October 29, 2006
20th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A number of years I read a newspaper article from Indianapolis about a wealthy widow, Mrs. Marjorie Jackson, was found dead in her home. She was dressed in flannel pajamas and a housecoat, was found on the kitchen floor. There was no foul play involved. But the strange part of the story is that the police discovered over 5 million dollars in cash stuffed in trash cans, shoe boxes, drawers, tool boxes, paper bags, the pockets of clothing and even in a vacuum cleaner bag. Most of the money was in $100 bills. Two million dollars of the money was found in a trash can next to her bed. There was no foul play.
Mrs. Jackson was the widow of a very wealthy husband who left her an estate of over 14 million dollars. There were two brand new Cadillac Sevilles in the garage, each with less than 1,000 miles on them. In the past, police had responded numerous times to burglary and vandalism reports at her home. But when they arrived, Mrs. Jackson would order them off of her property. When police arrived to investigate this time they had to cut three padlocks off of the driveway gate just to get on the property. The front door had three dead bolts on it and all the windows had bars on them. (1)
What a sad life. You wonder what happened to cause her to close off like that. Or maybe this widow suffered from what Pat Bonds heard in another preacher's sermon. Maybe the widow suffered from a disease called affluenza. The sickness of being so affluent that your money and your things control you instead of the other way around.
Let's look at the passage from Mark which tells us about another widow. Jesus pointed out this widow in the Temple and in so doing he was Celebrating her Generosity.
Mark 12:38-44 (NRSV)
 As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,
 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!
 They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.
 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.
 Then he called his disciples and said to them, "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."
As we compare the two widows we see, Mrs. Jackson was wealthy. This widow was poor. Mrs. Jackson hoarded her money and was paranoid that someone would steal it so she hid it all over the house. This widow was generous and gave all she had. Mrs. Jackson's life was miserable because of all of her money. This widow's life, even though she had very little, was filled with joy.
Jesus understood the difference that's why he was Celebrating the Generosity of this widow. The difference was in their attitude toward what they had. Every Sunday we Celebrate the giving nature of God. God gives us love, life, hope, forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. God gives us His only Son as our Savior. And we in turn celebrate God's Generosity and we respond with our Generosity.
FIRST: Generosity Begins With Humility. We know and believe the Biblical witness that all we have and all we are is the result of God's gracious Generosity. God created us. God provides for all of our needs. Not our wants and desires, but our daily needs. The talents we have are given to us by God. We use and build upon those God given talents and abilities in order to earn a living for our families. We may buy stuff with the money we earn but even those things can be attributed to God because we used our God given talents to earn the money to buy the things. There is nothing which we have which does not come from God. God is our Creator. We are the created. God knows our needs just like parents know their children's needs.
Remembering this helps us focus our thoughts and our lives upon God. A life focused upon God is exactly what God most desires for each of us. Not because God is an old meany who doesn't want us to have any fun. But simply because a life focused on God gives life joy, meaning, purpose and quality.
Jesus compared the widow's gift with the gifts of the rich and the powerful. They made a big show of their offering. The noise which the rich and the Pharisees made while giving their offering drowned out the sound of their gift. However, the noise of the widow's humble gift of two small coins, drowned out the noise of the Temple. Above all the noise of the crowd, the Son of God heard her gift and noticed her humility. Knowing where we come from and where all we have comes from keeps us humble.
The widow's humility and Generosity grew out of her love for God and her knowledge of God's love for her. In his first letter, John says, "We love because God first loved us." (1 John 4:19)
Through the daily blessings of life; through the talents we've been given; through the witness of nature; and especially through the love of Christ, who died for our sins, we discovered just how much God love us. Most of the time God's generosity nearly overwhelms us because we don't expect it.
There's a scene from the movie Seabiscuit which portrays this wonderfully.
In the movie Seabiscuit, Tom Smith, an old farrier and horse trainer with different ideas about training and which horses have the heart to race helps, wealthy American businessman Charles Howard with an undersized horse with knobby knees, named Seabiscuit. His former owners thought he had potential and possibility but gave up on him because they thought he was lazy.
Down on his luck Red Pollard, an angry young jockey considered by most to be too tall to even be a jockey, was chosen to ride Seabiscuit. All of his life Red has had a gift but Charles Howard and Tom Smith are the only ones who have every really believed in him.
Red disappoints them in a race when he's fouled and his temper gets the best of him. Doubt fills him and he's not sure he's welcome anymore. But as he's leaving he remembers what his father said: "You have a gift" and he returns. In returning Red finds acceptance, welcome and the beginning of healing.
Red asks Howard if he can borrow some money. Howard happily agrees, even though Red doesn't know when he can pay him back. Red asks for ten dollars but Howard hands him 20. Howard's generosity nearly overwhelms Red.
And in the next scene you hear the effect that act of kindness had on Red. While riding in a race he's talking to Seabiscuit and says, "That's it Pop, we're OK, now. It's all right boy. Yeah. We're OK. Nothing to worry about." His words turn out to be more commentary about his life than they are encouragement to the horse,
We hear plenty about crime and theft. But we don't here much about Generosity in the news except around Thanksgiving and Christmas. But God is always Generous to God's children. And God calls us to be just as Generous out of response to the unconditional love we've experienced. You see, it's not what we have done but what has been done for us through Christ. It's not our love for God that makes us Generous, it's knowing that God loves us in spite of all the horrible things we've done. God loves us.
There's a Dennis the Menace cartoon, which shows Dennis and Joey leaving the Wilson's front porch, each with a handful of cookies. Joey has this surprised look on his face and Dennis says, "Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we're nice, but because she's nice." (2)
Dennis is right on target. It's not what we do but what God does for us. We love God because God loves us. Our generosity is motivated by our reciprocal love for God. That's what motivated the widow. And Jesus noticed.
I believe that's why this church has been so blessed and why we have always been able to do what God has called us to do. We've not had a whole lot for extras but God has always supplied our needs. I believe it's because we've been obedient to God's call. God's call to relocate, to look to the future, to reach out to the community with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We've been faithful and obedient.
And God honors obedience. God honors those who are generous. Whether we're generous with our love for God, our love for others, our forgiveness, our grace or our stewardship of giving. God honors those who honor God.
I believe God honors obedience because obedience really grows our of Thankfulness. The widow's gift of those two small mites, less than a penny by today's standards, was given out of a deep sense of thankfulness. True giving always responds out of thankfulness.
I remember my pastor saying, there are three kinds of giving. There is Grudge Giving, Duty Giving and "Thanks" Giving. Grudge giving gives but doesn't really want to and feels forced into it either by peer pressure or by guilt. Duty giving gives simply because it knows it's supposed to and is afraid of the consequences if it doesn't. But THANKS giving gives out of the spirit of love and thankfulness which grows out of a loving relationship with God.
At one time Rudyard Kipling was so popular that his writings were getting ten shillings per word. There were a few college students, however, who didn't appreciate Kipling's writings. They got together and facetiously sent him a letter enclosing ten shillings. It read, "Please, send us your best word." They got back a letter from Kipling, "Thanks." (3)
Jesus heard the silent thanks those two little coins made that day in the Temple and Jesus Celebrated the widow's Generosity. The widow's giving began with humility, grew out of love and responded with "thanks" giving. Jesus saw and heard and Celebrated her Generosity. Our challenge is to be like the widow.
We've been talking about Generosity all month. We've seen what "Generous Hearts" can do. We've faced "The Challenge of Generosity" through the Tithe. We've been called to "Trust God's Generosity." And we've looked at "Life With And Without Generosity." Today we are Celebrating Generosity" both God's generosity toward us through the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper and our Generosity as we humbly, with love, say "Thank You" to God with the Generosity of our Commitment Cards.
The widow in Mark challenges us to Celebrate Generosity through humility, love and thankfulness.
1. Source Unknown
2. Dennis the Menace by Hank Ketchum
3. Bible Illustrator for Windows, 1990-1994, Parsons Technology
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