like to think we know: surely Jesus and the disciples took her under their wing. Maybe she became part of their entourage. Unlikely. The women mentioned as following Jesus were women of means; they actually provided for Jesus. Surely Jesus didn’t walk away without helping that day, but what about future days? Did she starve? Maybe. It’s absolutely possible. We’d like to say, “No way! God would feed her!” But we don’t know that.

I think it is no accident that Mark doesn’t tell us. If he did, it would ruin the story. If he did give us some earthly happy ending, we might think the point is that if we do what God wants, he’ll take care of us. If we tithe, our income will go up next year. If we pledge, God will be sure we don’t lose our jobs. If I obey God, He will care for me. But, God cares for us because He loves us, not because we make a deal with Him.

Mark fully intends to leave us in uncertainty about what happened to the widow, because our Christian offerings are always to be given in the face of uncertainty; they are always to be an exercise in faith. We don’t know about our jobs next year. We don’t know we won’t face catastrophic bills. Losing your job and unexpected bills are absolutely possible. They’re always possible, because God doesn’t promise that kind of security.

What we do have is a far greater security – one that is altogether certain. Our Epistle from Hebrews reminds us, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time . . . to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:28). Here is something that is never uncertain. Christ is coming back for us. Heaven is one certainty every Christian can hold on to. Jesus has secured it for us. His death and resurrection has made it certain for everyone who believes. And if we mattered to God that much, we can also be certain that He will care for us every day in the meantime – somehow. This was the faith of the woman. Not that she would have a meal tomorrow; she really did not know where her next meal was coming from – or if there’d be one. Not faith in the next meal, but faith that God would take care of her – His way. Maybe a well-to-do widower would walk into her life tomorrow. Maybe friends would take her in. We don’t know the whole story, and she couldn’t possibly know it. She did not give in (pause) to uncertainty, but rather she was giving into uncertainty? Maybe she would starve, but if so, it would be the culmination of what she’d really been trusting all along: provision and security that would be perfect, complete, would never end. This is the certainty by which we give into uncertainty: when God tells us He will take care of us we need not fear the uncertainties of life, but rather continue to give faithfully in response to our faithful God.

You don’t know for sure your income for the coming year; you don’t know you’ll have an income. You don’t know you’ll have a job. You don’t know what your expenses might turn out to be. But you don’t have to give in (pause) to that uncertainty. You do know you have the Lord. You do know He has earned for you eternal life, and that is absolutely certain. And you do know He already cares for you and that He is going to care for you. That is certain too.

You know, ironically, the woman of great faith in our text probably did not realize that the one she was trusting was sitting so near her that day. We do know the one we trust is sitting right here today, and we know He sympathizes with our struggle. He understands financial uncertainty; His whole ministry was spent traveling, living day to day by the good graces of others. He understands our struggles against doubt, our fear about really committing our resources to God. He was tempted just as we are – but without ever giving in! He is here with us today, and we can be certain He will be with us in the future.

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