Practicing Generosity – What’s Your Motivation?

2 Corinthians 9: 7-8

Luke 21: 1-4


Be honest – was that the direction that you thought the video would go in? If most of us are truly honest I think we would admit that we were expecting the worst.

My second year of seminary I had the opportunity to travel to Central America on an accompaniment trip to study Human Migration and the root causes that were triggering the crisis of so many people attempting to migrate to the United States. It was an eye-opening journey and what I learned is that most of the Hondurans and Guatemalans that I met on my trip didn’t really want to leave their homes. They were doing so out of necessity. Lack of education and employment, gang violence, and massive drought due to climate change all contributed to the in-habitability of these people’s homes.

In addition to hearing stories and learning about human migration, I also experienced first-hand, a form of radical hospitality which included the sharing of resources out of one’s scarcity, not extreme abundance. Everywhere we went – city and rural communities alike – people who had almost nothing – were willing to share with us what they had.

This mindset of giving out of one’s scarcity and sharing with one’s neighbor really hit home for me in one village (if you could really even call it that) near the Honduran and El Salvadoran border. The village of Tomela’ is so far out and remote that the vans we were taking couldn’t navigate the roads to get there.

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We had to ride in the villagers 4×4 trucks over extremely rugged terrain to reach it. (For the record – I get extremely motion sick – so this was LOADS OF FUN!) It was such a long journey and it was so far out that there was no place for us to stop for lunch and those who lived in the village knew this – so they prepared lunch for us.

This community is built of subsistence farmers who had not had a good harvest in 4 years due to drought. Their community cooperative grain stores were empty… yet this is the meal that they prepared for us. Not out of their affluence or the extra they had left over, but out of the almost nothing that they had in the first place. And let me tell you – it was DELICIOUS!

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They would absolutely not accept payment to compensate for the resources that we consumed.  When we sat down and spoke with the entire village at a community meeting the first thing we were told by their spokesman was: “It is a joy to have you here with us because we are all friends in Christ.”

The video that we just watched is another example of a human giving out of their scarcity. The man in the video who was experiencing homelessness was gifted with $100. And what did he do with it? Did he go buy drugs or booze or even a hotel for the night where he could take a shower and sleep in a warm bed? No. Did he go get some lavish meal packed with carbs that would stick with him for a few days? No. Did he use it to buy himself anything at all? No.

He bought food – and not for himself, but for his community. He was blessed unexpectedly and so he decided to bless others. And when he was confronted about why he chose to do so – he said “There are some things that money just can’t buy. I get happiness out of doing what I’m doing.”

Our Gospel this morning tells the story of another who gives out of scarcity. This story is often referred to as “The Widow’s Mite” – Jesus has been teaching in the Synagogue and has just condemned the Scribes (legal authorities) on the practice of “devouring widow’s houses” or the act of cheating widow’s out of their homes while acting as their legal guardians under the terms of their husbands wills.

Immediately following this – he points out that the same men who are using their power and privilege to cheat others and force them into abject poverty are then in turn “fulfilling their obligation” to the temple and giving money into the treasury to “help” the same people who they caused to need the help in the first place.

And then – along comes a widow who adds two small copper coins – some translations use the term “mite” which was a Greek lepta – the smallest coin in usage in first-century Palestine. It would have taken 128 lepta to make a denarius – a day’s wage.

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Jesus proclaims that she gave more than anyone else because she gave all that she had to live on. Now we don’t know if that is true or not. Jesus had an innate way of “knowing” things, so it might be. That might have been the absolute last bit of money she had left.

Or – she might have been gifted with it unexpectedly on her way to the temple and decided to share her blessing. Or – given the fact that leptas were such insignificant amounts of money – she might have found them on the street, discarded by someone who saw no use for them, much like people discard pennies today. Regardless of those circumstances – she chose to give them to help others in her same situation. To share with her community.

Often this story is used as an example of a cheerful giver – who was willing to give all that she had to support mission and ministry – so rah-rah Stewardship Campaign – you should all do the same. (I literally did not realize that rhymed until I said it in the first worship service!) However – I don’t really think that is what this story is meant to teach us at all.

One of the resources that I read on this passage this week said this: “If we make these verses about giving then the only legitimate point you can draw from the text is that God wants you to give absolutely everything you have, and resign yourself to a life of destitution. And we know that’s not biblical, because God’s Word is clear elsewhere about the importance of being a good steward with your money.”

So, if it’s not about stewardship, then what exactly is it about??? The Rev. Dr. David Lose wrote this: “Is Jesus speaking words of praise or lament? I know the default answer. Jesus is praising this widow for her ‘sacrificial’ giving. I’ve heard the passage interpreted this way in numerous sermons – particularly during stewardship season – and have likely interpreted it this way myself… I understand the appeal of the traditional interpretation – God cares about quality rather than quantity – as it provides a moving illustration for us to give (although I’ve never met anyone to actually match this woman’s gift). But what if Jesus is not taking a break from this unusual concern for the poor to provide us with a quick stewardship lesson but instead is lamenting that we live in a world – and note that it’s a religious world – where we allow, even expect, widows and other vulnerable people to give so much of what they have and continue living in destitution. Should we not rather be giving what we have to end their poverty?”

Should we not be giving what WE have to end poverty? And to end suffering? And to end famine? And to end homelessness? Should we not be taking care of widows and orphans? In Matthew Chapter 25, Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, give drink to those who thirst, to clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, care for the sick, and to welcome the stranger. There is no doubt about what we are called to do and how we are called to act.

Individually we cannot always make much of an impact – as a single mother with no family close by – I cannot go to Liberia and work to better the life of orphans there. However, I can support Pastor Emmanuel as he does. And so can you. In my last sermon I shared with you a time as a teenager when I gave a homeless man a handful of change. Those loose coins certainly didn’t change his life, the small amount that I can individually give is insignificant.

However, the collective offering that we give to synodical and churchwide ministry partners who are better equipped and better resourced to address justice issues such as hunger, poverty, and homelessness make a much bigger impact.

Last week Pastor Emmanuel spoke about the difference between giving out of a state of fear and apprehension – giving whatever was leftover and we felt we could spare verses giving out of a place of gratitude, knowing that God has blessed us and so we are called in kind to bless others. The man in the video and the people who I met in Tomela’ gave abundantly out of a place of gratitude.

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Ultimately, I think the point that is often missed in this Gospel text – is that of motivation. Why were the rich men giving to the temple? Because socially, culturally, and politically it was expected and therefore it was advantageous for them to do so. Why did the widow? We don’t really know. All we know is it made no sense for one who was so poor to give anything at all.

In his book To Give and Give Again: A Christian Imperative for Generosity Donald W. Hinze states that “Generosity with gifts is the way to spiritual maturity, Sacred and secular history and literature are replete with examples of the crippling effects of gifts hoarded and unshared. People are not naturally disposed to giving, yet, the life we all prize, filled with joy and spiritual depth, is closely tied to giving generously and with thankful hearts.” I believe the man in the video depicted this perfectly.

This week, if you have not already done so, I encourage you to take home one of our pledge cards. Spend some time individually or as a family contemplating how God is calling you to engage in the world and how we at Living Word can continue to do so together. Think about what motivates all of us – it is my hope and prayer that gratitude and love of God and love of neighbor is our motivation. That when we say we are called to be a living expression of Christ in the world that we really mean it. That we will use ourselves, our time, and our possessions to be Christ to the world.

Because, collectively, we can change the world. Which is why we gather as a Christian Community, which is why we converge and worship God and receive sacrament which gives us the nourishment that we need to go out and keep doing what God has called us to do. To be who God created us to be. To embrace the joy that we receive when we care for our friends in Christ.

Amen.

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