What is every pastor’s least favorite sermon topic?
If I had to guess what most would list, it would be tithing.
It is an oft-avoided topic in many pulpits, perhaps due to a feeling that it will appear to be fundraising for their own salary rather than a call to carry out all the congregation’s ministries.
This month our church is going through a stewardship emphasis that we’ve titled “Cheerful Giving, Joyful Living.” This means that I am preaching a series of sermons on giving and money.
This is not necessarily one of my favorite things to do, but it is important and a viable part of being connected to a family of faith.
Sometimes I hear people say, “What I give is private. No one else needs to know.”
I can appreciate that sentiment, but the truth is that giving is personal rather than private.
The difference in personal versus private giving is that what we give financially impacts the lives of others, and no one else can give for us.
Giving often encourages more giving, and the opposite can also be true.
The story out of Luke 21 has been a “go to” for pastors who want to inspire their people to give.
It’s about the poor widow who gave “two very small copper coins” in comparison to the wealthy who gave out of their “surplus” – meaning it didn’t really cost them anything.
Jesus saw both the widow and the wealthy give to the treasury, but it was what the widow did that prompted him to gather his disciples and teach them a valuable lesson.
I’ve often referred to this passage as an example of sacrificial giving – and it is. It shows that our giving is not measured by how much we give, but how much we have left over.
However, it is also a reminder about justice. In the preceding chapter, Jesus criticized the teachers of the law for their false piety and hypocrisy.
They “devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely” (Luke 20:27).
It’s easy to refer to the poor as a faceless mass of humanity. Yet, when Jesus criticized the religious leaders for being oppressors, he put a face on the problem by pointing out the poor widow.
She is a real, impoverished person who is affected by the injustice of those in leadership; she is not a faceless group with a label.
It doesn’t make sense to give large amounts of money while showing little concern for those who are in need, yet that is what the religious leaders were doing.
Apparently, the large sums of money they were giving did not translate into compassion to those in need.
That’s a difficult truth to swallow. They gave to be seen and heard; they were disconnected from the pain that their actions were inflicting upon others.
It should also be noted that Jesus did not rebuke the widow for giving to a corrupt religious system.
Instead, he showed indignation toward those in the Temple: “My house will be a house of prayer; but you have made it a ‘den of robbers'” (Luke 19:46).
Things were not ideal at the Temple, but Jesus recognized the generosity of the widow rather than the problems that existed in the Temple.
There are applications to our attitudes about the church and why and how and when we give.
I’m still sorting through the implications of this charming comparison between the wealthy and the widow; this is not as simple or straightforward a text as is often perceived.
After all, Jesus didn’t criticize the wealthy for their giving per se, but it was the widow’s costly contribution that made him take notice.
We don’t know the widow’s name. She walks in and out of our lives, leaving a powerful example of giving and a reminder that our actions impact those around us. That is a mighty lesson.
Danny Chisholm is senior pastor of University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ChisholmDanny.