Presented at ʻĪao Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Thirty-second Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, November 11, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
The banner in Kanda Hall read: “Blessed to be a Blessing."Earlier in the year Kahu Jack Belsom, your bokushi, invited me on behalf of the Stewardship Community Team to serve as the guest steward for your annual “Stewardship Dinner” in October. It was at that dinner that I noticed the banner.
It is my understanding that you have had the opportunity to hear from three witnessing stewards since that dinner. Today is a day of consecration, a day when the offerings and pledges you make to support the mission and ministries of this church will be received and blessed. It is an honor and joy for me to be with you on this special day.
“Blessed to be a Blessing." That saying, that thought is at the heart of the message I want to share with you this morning.
If we believe all good gifts come from God and if we recognize God as the source of all gifts, we would be the first to confess that we do not own or possess what we have received from God’s hand. Instead, as stewards we are called to use, manage, and care for all that God has entrusted to us.
Our reading from The Gospel According to Mark is surprising for a number of reasons. There was a time in my life when I marveled at the generosity of the widow who gave her last two coins to temple. What a remarkable model for giving, I thought. But how many of us would give everything and seek to be such a model of giving?
Many years ago a retired couple moved to Maui. Prior to their move they had made frequent trips to Maui so the island and the community were not new to them.
It was to be their golden years – a time to slow down, relax and enjoy life. They moved into a new home. He bought a boat and was determined to spend time out on the water.
Not long after they settled into their new life, he suffered a stroke. He became paralyzed on his left side. Speaking became difficult and walking was a challenge.
As his physical health declined, his wife’s mental health deteriorated. It was hard to know if the onset of her depression was due to his illness or if the medications she was taking to manage her depression were the source of her deterioration.
In time there adult children returned to Maui from the East coast and West coast to manage some of their medical and financial affairs. At one point I spoke with one of their sons. He expressed his deep dismay over checks that were written out to the church. “My mother continues to deplete their retirement fund. They really cannot afford to be giving money to the church anymore,” he said.
I knew his mother was not well. Whether or not she was aware of their financial situation, I do not know. It was more important to me that they manage their resources in a way that they would be able to take care of their basic needs and to cover their medical expenses.
He said his parents had been faithful churchgoers all their lives. They had done and given more than their share of time and resources to the church. Now there was very little time or resources available to them to give.
“If it happens that your mother writes another check we will not make a deposit. I will mark the check ‘Void’ and I will send it to you and you will be able to keep watch over their finances." He let out a sigh of relief.
Although we did not talk about the abuse of elders, I was keenly aware of how often elders are abused – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially. Though we would be loath to admit it, we know that the church can be abusive towards those in need. That is one of the surprises in our reading from The Gospel According to Mark.
Instead of looking upon the widow as a model of giving, Jesus seems to point to her as a tragic example of what happens when the church is preoccupied with its own survival as an institution. There is a danger that the stewardship programs in our churches are sometimes not unlike the role of the treasury of the temple.
In our reading Jesus offers a word of caution about those who “walk around in long robes to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets."(Mark 12:38-39). He makes clear that the treasury of the temple had become a source meant to benefit a few.
In some ways that may be true for our some of our churches today. We are deeply concerned about raising money to cover the cost of our church budgets.
What makes the story of the widow especially troubling is that she gave all she had to the temple, to an institution that was going to be destroyed. It is a warning that Jesus will soon make:; “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."(Mark 13:2);
He condemns the scribes for devouring the meager resources of widows. He makes clear that the temple, like the church, often loses its way when “it no longer protects the widows, the poor, the vulnerable of the earth."But instead,; lives off of them."(Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, page 287)
If that is true than the temple is not worthy of the widow’s gift. It has not been a house of prayer for all but a den of robbers worthy of destruction. (Mark 11:17); And if that should ever be true for the church than the church is not worthy of our gifts.
But there is another surprise. Jesus calls on the disciples and on us to notice that she literally gave all that she had, “the whole of her life.” (Mark 12:44); She gave her whole life even to something that was to soon be condemned.
Jesus’ public ministry was coming to an end as he watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many of the rich put in large sums of money. They gave out of their abundance. Jesus saw that but he also noticed a poor widow putting in everything she had. She gave out of her substance.
What we see in the widow is a glimpse into what Jesus is about and what he expects of us. He is on the way to giving the whole of his life for all of humankind, for the whole world.
He calls the disciples, he calls the church, he calls us to himself and points to the widow and her giving as a sign of our own giving. We give that others – the weak, the orphan, the poor, the destitute - may be blessed.
Yes, we give our money but we also give our time, our skills and our talents. We give ourselves as a resource because we have been blessed.
We are entering the season of the Makahiki, the time when the rains come. It is a time of new life, a time of new growth. As I think about the season that has come upon us, I think about a hymn I remember hearing as a child growing up in Kona.
It is not likely that Daniel Whittle knew much if anything about Hawaiʻi when he wrote the words to the 18th century hymn “There Shall Be Showers of Blessing.” The music was written by James McGranahan and it was a hymn that was often sung at the Pentecostal Church mother attended in Kona when I was in high school.
I remember it having a bouncy tune, not something a teenager would be especially fond of hearing or singing and that may be the reason it’s stuck with me all these years. For your benefit, I will not sing the song but I do want to share the words with you.
There shall be showers of blessing
This is the promise of love;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
Sent from the Savior above.
Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.
That was the first verse and chorus. The rest of the verses included the following:
There shall be showers of blessing
Precious reviving again
Over the hills and the valleys,
Sound of abundance of rain.
There shall be showers of blessing;
Send them upon us, O Lord;
;Grant to us now a refreshing,
Come, and now honor thy Word.
There shall be showers of blessing:
Oh, that today they might fall,
Now as to God we’re confessing,
Now as on Jesus we call!
There shall be showers of blessing,
If we but trust and obey;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
If we let God have (God’s) way.
The banner in Kanda Hall read: “Blessed to be a blessing.” Give because you have been blessed to be a blessing. Give not because you must, but because you may.
Mahalo ke Akua. Thanks be to God; Amen.