“[Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them, for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she, out of her poverty, has put in all she had to live on.’” (Luke 21:1-4, NRSVue)
This Sunday is “Celebration Sunday,” as we offer our estimates of giving to First United Methodist Church of Florence for 2023. Recognizing that we are all facing financial pressures due to the worst inflation in years, we know it will be challenging for many to project their commitment to giving for the upcoming year. Anytime we give to God, especially if we choose to tithe (giving 10% of our income to God), it requires a measure of faith that will stretch our trust in God to provide for our needs. Even if you think you can’t tithe, we encourage people to “up” their giving by 1% to 2% of their income each year until they reach the tithe. When they do, people report an improved relationship with God and a more positive outlook on life. To that which we love, we give.
Luke’s story of the widow who gave two small copper coins as her gift to God is one of my favorite biblical passages (along with Mark’s version of the same story). I’ve met people who are carbon copies of this widow. For instance, Ann and I were on a short-term mission trip to Zimbabwe in 2010, ministering to a growing congregation led by a dynamic and energetic pastor, Gift Machinga (what a beautiful name!). He invited me to preach and teach stewardship to his church members over two weeks.
Their church was divided into neighborhood groups that met weekly for Bible study. On Celebration Sunday, each small group was seated together in the sanctuary, although it did not have a roof yet. In much of Africa, churches take years to build a building, paying for it as they go. After the sermon, one by one, each group brought their “harvest” offering—a one-time gift that would make up the bulk of their giving for the year.
Although many people gave cash, others brought live chickens, eggs, aluminum cans, and hunks of steel for recycling, clothing, and an assortment of hand-made items for the church to sell, with the proceeds going to pay for their ministries. At the time, the Zimbabwean economy had crashed, and the government was printing $1 million bills that weren’t worth an American dollar. Everybody struggled because of the financial collapse, but they still gave freely and gladly—they withheld nothing. It was a beautiful sight!
I know most of us can’t give everything we have. We’ve got bills to pay, and we must keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. We don’t want to be a burden to anyone in our retirement years, so we do our best to prepare for the future. Still, we worry about whether there will be enough. Truth be told, we spend a lot of time thinking about money. That’s why God commands us to give—because he wants us to think more about him, trusting him for our future. If we put our faith in our money, we never entirely rely on God.
Giving to the degree that we must rely on God is an exercise of faith. Like the widow who gave her two coins, noting that she could have kept one for herself and still given God the other, we must challenge our faith by giving extravagantly. Can God be trusted if we are willing to withhold nothing? That’s our topic for this Sunday. Be sure to join us, and don’t forget to bring a friend! — Senior Pastor Dale Cohen