Rev. Dr. Mark Allen Doty, Senior Pastor
Hammond Street Congregational Church, UCC
Bangor, Maine
November 11, 2018

“All To Jesus?”
Mark 12:38-44

It’s hard to know what to think about the jokes I told during our stewardship campaign.  While some of you enjoyed them, others have made cruel and cutting remarks.  Perhaps because these jokes were new to you, it will take time before you will be fully able to appreciate them.  Be that as it may, this Sunday I will return to a joke I told three years ago.  Maybe that will help:

I heard about a farmer who called the office of a minister to see “the head hog at the trough.”  The church secretary said, “Sir, if you are talking about our beloved minister, you may call him reverend or pastor, but I don’t think it would be proper to refer to him as the head hog at the trough.”

“Well, all right,” the farmer said.  “I just sold a few sows and was going to donate ten thousand dollars to the building fund, so I was hoping to catch him.”

“Oh, just a minute, sir, “the secretary said.  “I think I just heard the little porker come in!” 

(Pastor Brian Kluths, “Maximum Generosity”).

You may find yourself liking the joke but distressed about the subject.  If you have been hiding out during our financial campaign, you may have been very sorry to hear this morning’s scripture, muttering under your breath,   “Money again!?!  We’ve been talking about nothing else for the past month!”

I would agree, but in my own defense, I would first have to say that I am only following orders.  Our Gospel lesson from Mark 12 about the widow’s mite is our lectionary reading for the day.  And I will also have to say—like it or not—that Jesus spoke about money more than any other subject—approximately 2,000 times.  Indeed, it is one of those topics that won’t go away, either in Bible times or in our own day and time.

During our stewardship Sundays, the video presentations highlighted our amazing ministries to people within our walls and beyond.  And that is always our challenge.  Sadly, you and I don’t live in a world that focuses on the neediest among us.  The exorbitant cost of the election, for example—some would say obscene—powerfully reminds us of how money and the pursuit of it drives our society.  It is no secret that many Americans are bent on materialism, on the acquisition of wealth and the striving to acquire more.

A few years ago, I was stunned to see a story that appeared in the media that told about the impending divorce of Kenneth Griffin, the multibillionaire hedge fund owner and his wife, Anne Dias Griffin, a founder of her own hedge fund.  The couple, who were married in 2003, are the parents of three children–ages 2, 4, and 7 at the time of the divorce.  The Griffin children are supervised by four nannies and protected by 24/7 security.  In her lawsuit, Ms. Dias Griffin wanted to continue to have access to the couple’s five homes, their two airplanes and the household staff.

But what made Anne Dias Griffin’s lawsuit against her husband so singular and so remarkable is that she was asking for a million dollars a month in child support!  I was so flabbergasted that I copied down the figures.  Each month Ms. Dias Griffin was asking for the following:
              

  • $14,000 for groceries and dining out
  • $300,000 for a private jet               
  • $160,000 for vacation accommodations               
  • $60,000 for office space and professional staff
  • $2,000 for stationery

When I saw the breakdown of Ms. Griffin’s lawsuit, I thought to myself, “Honey, you need a church home!” And by the way, the terms of the divorce settlement were not disclosed.

Surely someone who gives us another take on that brand of me-ism is Quinn Duane, a young woman who was stood up at the altar in 2015.  When Quinn got a last-minute phone call from her husband-to-be that he wanted out, Quinn’s mother knew just what to do.  Rather than cancel the $35,000 wedding reception, she decided to host a never-to-be forgotten meal for San Francisco’s homeless population.

Prior to the dinner, Kai Duane told a reporter this:  “When I found out the wedding would not be taking place, it just seemed like…this would be something that we would do to give back.”  Although Quinn elected not to come to the meal, her parents did.  “I feel a lot of heartache and heartbreak [for my daughter],” said Mrs. Duane, “but I will take something good away from this.  I will.”

And so 120 homeless families, couples and individuals turned up at the citizen’s hotel and dined on meals from its four-star restaurant.  One attendee, Erika Raycraft, said:  “To lose out on something so important to yourself and then give it to someone else is really giving, really kind.”  This story does underscore what thanksgiving is all about, doesn’t it?

Our scripture for the morning gives us a model for what is “really giving, really kind,” Jesus’ wonderful tale of “the widow’s mite.”  In Mark 12, Jesus begins this famous lesson by first denouncing the scribes–those people who are the very opposite of those who practice their philanthropy behind the scenes, quietly and without fanfare.

Jesus, who always reserved his greatest condemnation for hypocrites, is at his most scathing in this chapter when he speaks of the scribes “devouring widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.”  Into this toxic atmosphere, says Jesus, comes a poor widow.  She watches as the well-heeled put their offerings in the big trumpet-shaped collection boxes.  Jesus says the widow slips her two copper coins–worth a penny–into the box.  “The widow’s mite,” as it is universally known, has become legendary because the gift represented all the woman possessed.  Said Jesus to the disciples:

“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.”

For 2,000 years the story of the widow’s mite has provided an unforgettable lesson to God’s people everywhere.  When those two coins hit the treasury, it started a rumble that has ricocheted around the Christian world ever since.  The poor widow’s giving posture has been called “revolutionary,” because she gave 90% above the tithe!  The woman has won for herself a place of honor in the charitable community because she chose to become—as we would say today—a fool for Christ.  She literally put into the collection box everything she had to give.

The enduring power of Mark 12 is that it is so very unusual.  In its simplicity, in its  power, Jesus’ story of the poor widow stands in stark contrast to the rich divorcee I spoke of earlier.

Last Sunday an usher came up to me and said he watched a person attending our service put this penny in the collection plate.  Guess what I thought of?!  And yes, I would venture to say this copper coin was most probably all the money that individual had to give.

What you and I are left with, of course, is the question:  Where are we in relation to the poor widow?  We know what the response was of one person at Hammond Street Church.  After I visited with our usher friend, I went downstairs to the coffee hour.  And as I was doctoring my coffee, a little girl handed me this dollar bill:  “I got this raking leaves,” she told me.

I love the illustration that a pastor tells of preaching one Sunday, when

An elderly woman, Mary, fainted and struck her head on the end of the pew.  Immediately, an EMT in the congregation called an ambulance.  As they strapped her to a stretcher and got ready to head out the door, Mary regained consciousness.  She motioned to her daughter to come near.  Everyone thought she was summoning her strength to convey what could be her final words.  “My offering is in my purse,” she whispered (Eric Hulstrand, Leadership magazine).

Where are we in this Jesus’ stewardship story?  Our closing hymn is “I Surrender All.”  It was written by Judson Van de Venter, who was born on a farm in Michigan in 1855.  Judson grew up being interested in painting and in music and was converted to Christ when he was seventeen.  Later he struggled for five years over whether he should resign as an art teacher in the public school system or earn his living as a music evangelist.  Finally one day, Judson fell to his knees and said, “Lord, if you want me to give my full time to Thy work, I’ll do it.  I surrender all to thee.”

For the next several years, Judson Van de Venter traveled extensively through the United States, England and Scotland, leading the singing for various evangelists.  When he was staying in a home in East Palestine, Ohio, Judson wrote “I surrender all”:

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to him I freely give;
 I will ever love and trust him,
In his presence daily live.

Refrain:

I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to thee, my blessed savior,
I surrender all.

Judson W. Van De Venter

In 1923, Judson moved to Tampa, where he began teaching hymnology at the Florida Bible Institute.  Several years later, he retired but still occasionally came to the campus to lecture or speak at chapel.  In the late 1930’s, one student who listened to the old man wide-eyed was Billy Graham.  He named the Reverend J. W. Van de Venter as one of the early influences on his preaching (Robert J. Morgan, Then Sings My Soul).

I don’t know about you, but it’s the surrendering all that haunts me.  I can relate to the story that is told of a man who buys his son some french fries as they are sitting in a restaurant.  The man does what all fathers do—he reaches over and takes one french fry to taste it.  His little boy slaps his father’s hand and says, “Don’t touch my french fries!”  The father thinks his son is being selfish.  The father knows that he has bought the french fries, and that they belong to him.  The father knows his son belongs to him.  Likewise, God, the author of every good and perfect gift, has also given that father and you and me money.  But so often when god asks for a pledge or a donation, the response is, “Keep your hands off my money!”  God owns everything we have.  What God wants is us (Dr. Towns, Thomas Road Baptist Church).

That is where I struggle, but experience has been a wise teacher.  Certainly one of my life lessons has been in the area of stewardship.  Some years ago I doubled my pledge to this church.  That was a big jump, but I have never regretted it for one minute or for the succeeding pledges I have made.  I don’t believe in decreasing my pledge, because I know if we are going to grow our ministries, we need more and not less.  The check I write to HSCC each month is my favorite check to write, because I know the good it does week in and week out.

Yes, I am learning to give God more and more of my french fries—not less and less!  Martin Luther was right:  “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

One more story and then I’m through.  Several years ago I told you about a woman from Kenya who joined a congregation in the south.  Her pastor remembered his new parishioner this way:

Her name was Lydia.  She told me that she loved our congregation, but she really missed certain aspects of her home church, especially parts of the worship service.  I asked her what she missed the most, and she told me something I’ve never forgotten.  She said, “I miss the offering.  In Kenya, we would sometimes dance down the aisles during the offering.  We didn’t have much to give, but what we did have we gave with much joy.  What a privilege to give back to God!” (Weimer).

Yes, I know the calendar says today is the Sunday after consecration Sunday, but it’s still our turn to give back to God.  Never too early, never too late.

Copyright 2018 by the Rev. Dr. Mark Allen Doty