A Widow & a Scribe – Vocation and Providence

Biblical Text: Mark 12:38-44
Full Draft of Sermon

We collected the pledge cards this week. Believe it or not, that was planned before actually looking at the text. If I had looked at the texts first, I’m pretty sure I would have said, “can’t do it that week”.

There is a really crisp and clear direct application that feels just a little too easy. You could say, like Jesus did, look at the widow and go and do likewise. But to me the widow is not where most of us Americans are at. We are not that poor. We are not forced by circumstances to completely trust on the providence of God. Most Americans are more than likely in the scribal position.

So here I concentrated on scribe a little bit more trying to illuminate the vocational problems and the problems with providence. The law in both cases is clear and comes from the larger context. At the start of the larger section the text comes from Jesus answers what the most important commandments are – love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. The first is reliance upon providence and the second is carried out in our various vocations. What the scribe was doing, what we do so well, is instead of using our vocations for our neighbor, we use them to avoid or deny providence. The good news is that none of us have the vocation of messiah. That is Jesus alone. So we are still called to reliance upon providence and vocations of service to our neighbor, but when we fail Jesus is our salvation and our righteousness, because he did not fail.

On a grading note, that above paragraph is a better summary than is probably in the sermon itself. The spirit of the staircase rules this week. As I left the pulpit certain things became clearer. But the Amen had already been said.

Stewardship 4: The goal of stewardship

This is a link to post #1 in this series.
This is a link to post #2 in this series.
This is a link to post #3 in this series.

In the last post we looked at the question what does faithfulness in stewardship look like through the story of Cain and Abel. We came to the conclusion that “firstfruits” were a big part of faithfulness. What firstfruits represent is faith in God to be a God of abundance to his people. It also represents the understanding of the final source and purpose of all good gifts.

One quick geeky sidebar about that last sentence. Aristotle’s causes: material, formal, efficient, and final, can be helpful here. While the efficient cause of our having good stuff might be our labor and work, the final cause is the aim or purpose. We have good stuff so that we might recognize God’s providence. We can ignore that and turn inward and use it all for ourselves. We can claim other final causes: have fun, die with the most toys, measure who is the “better man”. But God’s purpose is to build a people, to build the Kingdom of Heaven. What we have been given not only sustains us, but directs us toward faith. Our stewardship lets us be part of the final cause. God has invited us to work with him in building the Kingdom.

Now I want to turn to Jesus’ example of how God looks at this. You can read either Mark 12:41-44 or Luke 21:1-4. These are parallel stories of the Widow’s mite. The simple summary is that all kinds of rich people were giving all kinds of money to the temple and they would probably be doing so ostentatiously. The widow quietly comes up and puts in a penny. Jesus calls out the widow as having given more. Why? That is not true on just a counting basis. But God was never after raw numbers. For all we know Cain could have been a much better farmer and his altar full of stuff. God wants faithfulness. The final cause of stuff is to produce recognition of God’s providence. He wants us to trust his providence. The widow, in giving all she had, demonstrated her complete and total reliance upon God’s providence.

One of the first crises in the church was over exactly this recognition. Read Acts 4:32 – 5:11. All the believers in that first congregation shared everything. Before you lose it about not being communist, let me say that I agree with you. This is not practical and it didn’t stay practical for long in Acts either. The church at that time consisted of: the Apostles, those who had witnessed the resurrection, and the Pentecost converts. If you had a church of pure saints – that would work. We have a church of sinner/saints. A lesson that they will learn. Even that church didn’t make that work. But God still supports the underlying theology.

The Acts 4 church shared everything. They were like the widow in expecting God to provide. Then comes a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira. They didn’t share that trust to the same extent. But they felt that they had to fake it. So, like Cain who was giving out of a sense of duty and not faithfulness – they gave a certain amount pretending to be everything, but withheld a part for themselves. Peter’s words to Ananias and Sapphira clarify – “Didn’t the land belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?…You have not lied to men by to God.” The problem wasn’t the size of the offering, but the manner in which it was given. Ananias didn’t feel comfortable with 100%. And that would have been ok. Complete trust in God’s providence is a final cause. It is where we are heading. We’ll only see glimpses here. The final purpose of stuff is to learn to trust God’s providence. We are all at different points. The larger point from Ananias and Sapphira is to be open and honest with God.

Stewardship is part of the Kingdom, it is part of the gospel. The law brings death. It brought death to Abel through Cain. It brought death to Ananias and Sapphira. The gospel brings life. Stewardship is not finally a duty but an invitation to experience abundant life.

In the next post I’m going to look strictly at pragmatics. From this post you should recognize that setting specific numbers on these things is pointless. The idea of faithfulness and where each person is at in their walk differs greatly. But the law is still useful as a rule (3rd use). It is the way God intended things to work. So we will be looking at OT “tithes and offerings” and trying to see what they tell us about things like gross/net, percents and where does it go. If you have a concordance, just look up the word tithe and the word offering and scan the verses listed.