As we give some thought to renewing our mission to be good stewards of what we have, as we consider what we give back to God as a response to all that God has given us, I believe as Christians we need to consider the responses of Jesus to those he encountered who gave and those who did not give.
One day Jesus sits down and watches the crowd put their offerings into the treasury of the temple. Many rich people come and drop in large bags of money. Then a poor widow comes and puts in only two small copper coins which were only worth a penny. Jesus immediately calls his disciples together and says, “The truth be told, this poor widow has put in more than any one else today. While others have been giving out of their abundance, she gave out of her poverty, putting in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
I imagine the disciples being absolutely shocked by this, asking: “But Jesus, isn’t that just a bit too generous? Everything she had? Don’t you think she was overdoing it just a bit?”
And I imagine Jesus responding: “Why are you surprised? Too Generous? Overdoing it? Have you not learned anything about who God is and how God relates to this world? Do you know nothing about the grace of God? Were you not paying attention in Sabbath School or Vacation Torah School? The whole story of God is about God surprising us by generously overdoing it!”
Adam and Eve selfishly decide that they want to live in the garden on their terms instead of on God’s terms. In the process, they gain the painful knowledge of good and evil. With all of their sin exposed, in fear they hide from God whom they hear walking through garden in the cool of the day. But God lovingly and generously makes garments of skin and clothes them with a grace they did not deserve.
Cain does the unthinkable and kills his brother Able. He is exiled from the community because of his actions, but God promises to go with him, graciously protecting him.
Moses kills an Egyptian, breaking one of the Ten Commandments. But God surprisingly chooses that murderer to reveal those commandments to the world and to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.
David not only commits adultery, but kills the husband of his mistress. Yet, the Bible surprisingly calls David “a man after God’s own heart.”
When it comes to grace, when it comes to love, God always surprises, shocks, and generously overdoes it.
I then imagine Jesus reminding the disciples all that has taken place since they had chosen to follow him.
“Don’t you remember the first sign of God’s grace that I showed you? Do you remember what happened when we ran out of wine at that wedding reception? I turned water into more wine. And not just some water into a little bit of cheap wine. But I surprised everyone by making 180 gallons of the best-tasting wine anyone ever tasted. And yes, I admit it. I overdid it. But that was the point. It was the first sign that the Kingdom of God was coming near.
It is why I overdid it feeding five thousand people that day. Don’t you remember all of those leftovers?
And think about all of the stories I tell everyday about the nature of our God.
A farmer sows way too much seed. Most of it is “wasted,” falling on the wrong type of soil. But when sowing good seed in bad soil, you have to overdo it. And the seed that did take root produced an abundant, overflowing, overdone harvest.
A father not only welcomes home his wayward son, he way overdoes it with the hospitality. He says to his servants, “Quickly bring out a robe, the best one, and put it on my son. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the best calf we have and barbeque it. Then let us eat and celebrate!” The older brother is shocked by the whole generous, overdone scene.
The Good Samaritan not only stops and helps a wounded man in the ditch, he overdoes it, by pouring expensive oil on his wounds, by putting the wounded man in his SUV, by taking the man to the hospital and telling the doctors, “Forget about filing insurance! Here’s all my credit cards, my checkbook, everything. I’ll be back in a week, and if that’s not enough money to treat the man’s wounds, I’ll give you even more!”
And then, in the greatest story that will ever been told, the one that I have been talking about for months that you still don’t quite understand. For God so loved the world that has sent the very best gift that God had to send into the world, all that God had, all that God was and is, all that God had to live on, the gift of God’s life. But the world is going to reject this gift. The shocking, overdone grace of it is too much for this sinful world to handle. They are going to torture, humiliate, and kill this gift in the most painful and degrading of ways. But three days later, God will transform death into life, forgiving the sins of the entire world, proving once and for all, that when it comes to grace, there is something built right into the very nature of God always generously overdoes it.
The question for each of us as we think about stewardship is: how have we responded to this grace? As people who have been called to inherit the generous, self-giving nature of God, as the Body of Christ in this world, how do we live? How do we give? Are we stingy with our love? Are we miserly with forgiveness? Do we scrimp on grace? Are we tight-fisted with the good news? When it comes to giving to God, when is the last time any of us have generously overdone it?
When we talk about stewardship in the church, Christians love to talk about tithing: giving ten percent of one’s income to the church. We keep 90% and give God 10%. There are a few verses in the Old Testament that allude to it. It seems reasonable, comfortable enough. So we pick out those verses, and we preach it. The problem is: Jesus and the entirety of the Holy Scriptures never once even hint that, when it comes to giving, when it comes to responding to grace, God wants us to be reasonable and comfortable. And when God gave to us, thank God that God was not reasonable. Thank God that God did not remain in the comfort of some heavenly cloud. God came. God emptied and poured out God’s very self. When God gave, God overdid it. God gave it all.
Thus, Jesus never talked about giving ten-percent. He talked about giving it all. The entire Bible says when we give, God expects us to overdo it.
We all know what it means to overdo it. And the sacrifice that overdoing it requires. We have all said it. “I better tighten the old purse strings, because I really overdid on vacation last week.” “We better not go on that ski trip in January, because we really overdid it this year on Christmas.”
We overdo it at the mall. We overdo it at the spa. We overdo it in restaurants. We overdo it on trips. We overdo it at the beach. But when have we ever overdone it at church?
“We better skip going out for lunch today and go home and eat some leftovers, because when that offering plate came my way today, I really overdid it.”
“I don’t think I am going to take that trip this year, because I am really going to overdo it with my pledge to the church.”
Giving ten percent for some may be overdoing it. For others, it might be a sacrifice to give 5%. However, for others, giving 10% may be simply reasonable and comfortable. For some, giving 25% is still reasonably comfortable.
And I believe we all know that God does not want us to be the reasonable, comfortable church on the corner of Church and Main. When it comes to giving to others, when it comes to love, when it comes to grace, when it comes to selfless ministry in our community and in our world, God wants us to be a church that overdoes it in just about everything we do.
One day as Jesus is setting out on a journey a man runs up to him, kneels down at his feet and asks: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this he was shocked and probably silently responded: “Isn’t that overdoing it a bit?” And he went away grieving, for he had many possessions (Mark 10:17-31).
A very wealthy member of the church was asked by the minister to share a brief testimony during worship about why he believed in stewardship. He agreed. It was the Sunday before the pledge cards were due. He stood up in front of the congregation and said: “You all know me to be a man of great wealth. And it is true. I am a millionaire. But I want to say that I attribute it all to something I did in church as a young boy. I had just earned my first dollar for feeding my neighbors’ dog while they were on vacation. I went to church and there was a missionary speaking. He challenged us to give sacrificially to the work of missions, and since I only had one dollar, I knew that I either had to give all of it to God or none of it. So at that moment, I made a decision. I decided to give my whole dollar, the first money I’d ever earned, all that I had, to God. I believe God blessed that decision and that is why I’m a millionaire today.”
The gentleman made his way back to his seat and there was a sort of awed silence in the room at the power of his testimony. But just as he was sitting down, a little old lady sitting in the pew behind him, leaned over to the man, and in a loud whisper that could be heard throughout the entire sanctuary said, “I dare you to do it again!”