Text: Ephesians 4:1-8 and Mark 12:38-44
“She put in more than all the others.” That’s what Jesus said about the widow. Her gift was more, because it was everything—all she had. One Hundred percent.
And, her gift was more because it was an act of great faith. The picture we get here is of a woman who couldn’t imagine going to God’s house and not giving something to show her thanks. She had to give, even if it was all she had. Her faith compelled her.
Many people think such faith giving is foolish. “How can people care for themselves if they give away all their money?” they say. But that’s missing the point. There are higher principles involved here—faith principles. The woman knew it was right to give. She believed that higher principles such as this actually accomplish more.
When Jesus states that her gift was more than the others, he was confirming her thinking to be true. His words echo a teaching that he had given previously: “seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
The story of the widow’s mite is a great stewardship text. The Gospels give us a number of great stewardship texts this time of year, which is why we always do our stewardship emphasis in November.
But this year we have decided to focus on the book of Ephesians for our stewardship lessons. That is why I had us read those verses from Ephesians chapter 4 as our second reading.
We’ll get to those verses in a little bit. First, however, I’d like us to do some reflecting on the fact that today is Veteran’s Day, November 11. And it’s not just any Veteran’s Day, but it is the 100th anniversary of the event that caused us to observe Veteran’s Day—the Armistice which ended the fighting of World War 1. The signing, you may recall, took place at 11am, making it an event that happened on 11, 11, 11—no doubt to make it more memorable and to lift up the great importance of peace.
Veteran’s Day is an important day to remember. It allows us to give thanks for the efforts of our soldiers—all of whom took an oath to serve their country and to put their life on the line as needed. They each had a high calling. They each had a hard calling. And because so many of them did their callings so well, we enjoy the freedoms and peace we now have today. We should all be very grateful for those who have served.
In saying our veterans had a high calling, I am using the language of today’s text from Ephesians, which begins with the words: “walk in a manner worthy of your calling.” Our calling, as Paul has described to the Ephesian Christians in the earlier chapters of his letter, is to live as redeemed children of God. It is a calling to a life of higher principles. It is a calling to a life of faith. It is a calling to rejoice in our forgiveness—”by grace you have been saved through faith.” It is a calling to follow Jesus, the one who redeemed us, the one who made us a child of God.
Today’s text then goes on to describe the life that is worthy of our calling. We are to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
These are beautiful words, describing a beautiful way of life. They have been captured well by that beautiful hymn: “Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love” – which we would have sung if we weren’t singing stewardship hymns.
As beautiful as this way of life is, we also know that it is hard. It’s hard because not everyone lives this way. And, it’s hard because we question how effective it is. We seem to accomplish more with boastfulness than humility. We can get quicker results with aggression than gentleness. Patience may be a virtue but it seems rather boring. Bearing with one another in love gets very tiring. Maintaining unity in the bond of peace means we’ll have to do things we’d rather not do – like compromise and share.
Today, as we think about the blessings of an armistice signed 100 years ago, and as we remember the great service of our veterans, we should also remember what it is that causes war and makes soldiers necessary. Wars come about when people stop bearing with one another in love. Young men and women are turned into soldiers when the bond of peace gets broken.
Armistice Day, 11, 11, 11 – 100 years ago was such a big deal because the war was such a big deal. The war to end all wars raged four long years, leaving 9 million soldiers dead and 21 million wounded. Germany, Russia, France and Great Britain each lost around a million soldiers. The United States suffered 116,000 losses, about twice the number killed in Vietnam.
Perhaps you’ve heard the great poem of remembrance that touched the hearts of so many following that war.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row …
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
I imagine that great poem of mourning spoke so strongly to its day because it was about “we.” “We are the dead.” The war killed so many. It killed many whom we loved. It could have killed us.
That poem still speaks because, as we know, the great war did not end all wars. It was followed by another. And even up to this day the wars have not ceased. The shooting may be more isolated right now, in nightclubs, places of worship, schools, homes, but it has not stopped.
We must learn to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” We must learn to live these higher principles of the Lord God. We must learn to see them as not just beautiful, but critical.
Immediately after St. Paul mentions these higher principles, he begins to tell us again how God helps. “You were called” he reminds us, “to the one hope that belongs to your call—where there is one body (meaning the church) and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” And, “grace” was given to you – “according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
This grace echoes the saving grace which Paul had mentioned earlier. We are saved from our sins – by grace through faith—because Jesus died for those sins.
But now grace also indicates the God-given gifts we bring to our calling. These gifts (graces) are given according to the measure of Christ’s gift—which means they are abundant, and they are effective!
Last year about this time I was running a road race and along the way I struck up a conversation with another runner. I found out he was in the military and I asked him about his service. He then asked me if I was in the military and I said “well, I’m in the Lord’s army – I’m a pastor.”
I don’t always use that metaphor for the church and I certainly didn’t want to take away from his service by comparing mine to his, but he had a kindly countenance about him and I figured I could speak in such a way. Sure enough, he smiled and thanked me for my service, which was really nice.
When we stand for the holy teachings of the Lord God, and even more when we live them – then we are in His service. Our talk about stewardship is all about how we can best serve.
As you know, there are many ways to serve. Giving money is one. Financial giving helps others and it helps you. When given toward the furthering of the higher principles of the Lord it helps greatly.
Giving money is a way of showing thanks to God. Giving money is a way to reflect your values and witness to them too. Proportional giving, perhaps using the measure of the tithe – 10 percent – is always a good practice. Some of you who are very good at earning money can even give more.
And then there is the service of sharing your time and your talents. As members of one body we need each other. We need each other’s efforts. We need each other’s abilities. In our callings, individually and as church, we are so much better together.
The stewardship forms you are receiving today, and which have also been mailed to your homes, include many ways to serve with your time and talent. In considering these ways to serve, I would ask you to keep in mind your talents—meaning the way you are talented, but at the same time not worry too much about the level of your talent either. From what I’ve observed, God can help us grow the talents we need as we serve.
What’s more important for us to think about is our time. Time is what we tend to be most careful with. Time is something we often worry about. Time is something that will get filled one way or another, so why not fill it with work for the Lord. I urge you to step out in faith and make time for these activities of service.
The Ephesians text concludes with Jesus quoting Psalm 68 – ironically a Psalm meant to call to mind a military procession. The Psalm begins by saying, “God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him!” The words that Paul quotes, from later in the Psalm, describe God as an ascended king receiving tribute from those fleeing enemies who are captured.
Paul quotes these words in reference to Jesus, who also “ascended on high” as a king. But that’s a secondary point. The real point Paul wants to make is that King Jesus has taken all the tribute he has received and given it to us. He even changes the wording of the Psalm in his quote to make this point. The Psalm says God “receives” gifts. Paul says he “gives” them.
The interesting thing is that there are teachings from the Jewish Mishna from later years that do this same thing. It is clear that God is generous in his giving. Paul is quite certain of this because he knows of the generosity of God as seen in Jesus, who gave his life for us.
Out of the abundance of his grace God has given each of us gifts. It is our privilege to enjoy them and it is our calling to share them. May God direct us in our stewardship of His gifts. And may God lead us to be faithful. Amen.