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Philippians 4:4-7
Matthew 12:38-44

November 11, 2018
The Mighty Mite

Danielle who lives in subsidized housing in Annapolis spoke at the launch of Anne Arundel Connecting Together.  She spoke about her mold infested apartment and she spoke about her crumbling ceiling which literally  fell in on her and caused her to miss three weeks of work.  Pastor Jon, Debbie Saylor, Ryan Stavely, Cheryl Walcutt and I were at a meeting with Danielle on Thursday night where we learned that she pays $1350 per month for the privilege to live in her three bedroom dilapidated rental with her two sons.    She lives in subsidized housing.  The government pays a portion of her rent, and her portion is $1350, because even though she has a full time job at Anne Arundel Medical Center, she needs and qualifies for assistance.  Danielle like the widow in the Gospel of Mark is being devoured by the scribes.
 
When Jesus uses the word devour in Mark, it is burning blunt language.  His biting grievance is a prophetic condemnation of the social conditions under which most people in ancient Israel suffered.  Scribes, scribes did legal work, they were skilled in the craft of writing and they were interpreters of the Hebrew Scriptures.  There were religious leaders.  A scribe obviously would know that everywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, widows were treated sympathetically and everywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures was God’s displeasure expressed about anyone who would neglect or oppress a widow.  And here Jesus is jabbing because the very people who should know the law best, are devouring the weakest and poorest.  We are not told what Jesus specifically meant by “devour widow’s houses” but we can clearly discern his anger and anguish.  It has been theorized that since women were not permitted to handle business and legal transactions in ancient Israel, that if and when their husbands died, they had to hire scribes to manage the details.  Well these scribes were robbing women blind or hitting them hard  with bank charge after bank charge.  Hence like wolves they devoured
 When ACT Anne Arundel Connecting Together did listening sessions with 3000 people last year, Affordable housing rose to the top of the list of concerns and when we hear Danielle’s story we know one reason why. 

So this could be a sermon about housing and about protecting the vulnerable and it is, but a second subject presents itself as well.  Jesus lauds the generosity of the widow.  Something about her was inspiring.

Some of you might know that while in high school and college I worked in a coin and stamp investment house.  One thing about Gold and silver coins is that they make a distinct sound.  The coins that are in our pockets today are made out of less expensive metals and they make a certain wimpy tink when they are poured out.   Silver coins have pretty much been out of circulation since 1964.  Every once in a while some kid gets into their grandparents or their parent’s coin collection and they grab some silver Washington Quarters or some silver Roosevelt dimes and they spend them on candy.  Precious metal coins have a precious metal sound and I can tell you the minute someone hands me some change if a silver coin is in the pile.  

We are visiting the Amazing Temple in Jerusalem with Jesus this morning.   It was one stunning structure with beautiful shiny Gold Plates covering the front of the building and huge white stone pillars.   Inside there were two places where you could make your offerings and the Treasury was one of them.   This is where Jesus witnessed the generosity of the widow; her two copper coins barely making a flat sound as the rich folk deposited their loud clanging Gold and silver into the metal box.   The King James Version of the Bible labeled the coins Mites and ever since this event recorded by Mark became known in English as the story of the Widow’s mite.  The Widow’s mighty mite.

Well I’ll tell you what; this little passage from the Gospel of Mark is a birthday present all wrapped up in paper and bow.  The way the church lectionary scripture calendar works out, this passage conveniently shows up in church every November; which for most churches is stewardship season.  I mean you could not ask for a better generosity text as a minister.  You barely have to preach.  This poor widow does all the work.  She has very few resources because she is being cheated; whatever work she undertakes, it probably pays her just enough to pay the rent and eat two small meals a day.  She takes everything she has and in faith deposits her money in the treasury to show her devotion to God.  She is an amazing example of generosity for she will likely not eat again until tomorrow night.   

Look at all these rich folk, Jesus says, they are giving from their abundance.  This poor widow has put in more than all of them.  Jesus is basically underscoring the ancient stewardship concept of proportional giving.  It’s not fair or useful for spiritual development to talk about how much money people give; it’s much more important to think about what percentage of income people contribute.  In the book of Numbers we are reminded that that the bible calls for a tithe or 10 percent of gross income.  Some hard core fundamentalist argue that generosity starts at 10.1 %.  NO doubt that’s one of the reasons we all are Presbyterian.

There you have it, a great stewardship story. The minister can gather up the sermon papers and sit down in his chair.  Jesus wraps it up all nicely in a few short lines.  Give like the poor widow, don’t be cheap like a cheating scribe.  

  But something is different this year at Ark and Dove and we are not handing out pledge cards and we are postponing our stewardship campaign because we are not widow ready for stewardship.  Instead of a campaign, we are engaging in a stewardship Consensus Building Process and we have never done this before.  Every November for 27 years, we have run a Stewardship Campaign, but this year we are inviting you to an extended period of prayer and conversation.  We are asking you to study the brochure that was send to your home, we are asking you to partake in helping Ark and Dove find a new way forward.  You have been invited to participate in a small group and you have been asked to fill out a short survey.  Only after prayer and only after we hear what our fellow congregants have to say, will we decide what to do – with an eye on planning a stewardship effort early next year.
We are not done with our consensus process yet, but already our team has discovered that there is a certain level of confusion in the congregation about our church finances.  I don’t usually supply granular numbers in sermons, that’s the work we do at the annual congregational meeting, the Sunday evening before the Superbowl – not football on TV.   But this fall in place of a pledge card,  I am going to supply you with some factoids to help you pray about stewardship at Ark and Dove during these next four or five months.
First you need to know that we have two Funds at Ark and Dove.  We have a mission and ministry fund which pays for our mortgage, our staff, our heat and light, our music and curriculum, our cleaning and maintenance,  our programs for children youth and adults and our Mission in the community and the world.   The Mission and Ministry Budget for 2018 is $484,000.  Sometimes people have trouble wrapping their minds around a half million dollar budget because our family budgets are smaller.  Staff is our largest expense and the Mortgages cost us about $54,000 per year.

Secondly we have a Capital Funds Savings account, a place, a fund where we are saving money to expand the building.  The Session has asked all households to pledge to and give to both funds.  Some people in our church think two funds are essential and for other people – its drives them bat dung crazy that they have to make a choice.

Thirdly, Our Mission and Ministry Budget is 20% underfunded.  Our Mission Budget – the portion of giving, that goes to help people in need and create Justice in the world is about $16,000.  When I read the story of the widow and I hear the story of Danielle in Annapolis  – who is not a widow by the way; this is the part of our financial story that causes me the most worry and concern.   I am so unsettled about a Mission giving.  Should we not tithe our church budget to people in need?            

Our Education budget is $1600 and should be $10,000.  Should we not do our level best to support children and youth?  Our Maintenance line items are about $4000 and should be at least $25,000.   Things wear out, buildings break especially when you have 140 kids running around the building being kids.   When we finish the roof and the siding, and it does look good, our maintenance reserves will be near zero.  Our new church grace period is up, the oldest part of our building is 22 years old.
Fourthly giving to both funds Mission and Ministry and the Capital Savings Account are behind.  What I mean by this is that people have filled out pledge cards and they are not giving what they promised the church they would give.  Our Mission and Ministry Giving is $25,000 behind as of October 31.  Not everyone is behind in giving but enough people are behind in giving to cause a problem.  

Fifthly many households do not pledge to the church which means the Session of the Church, our Board of Elders has to estimate what non pledgers will give.  This year the Session estimate may have been too high.  Unpledged income as we call it, is about $2000.00 behind.

Sixth point - there is some good news, we have been frugal this year with our spending and forbearing mishaps we will spend less than we planned.

Seventh point – This is a great church.   We are not a conflicted congregation.  We have our family squabbles but the overwhelming congregational wide attitude toward Ark and Dove is that we are a good church, a happy church, a faithful forward thinking church that is striving to be authentic in answering Christ’s call in creative and energetic ways.  

Eighth point – We need to talk about our mission and money much more, so that every adult in this church understands our situation.  Hence this sermon.   And many of you need to read the Arkive – our newsletter that we send out every Friday afternoon, on a much more regular basis.  I know that you, like me are awash in e-mails, but hey – it’s your church.  Read the Arkive.

Ninth Point and I say this every year – The good news is we have all the money we need to increase our giving by 20% and to run an even more wonderful church ministry.  The uncomfortable news is the money is in your wallets and not in the church budget.
Tenth point, even though we won’t be running a stewardship campaign until next year; come next week and come January we need you to keep giving what you are giving now or to give more.

Closing thought.  That Widow whose savings were being devoured, she knew something that we need to know.  She felt something we need to feel.  She out of her poverty put in everything she had.   You know how you feel when you do something really nice for your partner, when you give that special Christmas gift to your child, when you take that adventure with your family or a best buddy.  Can you get in touch with that joy gene?  Can you remember that first Christmas when you used your own money, to give a present to your sibling or your mom or dad, and how you kept the corner of your eye open to look for their reaction?  And how joy filled you felt to offer a gift, to touch someone’s heart.  I think that is the interior spiritual territory we are asking each other to explore in prayer for these next five months.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

~ Pastor Tim Stern