When is Enough Enough?
MARK 12:38-44, ROMANS 12:1-2
A little boy, trying to force down another forkful of vegetables (probably broccoli) at the urging--shall we say blackmail, threats, rewards--by Mom and Dad, cries out in desperation, "When is enough enough?"
I can hear inner voices in the congregation this morning exclaim, "Oh, no! Not more talk about money! When is enough enough?
A Christian, hearing Paulís admonition in Romans 12:1, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice," (sacrifice my body??), cries, "When is enough enough?"
Letís turn the question around. Can you imagine God saying, "Thatís enough blessings for you!" Do you really want to say, "Thatís enough, God. I donít want any more good health. I donít want any more blessings for my family. I donít want any more income. And, donít bless my church anymore. Enough is enough!"
Some churches do exactly that. They put a cap on Godís blessings, and say by their vision and their giving, thatís enough! When I was appointed to one of my churches, we held a series of Coffees in member homes. I asked each small group, "What do you dream for our church?" A persistent answer was, "Oh, we want to hear children in the halls again." So we made childrenís ministry a priority. Children and their parents began to come. Then we heard the comment, "The children are taking all the cookies in the Coffee Hour!" They wanted children until they started coming and acting like children; then the church said, "Enough, enough."
What about our church? How God has blessed us! Do we say, "Enough enough?" I am thrilled during the 11:00 service to see the chancel steps filled with children. When the 40 voice childrenís choir sings, how I thank God! I am looking forward with joy to the childrenís musical Friday evening. On Palm Sunday, children will re-enact the last week of Jesusí life with a "Walk Through Jerusalem." This summer there will be Super Summer Sundays creating an atmosphere of fun learning centers. We sponsor a childrenís weeklong resident camp in southeastern Arizona. There will be a music camp on our campus this summer where children will learn new musical instruments and new musical skills as they make a joyful noise to the Lord. How God has blessed us with a childrenís ministry!
How blessed we are with youth! How many churches have 25 youth singing in a choir! This summer the Youth Choir will travel to the Four Corners area and minister through music in several churches. Last Sunday, I went down to the youth service, Sunday Morning Live. The room was filled with youth singing and clapping with their Praise Band. Jamie, an eighth grade girl, shared her witness on giving. How God has blessed us! Do we say. "Enough?"
Many churches have. I can take you to church after church where they have said with their giving, rather with their lack of giving, "Enough, enough." They cut staff; they cut programs; now their churches have only gray hair (not that there is anything wrong with gray hair, but itís sad when there are no other colors present). Those churches wonder what happened. They wonder why they are dying. Iíll tell you why: They said, "Enough, enough."
Back to the prior question: When is enough enough? "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice," wrote Paul. "Body" is best translated as "total being, everything you are and have." Eugene Peterson in The Message translates this verse, "Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering."
Iím intrigued with the woman in the Scripture lesson read this morning. Jesus was in the temple watching the rich, and then he saw something that thrilled him. How excited and elated he must have been, for he called his disciples, "Hey, guys, come over here. You wonít believe it! This poor woman put in a few cents, but she put in more than all the rest because they gave what theyíll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldnít afford--she gave her all."
Iím intrigued with this woman. Why did she give her all? What was her motivation?
Was it a sense of duty? Did someone tell her it was her duty to give so much? I doubt it, for who would give all they had out of a sense of duty? We pay our taxes because it is our duty. Do we pay generously? Do we pay more than we need to, more than enough? No, we look for loopholes. We pay accountants or lawyers so we donít have to pay more than what is our duty to pay! I doubt that a sense of duty was her motivation.
Did she give for reward? To hit it big in Vegas? Have you read of the man who sued his church and pastor because they told him if he tithed--if he gave 10%--he would get rich? He did and didnít!! He didnít get rich as they had promised! He didnít win the lawsuit, by the way. (In case you have ideas!) I doubt that the woman gave for reward, even though she was rewarded by Jesusí attention. She didnít know Jesus was watching, and she certainly couldnít have predicted that Jesus would be so impressed with her meager offering. How surprised she must have been to be noticed and praised (probably for the first time in her life) by someone important. The scribes and the rich went home with their self-righteousness, their self-congratulations, and with the scrutiny and criticism of Jesus. The poor woman went home dancing, filled with joy, noticed and praised by Jesus!
Perhaps our quest to understand the womanís motivation is looking in the wrong place. Perhaps the answer is not found by examining the woman, but by examining the God to whom she gave all she had.
God is a giver. God is a loving, self-giving, all-giving God. God, the creative energy and power who has brought everything into existence and who keeps it going, is a giving God. When Godís creation misuses the freedom to choose, the freedom to follow or reject, the freedom to say "no" as well as "yes", God does not give up on us. Enough is not part of Godís vocabulary! Even with humankindís bad choices, God is not on a cloud watching from a distance, nor is God on a bench judging, but God is constantly pursuing us, loving us, saving, redeeming us. God even has gone so far as emptying himself, becoming a servant. God came to us in the person of Jesus who gave everything he had. Jesus sacrificed his life. God is a giver, and giving is at the heart of the universe.
I believe the woman experienced how God is a giving God, and that when she gave her all to God, God provided.
Weíre talking about total commitment. Years ago, I learned that when you present your body as a living sacrifice, making a total commitment, the Lord provides. "God will take care of you." When I was 18 years old and a sophomore at Hamline University, the District Superintendent appointed me to pastor two small rural Minnesota churches, located about 50 miles north of the university. A neighboring church sponsored a series of Sunday School Teacher Training classes so I challenged our teachers to go. I said I would drive up on Wednesday evenings, pick up a carload of teachers and take them to the class. One Wednesday, I checked my money and discovered I had enough money to put gas in the car for the trip up and back, and to get home on Friday evening, but if I bought gas, I would have no money for food on Thursday and Friday.
What to do? I had several options: I could call up sick. Or, I could be honest and cancel because I had no money for gasoline. Or, I could be faithful and go, and not eat for two days. By looking at me, you know food and I get along well together, but I decided to be faithful. "After all," I said, "I gave my word." I bought the gasoline, and went. On the way home, I dropped off each teacher at her home. As the last teacher got out of the car, she said, "Thank you for driving," and handed me a dollar! I ate two days on that dollar! Incidentally, the woman who gave me the dollar was the one least able to afford it. She sacrificed for me! God is good! (All the time!)
After Ellie and I married, we moved to Evanston, Illinois, where she taught school and I went to seminary. We decided as a couple to make a total commitment to Christ and we began to tithe. God put humans on the earth to manage the planet, to take care of it! I donít think we are doing too good a job, but thatís another sermon. God then calls disciples to manage the resources God gives us so God can use us to transform the world, to redeem humankind. Tithing is Godís ingenious plan. All that we are and have belongs to God. God lets us use Godís money so we can do Godís work. The question is not what we give God, but how much we keep for ourselves. The biblical plan is the tithe: 10% to do Godís work, and we get to keep 90% for ourselves and the government.
Ellie and I began tithing her income while I went to seminary. One Sunday afternoon, two men from our church visited us. The church was conducting an Every Member Canvass. When we gave them our pledge, one of them gasped and said, "You donít need to give that much!"
My wife is an excellent manager and in those days, we used the envelope method. When she cashed her check, she allocated the money into envelopes for utilities, rent, groceries, church, etc. One Easter Sunday, we had the bills paid, and every envelope was empty except for church. We faithfully went to church, and made our regular offering. Ellie waited while I got the car, and there under a tree was a five-dollar bill! Money does grow on trees! A gift from God! Manna from heaven! We went out to eat in an actual restaurant, and went to a movie. God is good!
Through these 42 Ĺ years of marriage, we have tithed, and now, as winter residents in Arizona, we divide the church portion of our tithe between Merced and Paradise Valley. How God has blessed us! Our cup is filled and overflowing. We believe God led us to Arizona so that we could be near our middle sonís family with the twin girls. We believe God led us in our faith odyssey to this church, so that we might have a faith community to support our family with prayer and love while our babies are so sick. They are still in the hospital. The Prayer Chain went into action immediately after the twins were hospitalized, and we are overwhelmed by your attention and caring. God is good. There is no enough with God!
Jesus had a great deal to say about money. Itís not wrong to have money. Jesusí anger was not with the rich, but with what they did and didnít do with their wealth. God gives us wealth to tithe. The joy that makes us dance, the peace that gives inner courage and stability, the love which bonds and unites us with God and people, comes when we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, when we present all that we are and all that we have as an offering to God, when we let God define what is enough.
Next Sunday is Consecration Sunday, a very important Sunday in our church, truly a faith odyssey when we offer our financial pledges to God. With our giving or lack of giving we will define "enough" for our church or we will let God define what is enough. Where are you in your faith journey? Are you tithing? If not, will you discover the joy, join with those who do, make a total commitment and tithe?
The hymn is a commitment hymn. Sing the words with your heart and you will be making or renewing a total commitment to Jesus Christ. #399ã 2001 Douglas I. Norris