S INCE TODAY IS HALLOWEEN, a day when scary children knock on your door, when scary movies are on TV, when scary hayrides and haunted houses dot the landscape, this is the perfect day to look at the scariest word in Scripture — “all.”
That’s right. “All.” As in “she, out of her poverty, put in all she had to live on.”
“All” is frightening because we are afraid God will expect “all” from us. The rich ruler ran away frightened when Jesus suggested he sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. We better sing with fear and trembling the old hymn “All to Jesus I surrender. All to him I freely give.” Because we don’t really mean “all,” everything, the last drop, the final two coins.
† † †
WE GENERALLY CALL this time of year “stewardship season.” It comes from the idea of being good stewards of what God has given us. Perhaps instead we should call it “generosity season.”
You see, stewardship is the responsible planning and management of resources. These verses from Luke and Deuteronomy — in fact, throughout the Bible — are not about good stewardship. There is nothing responsible about giving away all you have to live on.
Farmers are not managing resources when they leave sheaves of grain in the field, clusters of grapes on the vine, or olives on the tree.
† † †
MANY PEOPLE USE stewardship as a reason not to give.
I’ve known some good stewards who were not generous. They plan and manage their resources. But they also use stewardship as a reason not to give. They justify stinginess by saying, “I’m just trying to be a good steward of my money.”
Stewardship is about what we do with what we keep. Giving is about generosity. Jesus is interested in our generosity.
† † †
JESUS IS INTERESTED in generosity because God the Father is a God of abundance. Not a God of scarcity. Extravagant generosity.
The Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills, according to the psalmist.
When the disciples were worried about feeding 5,000 people, the boy gave all he had — two fish and five loaves of bread. When everyone ate their fill, there were twelve baskets of food left over.
God always has enough.
† † †
TODAY, INSTEAD of asking, “Am I a good steward?” I’d rather you think about the question, “Am I a generous person?”
Generosity has nothing to do with wealth. There in the temple treasury, the wealthy gave out of their excess. The widow gave out of her poverty. She was the generous one.
† † †
I WENT on a mission trip to Mexico, deep into the Yucatan. Perhaps some of you were on that same presbytery-sponsored work trip. There was poverty all around. Dirt floors. No reliable electricity. One day we were invited to a home for lunch. It was one of the nicer homes — built of concrete blocks, with concrete floors. There was a group of maybe twenty of us.
Women cooked outdoors on an open fire. They brought in plate after plate after plate of food. We were their honored guests. They were extravagantly generous. I thought about all I had back home, how I could easily have bought a meal somewhere, how I should be giving to them, but here these poor church families were joyful and very generous to me, to us from south Alabama.
† † †
GENEROSITY isn’t contingent on wealth. Generosity is what ties Luke 21 and Deuteronomy together. She in poverty. Landowners in wealth. Both are extravagantly generous.
The verse just before our reading: Jesus warns against the religious leaders — they devour widow’s houses. Then Jesus watches a trusting woman give her all to an indefensible institution, one that refuses to protect the poor.
The Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor preached a sermon on this scene. She says this is the last of Jesus’ teachings in the topsy-turvy upside-down kingdom of God, where the last shall be first and where the most unlikely people turn out to be Jesus in disguise.
When Jesus leaves the temple today, his public ministry is over. In four days he is dead, having uncurled his fingers from around his own offering, to give up the two copper coins of his life. The widow gives up her living to a corrupt church; he is about to give his life for a corrupt world. She withholds nothing from God; neither does he.
It was the end for the widow and it was the end for Jesus, too.
Perhaps, Taylor says, Jesus gets the attention of the disciples and points to the widow. This is what he has spent three years talking about.
† † †
SO, WE COME full circle with this text.
The question is not how much you should put in the offering plate, how much you should pledge for the 2022 church budget, but what are you going to hold back from God?
The widow held nothing back. Neither did Jesus.
Look at what God has given you. How do you respond? How do you respond to generosity? I would suggest gratitude and extravagant generosity.
(Based on a sermon by the Rev. Jeff Munroe, delivered in Pella, Iowa, 11/08/2015)