Serving God with Our Gifts

Mark 12:38-44

38 As he was teaching, he said, “Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets. 39  They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. 40  They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. They will be judged most harshly.”

A poor widow’s contribution

41 Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. 42 One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny. 43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. 44  All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”

 

Thoughts on the passage:

There is a trick you can do with rice and a rock.  If you put the right amount of rice in a jar when you try to put the rock in on top it will not fit with the lid on.  If you put the rock in first however, the same amount of rice will fit in around the rock and the jar will seal.  I often like to use this as an illustration of why we need to put God first in our lives.  If we leave God until last, we do not have enough room for God.  If instead we put God first, everything else fits in nicely around God.

When we talk about giving our gifts to God, we often use the term “first fruits.”  The term comes from the Old Testament, when the Israelites are moving into the Promised Land.  As they come into the new land they are told to offer the first fruits of their harvest to God.  It is obviously a sacrifice since these are the fruits they have labored long and hard to grow and they are giving them up to God.  The sacrifice helps demonstrate their faith in God and their willingness to put God first in their lives.  We are called to make that same sort of sacrifice to God.

In an agrarian culture, our fruits tend to be literally fruit, or grain, or at least something tangible that we can sacrifice to God.  For most of us, what we produce is not easily measured.  Are my first fruits the work I do on Monday or the first sermon of the month?  If you work at McDonalds would that mean the first fries of the day?  Instead of thinking about physical fruits, we now think of our fruits, our gifts as being money.  Offering our first fruits to God is giving from our paycheck first to God, before we attend to all the other financial needs and wants we have in our lives.

The example with the rice and the rock is a wonderful children’s sermon, but I think it can be deceptive when it comes to financial practices.  Do I think we need to give first to God?  Yes, I do.  Thanks to the wonders of direct giving, I make a point to give on the first of every month to the church, before I get a chance to spend it on other things.  At the same time, I do not like to make giving to God to be some sort of gimmick.  It is tempting to say that if we give first to God, everything else will fall neatly into place.  (Just like the rice settling around the rock.)  Giving to God is not some sort of financial trick, it is meant to be an intentional act.  The reality is sometimes, even when we put God first, there is not enough room for God and all the rice in our jars.

The question for us is, if there is not enough room for God and everything else, what do we want to leave out, God or something else?  Our story from Mark shows the difference in how people prioritize God.  The rich people in this story give out of their spare change, in other words, once they know what space is left, they put God in on top.  The widow on the other hand gives everything she has to God.  She gives first to God and then tries to get by with what is left.  While Jesus choices are the extremes in this story, they help us to see a clear distinction in how we place God in our lives.  Do we give to God out of what is left, or to we give sacrificially, putting God first and not caring if that does not leave enough for everything else?

The miracle of giving is not some sort of trick, if we give first to God then the rest of the rice will fit.  The miracle of giving is that if we give first to God we will not care as much about the rice that does not fit.  We will be putting what really matters first in our lives and that changes everything.  How we give our gifts is a reflection of our values and our faith.  Do we give for show like the legal experts?  Do we give out of our spare change, like the rich people in this story?  Do we give like the widow, putting God first and foremost in our hearts and lives?

Questions to Ponder:

Who taught you how to give to the church, to charities, or in general?

When is a time you have put God first?  When is a time you have left God out of the equation?

How do you know how much to give to God?

Prayer: Gracious and wondrous God, you put us first, giving everything, even your own Son for us that we might know your love.  Help us to give as generously, putting you first in our lives as well.  Free us from our fears and doubts that keep us from trusting in you.  Bless us as we give our gifts that they might reflect our love and devotion to you.  AMEN