23 Pentecost Proper B27                     
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 12:38-44 Sermon                                           
November 8, 2009

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
164 "God Himself Is Present"
572 "Children Of The Heavenly Father"
419 "O Saviour Precious Saviour"
510 "Take My Life And Let It Be"


TEXT (vs. 41-44):  "Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on.'" 

            Roy Martin.  He's married to a woman named Ellen.  I'm fairly sure that Roy and Ellen Martin mean absolutely nothing to you.  They lived in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia, and were members of one of my first congregations, St. Paul's Lutheran Church.  Of course there's a story connected with them.

            One couple in our congregation, Noel and Elva Priebbenow owned and operated a bus and coach company.  They not only operated the city bus service for two towns, but they also conducted tours as well aboard luxury coaches.  (By the way, if you want to know the difference between a bus and a coach, Noel would tell you that it is about $200 thousand.)

            Anyway, Roy and Ellen Martin were friends of Noel and Elva, and they had even taken some long trips with them.  The topic of church and religion were favorite discussions with Noel and Elva, and so they shared their faith with Roy and Ellen Martin.  The Martins were very interested indeed.

            At that particular point in time, St. Paul's in Maryborough had no pastor.  So the elder, Bernie Hartwig spent a lot of time and took them through adult confirmation instruction.  Roy and Ellen soaked up everything like a sponge.  And Bernie Hartwig with his Biblical knowledge was a very capable teacher as well.

            After instruction, the Martins were ready to be accepted into the communicant membership of the congregation.  Roy and Ellen had attended services very regularly, and were otherwise quite active in the congregation.  They loved their Lord, and they enjoyed the time they spent in God's house with God's people.

            After I had accepted the call to Australia, and while I was waiting for all of the immigration details to get straightened out, one of the members told me, more or less in passing, that there had been an "issue" with one couple in the congregation.  He didn't expound upon who it was or what it was exactly, but he told me that the various issues had been straightened out and otherwise taken care of.  I didn't press him for any of the details, and when I arrived, I assumed that everything was fine.

            I was wrong.  The problem was with this couple, Roy and Ellen Martin.  I guess it would be unfair to pull Ellen into this, since the problem was with Roy for the most part, and she just sort of got dragged into it along with him.

            So what was the problem?  What happened to this couple who were so eager Church members?  The problem was directly connected with the offering plate.  When the plate was passed, Roy saw that some people had put in rather large sums of money--lots of $20 bills, some $50's, and even a few $100's.  Roy and Ellen were on a fixed income pension, and couldn't afford very much.  They weren't in a position where they could donate as much as the others could.

            And so they refused to come any more.  Bernie Hartwig who was the Elder, and a few others tried to talk to him.  They told him that it didn't matter how much he donated, and that people gave according to what they had.  They thought that they had him convinced.  But despite whatever promising indication he gave, Roy and Ellen didn't return to church.  There was a hurdle here that they couldn't quite get over.

             Then I came along, and I was apprised of the situation in detail.  People were hoping that I could fix the problem.  So Noel invited Roy and myself to his house, and we sat around his dining room table in order to hash things out.

            Roy did in fact share his concerns with me.  He said, "I always pay my own way, and I never get involved with anything I can't afford."  In his mind, he felt that everybody else was supporting the ministry of the congregation, and he was there as more of a charity case.  He felt that if he couldn't donate like some of the others could, then he didn't belong there.  He didn't want others carrying the weight he felt he needed to carry.

            That one meeting was it.  He wouldn't speak to me again.  And I tried everything I could think of too.  I went through a wide variety of Bible passages that deal with Christian stewardship in one way or another.  But just about the time I thought I might be getting somewhere with him, then the various roadblocks would go up, and I was right back where I started.  "I always pay my own way, and I never get involved with anything I can't afford."  He never once came to a service at our church for the entire time I was there, which was five and a half years.  It was a sad situation indeed.

            One of the sections of the Bible I studied with him in depth, was the words of our Gospel lesson this morning.  It's the story of the "Widow's Mite."  Now the mite was a Jewish coin, worth only a fraction of a penny.  It was the smallest amount of money in that entire monetary system, and just not worth very much at all.

            In our Gospel story today, Jesus is commenting about the "teachers of the law," and what they were doing.  These of course were the Pharisees.  These Pharisees, as we know, were scoundrels to say the least.  They took advantage of the people, and they got a lot of their money by dishonest dealing.  But still they liked to be respected because of their positions of leadership in the church.

            Jesus is watching them as they give their offering to the church.  They prided themselves as to how much they could put in the offering, and they wanted everybody to see it too.  And so with a lot of hoopla, they gave their offering money.  And in those days, they didn't pass a plate like we do; instead there was a box with a slot in the top at the back of the worship space for people to put their offering.  Some churches have that same system even today.  It matters little how the offering is gathered.

            So as Jesus is watching this parade of Pharisees, he sees a widow woman with only two mites to her name.  She places them in the box, right in the midst of all that big money given by the Pharisees.

            This is a valuable lesson for his disciples.  In verses 43-44 of our Gospel lesson today, Jesus tells them: "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."  

            Now before we go any further, there's one thing that needs to be cleared up right away.  We need to remember what Jesus is NOT telling us.  He's not telling us to drain our bank accounts and give it to the church.  He's not telling us to take food out of the mouths of our family to support the church.  And he's not telling us that we should all give tons of money.  That misses the whole point of this text.

            Jesus is dealing with attitude, pure and simple.  He's comparing the attitude of the Pharisees and the poor widow woman.  The Pharisees gave out of a desire for self-recognition.  They believed God would bless them more according to the amount they gave.  But the widow woman gave her gift out of love.  She knew God had blest her beyond her wildest dreams.  She wanted to thank him.  And so she gives her gift with an attitude of love and thanksgiving.  She, in her own small way, attempted to love him who first loved her.  She had her priorities straight.

            The point here is that the amount of money given had absolutely nothing to do with it.  The only reason it is even mentioned here is to show the contrast between these two attitudes.  Just because somebody is able to contribute more than somebody else means nothing to God.  It's the reason behind the gift that is the most important thing.

            One of the things you'll never hear me preach about is money.  Now I'll preach about stewardship and how we are to regard this privilege of donating our time and treasure to the Lord's work.  And in the announcements or during other informal times that we gather, I will make mention of special needs that exist.  But I've never stood at the pulpit and demanded that you give more money.  I won't twist your arm to cough up more.  And I certainly wouldn't want you to deprive yourselves or your families of life's necessities.

            I think that one of the key passages when it comes to Christian stewardship is recorded for us in 1 Corinthians chapter 9 verse 7: "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."  And then we can also add the words of Romans chapter 8 verse 32: "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?"

            When it comes to supporting the work of the church, we need to always remember what God has done for us.  We know that he graciously provides for us in many ways; in fact we ask him to do this every time we say in the Lord's Prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread."

            But more importantly, he has given us his son Jesus Christ.  He gave us something that all the money in the world could not buy.  He looked upon our sinful state and said in effect: "I love you, and I want you to be with me forever.  Here's my son Jesus; he gave his life for you on the cross so that all this could happen."

            Dr. Martin Luther explains this very well in his explanation to the second article of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity."

            We can't place a dollar and cent value on God's gift to us.  And even though we contribute financially to the ministry of the Gospel, it is a matter between ourselves and God as to what that should be.

            When it comes to the subject of money, it can degrade rapidly and become the breeding ground for sin.  Arguments in marriage and divorces are caused by money far too frequently.  We can become greedy, selfish, jealous, and angry because of it.  The lure of money has caused people to lose untold dollars in gambling, or even participate in pornography.  And all we need to do is look at someone the likes of Bernie Madoff to see that the lust for money can cause people to engage in all sorts of illegal activity.

            Thankfully God has given us the way out of all this, and he has done it with something far more precious than money and earthly riches.  God's gift to us is ours through faith alone.  Through faith, Jesus Christ is our personal Saviour and Lord of our lives.  Through faith, we shall receive all of the blessings God has to offer, and we shall inherit our eternal mansion in heaven.  For this, we thank and praise him, and gratefully support the work of the ministry of the Gospel, which itself is a priceless commodity.

            Roy Martin is a mystery to me in a way.  I can't see how somebody who seemed to be so well grounded in the faith could let something like money stand in the way of his relationship with his Lord.  But Satan realized he had an easy target there, and unfortunately he was able to get the better of him on some very flimsy ground.  It's so sad.

            Roy and Ellen Martin excluded themselves from the fellowship of the church.  When he did so, the congregation sent him a rather stern letter.  In that letter, we quoted the words of the Apostle Peter when he was speaking to Simon the sorcerer in Acts chapter 8 verses 20-23: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."

            One Sunday after church, Bernie Hartwig, the Elder who had instructed and confirmed Roy and Ellen Martin commented about one of the hymns we sang.  He told me that Roy mentioned it was his favorite hymn.  It's called "How Can I Thank Thee Lord?"  Allow me to share a couple stanzas from it:

            Verse 1: "How can I thank thee, Lord, for all thy loving-kindness, that thou hast patiently, borne with me in my blindness?  When dead in many sins, and trespasses I lay, I kindled, holy God, thine anger every day."   Verse 5:  "Grant that thy Spirit's help, to me be always given, lest I should fall again, and lose the way to heaven; that he may give me strength, in mine infirmity, and e'er renew my heart, to serve thee willingly."  TLH 417  

            I don't know what's become of Roy and Ellen Martin.  My encounter with him was 20 some odd years ago.  One or both might be dead by now.  If he's gone, I just hope that he was able to appear before the throne of grace with even a speck of a saving faith.  And if he's still alive, I hope that the Holy Spirit will work within him and bring him back to his Lord.  I certainly hope that he has remembered the words to his favorite hymn, and that he has taken them to heart.  I mentioned Roy Martin by name and where he lived on the outside chance that, if he is indeed alive, he might somehow read these words, and realize what an idiot he has been.  With his attitude, he is playing with fire and the devil is holding the matches and kerosene.

            Roy Martin did show up to one service I conducted, but it wasn't at our church.  It was at Bernie Hartwig's funeral, amongst 600 other people.  I didn't see him, but Noel Priebbenow talked to him afterward.  Roy's remark was, "Bernie would certainly be disappointed in me."  Maybe so, but I think Bernie would have been more concerned about Roy's eternal future.

            St. Paul's congregation learned a couple important lessons over this.  One lesson is that people need to understand the correct principles of stewardship.  The other lesson, is the importance of using offering envelopes.

            But there's a lesson here for us all.  Roy Martin's attitude can affect anybody.  Therefore we need to always be aware of how Satan operates, and continually pray to our Lord who has defeated the devil and his plans, to give us strength and wisdom as we work together for the priceless gift of the Gospel.