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When Is Enough Enough?
November 8, 1998

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?"

A church member, feeling anger and burnout by being asked to do more--serve on this committee, work on that project, give more, do more--cries, "When is enough enough?"

A congregation, during the Finance Campaign told again and again, "The church needs more; increase your giving," cries, "When is enough enough?"

A Christian, hearing Paul's admonition in Romans 12:1, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice," (sacrifice my body??), cries, "When is enough enough?"

A child needs to know the nutrition rules of the house: when enough vegetables are enough. A church member has to prioritize and take charge of church commitments, deciding when enough is enough. We each have the freedom and responsibility to decide what our financial giving will be.

But, when giving to God, when is enough enough? To God who requires the sacrifice of our bodies, in other words, our total being in total commitment, when is enough enough?

I'm intrigued with the woman in the Mark passage read this morning. Jesus was in the temple, watching, observing, teaching, and highly critical of the scribes, the religious leaders. Jesus said, (reading from The Message),

"Watch out for the religion scholars. They love to walk around in academic gowns, preening in the radiance of public flattery, basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function. And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. The longer their prayers, the worse they get. But they'll pay for it in the end."

He was hard on the leaders, wasn't he. No wonder they crucified him.

He watched the rich make their offerings--some gave a great deal of money. 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 won't believe it! This poor woman put in a few cents, but she put in more than all the rest because they gave what they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford--she gave her all."

I'm intrigued with this woman. What did she put in the offering? Was it her egg money? Farm women in the past often raised chickens, and kept the egg money for their own needs. They bought material for dresses, or things for the house, or birthday presents. Was this offering the woman's egg money--the money she had patiently saved for a new scarf, or a new lamp, or something bright and pretty? No, Jesus said she gave even more than her egg money. She gave what she had to live on. She denied herself not only extravagances, but necessities. When is enough enough?

I'm 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? Look how we pay our taxes because it is our duty. Do we pay gladly? Generously? Do we pay more than we need to, more than enough? No, we look for loopholes. We pay accountants, lawyers, or H & R Block, rather than pay taxes to the government, so we don't have to pay more than what is our duty to pay! I doubt that a sense of duty was her motivation.

Did she give what she had to live on because the temple needed the money? Did they mail out a budget? Budgets are informative, but they rarely motivate the kind of giving this woman exhibited. People who give to the budget usually give very little. They study the budget and divide it by the membership to see what they consider their share. Can you imagine the poor widow studying the temple's budget to see what is her fair share? I doubt it.

Did she give for reward? Did she expect blessings? To hit it big in Reno? Have you read of the man who sued his church and pastor because the told him if he tithed--if he gave 10%--he would get rich? He did and didn't!! He didn't get blessed as they had promised! He didn't 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 Jesus' attention. She didn't know Jesus was watching, and she certainly couldn't 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 widow went home dancing, filled with joy, noticed and praised by Jesus!

Perhaps our quest to understand the woman's 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 God's 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 God's vocabulary! Even with humankind's 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.

Look at your own life. You can see, if you look carefully and objectively, how God has worked in you, on you and for you. God protects you. God pleads with you to change your ways, to choose Christ rather than death, to live love rather than hate. God knocks, pleads, calls you. Sometimes God nudges. Sometimes God hits you over the head, and says, "Hey! Wake up!" How God loves you and cares for you. "God so loved...that he gave...his Son." Ask God the question, "When is enough enough?", and the answer is "Never!" God says, "I will never give up on you. I will always love you, show you mercy, work in you, redeem you. There is nothing you can do, and nothing that can ever happen to you, that will cause me to give up." There is no enough with God!

When is enough enough? When is your giving enough? "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice," wrote Paul. "Body" is best translated today as "total being, everything you are and have." 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."

To put it another way, we are asking the wrong question. In the last analysis, nothing we have, and nothing about us, belongs to us. Nothing is ours. It all belongs to God. The question, therefore, is not what is enough to give to God, but what is enough to keep for ourselves.

Time certainly doesn't belong to us. We didn't invent time. Time is what God lets us use for awhile, while we are on this earth. Time belongs to God, so the question is: what portion of time is enough to keep for ourselves, for our own needs, for our own pleasure?

Our bodies are not ours. We didn't make them. Our bodies belong to God. God lets us use our bodies for awhile, while we are on this earth. God expects us to take care of the bodies which belongs to him, the bodies we are using. God does not want us to harm the body by what we put in our mouths, or by ruining them with disease or flabbiness. God lets is use our bodies so we can do God's work. God wants a healthy body to serve him.

Possessions and money do not belong to us. God lets is use His money for us to do God's work. The question is not what is enough to give God, but what is enough for ourselves. The biblical standard is 90% for ourselves, the rest--10%--is for God's work, giving children hope, responding to disasters, teaching people to pray, providing support and encouragement. Thank offerings are above the 10%.

Jesus had a great deal to say about money. In fact, Jesus said more about money than anything else, more than faith, or prayer, or love. Why? Not so the temple and the synagogues could meet their budgets, but because of what money does to us. When we think what we have belongs to us, we get it all backwards. Priorities are reversed, and life is struggle and strain, with no inner peace. We are miserable, defeated, discouraged, full of guilt, critical, cynical, negative, and powerless. 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.

The story is told that when the Francs were converted to Christ, the whole tribe went to the river to be immersed in baptism. Because they were a warring tribe and were not quite completely convinced and committed, they went through the water of baptism with their sword hand held high out of the water. They were willing to give everything to God except their swords. I wonder if too many modern Christians go through the water of baptism holding high above the water their checkbooks and wallets.

When is enough enough? Ask God

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris