>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, November 8, 2009. The text for this week’s message is Mark 12: 38-44.

Today is one of those rare occasions when I step over the line between preaching and meddling. At least, that is the common perception when pastors preach about stewardship. Hopefully, y’all know me enough by now to know that my focus in talking about stewardship is not specifically about money. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – stewardship is not just about money.
Money is certainly involved in stewardship, but stewardship is about more than money. Stewardship is about being faithful with what God has given. Stewardship is about seeing that all we are and all we have is because of God. Stewardship is about recognizing that Jesus Christ is Lord in our lives, and that there are things in our lives that try to make themselves our Lord.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “money is the root of all evil.” It is a partial quote from Paul’s first letter to Timothy. This partial quote gives us the impression that money is corrupting; that money can bring us down; basically, that money is a problem. But the issue with this phrase, I said it twice so far and some of you know it already, is that it is a partial quote. It is taken out of its original context.
1 Timothy 6:9-10 actually says, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” Money itself is fine. After all, let’s be honest for a minute, what is money? It is specially made paper, or metal that is stamped in a specific way. That is all money really is.
In fact, in today’s modern world, we can get along just fine without ever even seeing what money looks like – there’s direct deposit, online banking, online billing, debit cards, credit cards, checks. The only thing you need actual money for these days is the vending machine and the restaurants in Veedersburg.
And yet, there is something about money that can grab us and keep us captivated. We spend a good part of our lives either trying to make money, or trying to spend it. I remember coming across a statement earlier this year that the average American spends, I believe it was, 110% of his/her income every year.
That is how we become slaves of money. That is how money can rule us. And I say this full well knowing that I am one of the guilty parties. I’m going to be spending the next 2-3 years paying off credit cards and vehicles, and the next 379 years of my life just paying off my student loans. What is the power that money has over us that causes us to work so hard to earn it and fight so hard to keep it?
If there is any sort of silver lining to the economic recession that we have been in for the last year or two, it’s that it has shown us that money cannot be trusted. We cannot rely simply on our bank accounts to get us through when things get tough. But the world we live in depends on the economic systems that we have created.
Your parents or grandparents may remember what life was like before the Great Depression. Some of y’all may have been raised not long after the stock market crashed and saw first hand what can happen when the economic system falls down all around us. You know what I’m talking about. And even if the economy is going great, there are people who go through difficult financial times on an individual level. So, where does stewardship come into play?
Again, stewardship is about being faithful with what God has given us. Stewardship is making sure we know what our priorities are. You know one of the best ways to really see what our priorities are? Look at the checkbook. Look at the bank statement. Look at the online account information from your bank. Whatever means you use to track your money are the means that help you to see what your priorities are. Stewardship is one of the ways that we can make sure that Jesus really is Lord in our lives.
In today’s Scripture, we have two stories that are tied together. These take place not long after Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, which we talk about every year on Palm Sunday. This is one of the first few days of Jesus’ final week before the crucifixion. Just before these two stories, a scribe asked Jesus what was the most important commandment, and as you may know, Jesus’ answer was to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Those two commands are bound together by Jesus. And then we see our Scripture for today.
And as he was teaching, in the temple, he tells the people to beware of the scribes. And not just all the scribes in general, but the ones who wear the long robes; the one who like being greeted in public places; the ones who have the best seats wherever they go; the ones who take advantage of those who struggle to care for themselves; the ones who use their faith as a show of their own piety. What about what they are doing has anything to do with loving God or loving one’s neighbor?
If their idea of loving one’s neighbor involves faith being a show of their own piety, or feasting on their own egotistical needs, or being part of the “in crowd,” then I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anything to do with loving my neighbor. And Jesus’ point is that we need to beware of people who do these things because we might start to get the wrong impression. We might start to think that they are just as holy as they think they are. Does that make sense? We start to buy into a false idea of holiness; an idea of holiness that cheapens what it truly means to be holy, to be separate, in this world, for God.
Our priorities begin to shift. We become more concerned with the long robes, with being well-known, with making sure everyone thinks we are holy. We become more concerned with these things than with God. Stewardship is so important because it helps keep our priorities on God. If we recognize that all we have comes from God, then we also know we didn’t do anything to earn what we have. What we have is not ours; what we have is a gift given by the true owner of all things. The One to whom we, ultimately, must give an account of what we have done with what we have been given.
In the first part of today’s Scripture, the scribes who Jesus is warning the people about are the ones who have not been good stewards. They have been given positions of responsibility, and they have abused that power for their own gain. In the text, it says that they “devour widow’s houses.” Just to clarify, there are parts of Scripture that are not to be taken literally. This is one of those times. Unless these widows lived in gingerbread houses, they were not literally eating their homes. What this means is that they were taking advantage of the hospitality offered by these widows. They maybe came and had dinner with them, and had them come up with this elaborate feast that wasn’t necessary and was a serious drain on their resources. They were exploiting these widows for their gain.
Widows did not tend to have much. Women did not usually work. Widows were often cared for by family, usually their sons or some other family member. And these scribes that Jesus is talking about were taking advantage of these women because their priorities were out of place. They were more concerned with their image than doing what was right. Sometimes stewardship has to do with what you have done with the position that you’ve been given.
Where is your circle of influence? Are you using your influence in a positive way? Could you stand before God right now and feel like you have done what you could do with your influence? Or are you using your influence in negative ways? Are you talking bad about people behind their backs to your circle of friends? Do you have a bad attitude that you are sharing with those around you? What you do with what you’ve been given – that’s stewardship. That is a reflection of whether or not Jesus is Lord in your life.
The second half of the Scripture is tied with the first half in that it mentions the actions of a widow in contrast with the scribe. In the first half, the scribe is all about drawing attention to his personal holiness, or, at least, his understanding of his personal holiness. In the second half, the widow shows holiness in a quiet, unassuming way.
Jesus sits down on the other side of the treasury and watches people put their money in the offering box. How much would everybody love that? Did you know that there are some churches where, instead of passing the plate, people lineup, walk to the front and put their offerings in a box? I’ve been to one when we lived in Kentucky. It was very interesting.
In some cultures, they even announce how much someone has put in. In these same areas, they have three-hour worship services. How much fun does that sound? We are going to try that some Sunday, and I’m not going to tell you about it. You are just going to show up one Sunday and be here all afternoon. Okay, I’m not really going to do that. Anyway, back to the story at hand.
Jesus sits down and watches people put their money in the offering box. And he sees all these rich people putting large sums into the box. And along comes this poor widow, we’ll call her Aunt Bessie, and she puts in two small copper coins. Now, I know that everyone is familiar with coinage in first century Palestine, but I had to look up the monetary value of these coins. And these small copper coins would have come up to 1/128th of a denarius, which was a day’s wage.
In today’s terms, that is the equivalent of what an hourly worker makes in about four minutes. That’s not a lot of money, but remember, widows didn’t work. They didn’t have anything. So for her to give 4 minutes worth of a day’s wage, it’s a lot. How much money does a person make who doesn’t work? And remember, they didn’t have retirement, or savings, or unemployment, or anything like that. A person that doesn’t work, doesn’t have an income in the first century. She was giving all she had.
The people who were putting in large amounts of money; they had plenty. And they were giving out of their abundance. But this poor widow, was giving out of her poverty. Her priorities were in the right place. The letter of James talks about showing your faith by what you do. She showed her faith by giving all that she had to live on.
Here’s the point this morning. I don’t want to talk about stewardship and have you walking away saying, “All that guy talks about is money.” Because 1) you know that’s not true; but 2) few things show our priorities better than our checkbook. That is a hard and harsh reality to face. I’m not talking about stewardship this morning to boost the offering. What you do with your money is your business. I don’t know how much you make. I don’t know what your current lifestyle is. And I don’t know how much you give. That’s not the point this morning. God has been faithful with this congregation, and I believe God will continue to bless this congregation, as long as it remains faithful to Him.
The reason I am talking about stewardship this morning is because it is an important aspect of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. If your money follows your heart, then your heart will always be revealed by how you spend your money. Your priorities will always be revealed by how you spend your money. Can you look at your checkbook and be satisfied with the mirror that you see? Can you look at your life and say that you were a faithful steward of all that God has given you? It’s not easy. It’s not clean and neat. But our faith must cause us to look at ourselves from time to time. And, if we are honest with ourselves, there will always be something staring back at us that we don’t like. Pray this week, that as you look in the mirror that Scripture holds up for us, that the Holy Spirit will work in your life; that you can be a good steward of what you have been given.