Date Given: 6/16/19
He 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.’
Two small copper coins. Two small copper coins were all the widow had to give. Two small copper coins would have been quite the remarkable contrast to the beauty, the opulence, the gifts adorning the temple behind her. Two small copper coins. This is not the donation you need to kickstart a capital campaign. This is not the kind of gift that is going to fund ministry for years to come. This is not a donation that the money counters would even notice when they went to collect at the end of the day. And yet Jesus says this nameless widow gave more than all the others.
In this brief encounter outside the temple, we are met by a nameless woman in scripture, who offers a profound witness about the difference God makes in our lives. This nameless woman deeply challenges our most common sense understanding of generosity. I’ll admit, as a pastor and in the middle of a capital campaign, there is certainly a part of me that is a little uncomfortable with her witness. Jesus says, “this poor widow has put in more than all of them.” Two copper coins is worth more than all the gifts of the rich people.
I’ll admit there’s a part of me that thinks, “sure it’s nice, but you can’t keep the lights on if a couple of coins is all you receive.” And there’s a part of me that thinks Jesus clearly never had to worry about making payroll work out on a low giving week. I would imagine that there is a part of each of us that cannot help but associate a much higher dollar amount with “real” generosity. Especially in a nation built on capitalist assumptions and the creation of a kind of wealth that has never before existed in human history; especially here and now it’s only human to nod along with Jesus, while secretly hoping for a few extra zeroes to be tacked on when anyone is generous with us.
Two copper coins. That’s all this nameless woman had to give. And Jesus says she gave more than all the rest. “all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” I don’t know the exact exchange rate for the coins she put in, but it wasn’t much. Lepton is the greek word used for such a coin. A lepton is worth about 1/128th of a denarius. A denarius is worth a day’s wage. So a lepton was worth about 6 minutes of a day’s work. Not nothing, but not much. A lepton is the smallest and least valuable coin she could have given.
To understand why this nameless woman’s generosity is so significant is going to take more than our best common sense approach to money or accounting or exchange rates. Something much deeper is happening in Luke’s gospel. Something much more challenging and hopeful and significant is being shown in the witness of this nameless woman. Through the lens of Jesus, we can’t help but see that generosity is about something much more than just money or things. Generosity is a means of creating community. Generosity is a way to embody the self giving love of our God.
To see this, we start with something generosity is not. Generosity is not giving away the overabundance of stuff that you no longer need and might never have needed in the first place. Don’t hear me wrong, every time Sallie and I move we give away piles and piles of stuff. I’d venture to guess that a majority of us probably couldn’t say the last time we saw, much less used, about half the random junk in our houses. Cleaning out what you don’t need and donating it to a place that will put it to good use is a great thing. It’s just not generosity.
Doing something you need to do that just so happens to help someone else and make you feel better in the process is a win-win all around. But to rise to the level of generosity requires some sense of personal sacrifice, some level of acting for the sake of someone else even when that practice doesn’t benefit you more than the person helped. The rich donors at the temple were the ones who made a show of their giving – no doubt giving huge sums for the sake of recognition or the notoriety that would come. Generosity means putting others’ needs above our wants, not just giving once we have too much.
Next, we find the most straightforward part of this nameless woman’s witness. That part of her witness might simply be called the value of proportional giving. As a church, we’ve talked about and will continue to speak from time to time about proportional giving. Most commonly we talk about proportional giving in terms of a tithe. Tithing is an idea that goes back at least to the very beginning of the biblical story. Tithing to God is found already in Genesis, the very first book of the bible. Tithing means giving to God 10% of what we have been given.
Tithing shows up at various points all throughout scripture and has been an expectation or at least a goal for church members in pretty much all times and locations since the church started. I know how uneasy it can be to talk about money. Especially at times in life when it’s hard to keep up with bills and loan payments and then something breaks that costs $1000 you don’t have… especially in those moments any talk about tithing can feel harsh or judgmental. But part of the freedom and hope within proportional giving is that this is a community gift, not a personal requirement.
We are blessed to lean on one another in community with the expectation that we will all struggle from time to time. And we know that by choice, circumstance, luck, politics, and a thousand other factors outside our control, money isn’t equally distributed; we are only ever asked to give a portion of what we have received. The goal of a community tithing is much less about achieving the exact percentage point and more about trusting what is possible when we all play the role we can.
At the end of the day, we can’t get around talking about proportional financial giving. The Gospel of Luke talks more about money and wealth than prayer, the kingdom of God, or any other spiritual topic you might expect to find. Especially for Luke, our practical choices to support the community of Christ is an absolutely essential part of our witness. Financial support for this community is an essential part of continuing to do the work to which we have been called. There is no more simple, concrete way to show what we value than to see how we spend our money as individuals and as a church.
Here at Cypress UMC, we don’t lay down some sort of punitive requirements that you have to follow or else. If you’re a guest, we hope you see the value in what we’re trying to accomplish and will find some way to support what God is doing here. Our expectation of our members is that you will at least give some percentage of what you have been given, even if that starts out very small. Our hope is that you feel the call to tithe or work towards it. If everyone increased giving by just 1%, it wouldn’t radically change an individual’s lifestyle, but it would radically change what we’re able to do together. Proportional giving is a vital part of Christian community.
Within this reality is a more subtle but equally important lesson. Jesus said, “this woman has put in more than all of them.” Out of her poverty, she has given a gift that is more than all the rich people had to give. Jesus’ point is not just about percentage of income; more than that, we are better when the gifts of all God’s children are brought to light; even those we’re tempted to ignore or devalue.
How often in our quest to be generous do we stop to question our assumptions about what happens when we give? The vast majority of the time, at least for me, my default mindset in ministry is that I who have, am going to give something generous to you, who is in need. On some level, that dynamic is going to be a temptation in every attempt to be generous. We filled this entire room with toys and bikes and an incredible array of presents to give away at Christmas time. In just over a week, we’ll open the doors of our church to be overrun by 750 VBS kids coming to be blessed by an amazing and free week of singing and crafts and games and lessons. This afternoon, we’re sending an amazing group of highschoolers and adults to UM Army where they will put their skills to the test painting, building ramps, and doing anything else they can to serve the people of Liberty.
Each of these acts of generosity is a beautiful and powerful thing. But how often do we pause long enough to remember that all of God’s children are blessed with gifts worth sharing? How often do we find ways to bring to light the gifts of those we think we’re serving? How often could we recognize that the gifts they have to offer might just be more valuable than anything we could give away? Even asking the question is hard. At best, it usually leads to a sentimental notion that we have been blessed by that act of giving. So rarely do we truly recognize that two copper coins could actually be more valuable than anything we could offer.
This reality is most easily seen in the life of Jesus. On this side of the resurrection, after two thousand years of church history and theology writing and all sorts of other influences, we know that what Jesus did was the most significant gift that he could have offered. Jesus gave his life to give new life to each of us. But in that day and time, in that moment when he was doing the one thing that would change everything, in that moment even his closest followers failed to see the value in what was happening.
The disciples, like all God’s people at the time, wanted a new king. They wanted someone to rise up with military might. They wanted someone to rule over Rome. They assumed the way things had always been was the way they would always be and they simply wanted to have more money and power than all the rest. What Jesus did by going to the cross must have felt an awful lot like throwing two copper coins in the offering plate. And yet, Jesus gave a gift that no one knew they needed, and in so doing changed everything.
How often do we overlook the beauty of the gifts we have been offered, just because they don’t look like what we already think we want? In the witness of this nameless woman, we see that we are better together when the gifts of all God’s children are seen and valued; even the gifts we didn’t know we needed.
A final piece of this nameless woman’s witness is worth drawing out. It is something that is presumed within all that I’ve said thus far, but is worth making explicit. If we have nothing, then we have nothing to give. That much should be obvious, but it’s worth sitting with for a moment because it can be so easy to hear Jesus’ words and miss half the point. Jesus says that the woman, “out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” We can hear those words and assume that the real goal should always be to give 110% – to give until it hurts and then keep going. We might see that Jesus gave his very life for us and assume that the point is to make the same sacrifice in any way that we can.
The problem is that Godly generosity is about relationship, not money or things or acts of service. Giving generously is not an end in it’s own right – generosity is only a means to creating the community that God desires for us to know. If we all give until it hurts and then double down to give even more, we’ll eventually just resent one another for failing to carry enough of the weight. Relationship is only born when we experience the mutual growth and trust; when we see generosity that tears down walls and makes us all stronger.
Hurting people hurt people. Healthy people help people. Jesus gave all that he had and all that he was, but he did so out of the abundance of a love that knows no bounds and never ends. He did so to bind all our hearts together in that very love that created life itself. If we don’t care for ourselves, if we don’t come back to the source of life and love, if we just keep giving and giving and giving without any attention to ourselves, then we will burn out, run out, and otherwise have nothing left to give.
Godly generosity is not giving away stuff we didn’t need or want anyway; it involves at least putting others’ needs over our wants. Godly generosity doesn’t rely on dollar figures or magnificent gifts; it relies on giving an amount proportional to what we have been given first. Godly generosity doesn’t simply mean giving what we already think we want; it means bringing the gifts of all God’s children to light. And Godly generosity doesn’t leave us empty; it invites us to come back to the well of love and grace to be renewed time and time again.
It’s only fitting that we explore this profound witness of generosity on Father’s day. Parenting well is one of a handful of endeavors in life that requires a special understanding of generosity. Parenting presents the call to learn how to give generously – to give not for the sake of power and not out of resentment; but to give for the sake of your child. Sometimes that involves giving out of abundance and at times it means giving out of poverty. Even the very best among us, can only do the best we can with what we have been given.
But we gather to worship each week and we build our lives upon the cross of Christ because the source of life itself already gave all. He gave a generous gift we didn’t even know we needed and brought new life for us all. We come to the source of our strength knowing that no matter how far we fall short, no matter how many times we have been let down; here we are met by the one whose generosity knows no limits. Here we find the source and hope for a community in which all our faults and failures are embraced, transformed, and made new.
One nameless woman gave two copper coins. And in so doing, she reminds us of the generosity that God makes possible. The love that binds our hearts together is stronger than death itself. That love is at the heart of a generous life.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.