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Sermon and Liturgy For Ordinary 32 - Proper 27 - Year B
I Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 127; Mark 12:38-44
"How Much Is Enough"


READING:  I Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 127; Mark 12:38-44   
SERMON :  "How Much is Enough"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or32su.y-b 902000

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
          
   Sources: Elements of the Call to Worship, Prayer of Approach, The
   Prayers of the People and the Prayer of Dedication from John
   Maynard (maynard@sympac.com.au) "Prayers and Litanies For
   Ordinary 32" as sent to the Worship-RCL List in November 2003.  
   Susan Jones' poem "Widow" provided inspiration to us.  The CS
   Lewis and Mother Teresa quotes in the sermon provided by "Richard
   A. Wittig" (rawittig@tco.com). These two sources were notes sent
   to the PRCL List in November 2000.
   

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP:
L    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, 
     and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P    And also with you.
L    We praise You, God of all being!  
P    You give food to the hungry and set  prisoners free.
L    You open the eyes of the blind 
     and lift the spirits of those who are bowed down.  
P    Because you are righteous, 
     you sent Christ to redeem the lost.  
L    Nothing that is came into being without you. 
P    You watch over all you have made 
     and call us to walk with you each day.
L    You promise to uphold us to the end 
     and to bring us alive together with all the saints
     to the place of your everlasting glory.
P    We praise you, God of all being!


* PRAYER OF APPROACH 
Almighty and ever-living God, before the earth was formed and even after it
ceases to be, you are God.  Breathe into our souls the life and peace of
your Spirit, that we might see our place in the universe as your blessed
children.  Give us faith and trust to respond to you as disciples and
brothers and sisters  of your Son.  Empower us that we might live as you
have called us to live and do as you have called us to do.  Let us see the
signs of your final will and purpose and help us to abide in hope and in
faith till the day when all is revealed in it's fulness.  We ask it in the
name of Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.
     

* HYMN:  "Come, Let Us To The God of Love"                         - VU 653


CHILDREN'S TIME:  "Our Offering To God"
Theme:    Why We Offer Money  To God and what happens to it.
Object    Offering Plates - Envelopes
Source    Seeds from John Maynard, "Prayers and Litanies For Ordinary 32",
          November 5 2000

Every Sunday we upstairs - and you downstairs give in a sum of money to the
church.  Upstairs we use these plates - which we call offering plates. 
People upstairs sometimes just put money on the plates - other times they
put the money in a special church envelop first and then put it on the
plate at the offering time. What do you use downstairs to collect the
money??

I have a question for you - Do you know why people give money at church???

Do you know what happens to the money after you give it???

The gospel today is a story of Jesus was watching people put money into the
offering box at the Temple in the city Jerusalem.   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.   Jesus told his disciples
something that sounds very strange.  He said "I tell you the truth, this
poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others".  Do you
know why Jesus might have said that   how he could, for example compare
$1000 to a single loonie and say that the loonie was more than the $1000?

His answer was "Those who gave a lot all gave out of their wealth; but
widow, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on." 
What she gave meant more to her - and therefore to Jesus - than what the
rich people gave - because what they gave out of their abundance - they
gave leftovers as it were - but she gave all she had. 

Why do you think she did that?

She did that because she believed two things.  First she believed that
everything that she had - as little as it was - came from God.  And second
she did that because she believed that God who had looked after her thus
far - would keep on doing so   no matter what.  She knew that God loved her
very much and wanted to show God how much she loved him.

We have many other examples of someone who gave everything for the work of
God in our world - who gave everything they had because of their love for
God and for their neighbours and brothers and sisters.  Can you think of
some?    (Widow of Zarephath in the bible, St. Francis of Assisi, Mother
Teresa of Calcutta   and Jesus - who even gave his life on the cross - and
with whom God was so pleased - that he  gave to him a brand new life in the
resurrection of the dead.

So - when you wonder how much to give to God - remember the example that
Jesus held up for us - and  do what you think God wants you to do - no
matter what.   

Let us pray


PRAYER AND LORD'S PRAYER
     Dear Lord God - we thank you for looking after us - we thank you
     for caring for us - we thank you for feeding us   we thank you
     for loving us.    Help us dear Lord   to love you   with all our
     heart    all our soul    all our  mind - and all our strength -
     and to love our neighbours  - as we love ourselves.  - Amen
 

     Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom
     come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us
     this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we
     forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into
     temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom,
     the power and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen


* HYMN: "Jesus, Our Brother"                                        - VU 56


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS & CONCERNS
- Welcome and Announcements     
- Birthdays and Anniversaries   
- Special Matters     
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF SILENCE & AN INTROIT FOR THE WORD  (verse 2 - VU 371)
  Open my ears that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!


A READING FROM I KINGS 17:8-16
     (NIV)  Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: "Go at once to
     Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in
     that place to supply you with food." 

     So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow
     was there gathering sticks.  He called to her and asked, "Would
     you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?"  As
     she was going to get it, he called, "And bring me, please, a
     piece of bread." 

     "As surely as the LORD your God lives," she replied, "I don't
     have any bread - only a handful of flour in a jar and a little
     oil in a jug.  I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make
     a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it - and die." 

     Elijah said to her, "Don't be afraid.  Go home and do as you have
     said.  But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you
     have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and
     your son.  For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says:
     'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not
     run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.'" 

     She went away and did as Elijah had told her.  So there was food
     every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.  For the
     jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry,
     in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

L    This is the word of the Lord.
P    Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 127 (VU page 851) and Gloria Patri Sung

     Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. 
     As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  
     World without end.  Amen 
 


A READING FROM MARK 12:38-44
     (NIV) As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of
     the law.  They like to walk around in flowing robes and be
     greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in
     the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets.  They devour
     widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.  Such men
     will be punished most severely."  

     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."

L    This is the gospel of our Risen Lord.
P    Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


* HYMN:  "O Love, How Deep"                                        - VU 348


SERMON:  "How Much is Enough"

     Let us Pray - O God, light of the minds that know you, life of
     the souls that love you, and strength of the hearts that seek you
     - bless the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts. 
     We ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen

Last Sunday we concentrated on the Great Commandment and what it means to
Love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  The ultimate
commitment and love towards God is found today in the two stories about
widows that were read out by Sunni: the widow of Zarephath, who offered to
Elijah her last meal; and the widow in the Temple of Jesus' day; who
offered to God all that she had.

Both stories are stories about obedience and about trust, about placing
one's commitment to God and to what God asks of us all over against our own
needs, and allowing our commitment to God to win out.

One can easily hear in both stories the voices of objection -
       the widow of Zarephath's son must surely have wondered why she was
     giving away the last of what they had to feed a wandering prophet - a
     man who was not even of their own nation - and whose God was not the
     God of her people.
     - and the neighbours of the poor widow who gave her two mites, the
     smallest coin of the realm, at the treasury of the Temple, must surely
     of thought, if they knew of it, that her devotion was misplaced, that
     she should keep the money for her own needs, that the temple didn't
     need it and that if anything, the temple should be giving her support
     - that temple whose officials and teachers, as Jesus describes them in
     the first part of today's gospel reading, devour widows' houses and
     for a show make lengthy prayers.

Indeed to this day we hear such voices when it comes to the offerings that
the poor make towards God.  We hear quite frequently how different churches
and TV evangelists exploit the elderly by asking them to help them in their
ministries and a great deal of attention is given to how in some places
there are churches and cathedrals that display great wealth in the midst of
neighbourhoods that look like some kind of war zone.

But these voices of objection miss the point of the offerings that men and
women like the widow of Zarephath and the widow at the Temple make.  

Jesus tells us in today's gospel reading that those who exploit the poor
will be judged most severely - he condemns the hypocrisy and the lies of
the rich - who give, for the most part from their abundance - and he speaks
with approval of those who give from their poverty - those who give all
that they have --- much, as a few days later, just outside the walls of the
city of Jerusalem, he himself gave to God  and to us - all that he had, all
that was.

The challenge for us as a church - as a congregation - when we receive the
offerings of all those among us, is not one of how do we discourage the
poor from giving what we think they cannot afford - but how do we, as the
people charged with the responsibility of administering that which is
given, honour the gifts that we receive in God's name?  

Do we, as the stewards of the gifts that are given to God use them in such
a way that God is honoured? - and that the hungry are fed? - the naked
clothed? - the little ones welcomed?  - the poor have good news proclaimed
to them? - and the prisoners set free?

And how about our own offerings - our own gifts?  

Do we give from abundance that which is left over and look at the amount
and say to ourselves: :I can afford that - and it is so much more than most
people give?"

Or do we allow God to make a claim on that which we think we need if we are
to live half-way decently?

Two quotes from two saints of our century.  
The first from Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  
The second from  the English author, CS Lewis.
 
Mother Teresa said one time:  

          "If you give what you do not need, it isn't giving."  
                         
"If you give what you do not need, it isn't giving."

And in a similar vein, CS Lewis wrote:
          
          "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to
          give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more
          than we can spare." 

"I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. 
I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." 

I titled this sermon "how much is enough" because it is a question that
frequently comes up within my hearing.  

The interesting thing about this question is that is most often raised by
those who are the poorest amongst us.  I have almost never had the affluent
in this, or any of my congregations in the past, ask me how much they
should give   but almost always it has been those on pensions, or social
assistance, or those who work for wages that the average union person would
regard as exploitation who have asked, how much should I give?  How much is
enough?.

I have generally replied by saying that the biblical model of giving is a
tithe, a tenth of what comes in from God's hands;
     - and that the affluent, like Joseph of the many coloured cloak, gave
     a fifth of what they received, 
and that which matters is not so much the percentage, but the will to give
to God the first fruits of our labour rather than what is left over after
the harvest,
     - that that which matters is not the size of the gift, but the
     commitment to return to God a portion of what God has given us no
     matter what the circumstances are like that we may be in.

And I tell them that the whole matter is between them and God - and that
what they do as a duty towards God should not be confused with that which
they do out of love for God.  That our tithes, whether 5% or 10% or 20%,
should not be confused with our offerings - those special sacrifices or
thanksgivings that we make because God puts it upon our hearts to make
them.

And, to their credit, most of those who ask me the question "how much is
enough" go and struggle with themselves and with God to make a decision
that is faithful; they pray and they think, and then they make the decision
they believe God wants them to make.

Would that the affluent would ask the question "how much is enough" and
enter into that personal struggle with themselves and with God.

How much is enough?  

Well, I have told you one of the biblical answers today in speaking about
tithes and offerings. But there is another biblical answer - and that
answer is this.

Everything.  

Everything is in fact what God wants from us all.

And that everything comes with a promise attached to it 
  the promise is this: that those who lay down their lives for the gospel
will receive back again, in this life, even more than they give up - with
troubles and persecutions - and in the age to come - eternal life.

How does the old doxology go?

     We give thee but thine own, what e'er the gift may be;
     all that we have is thine alone, a trust, O God, from thee.

Indeed it is true.  Just as it is true that naked we came into the world
and naked we will go from it.

What the widow of Zarephath did in giving her last meal to the prophet of
God, and what the widow at the Temple in Jerusalem did in putting her two
mites into the treasury box, are, in my eyes, a sign of the kingdom and a
tremendous challenge to most of the "giving" that I see around me.

What they did - and what many of the poor do and so very few of the
affluent or the rich do, doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

It seems foolish - as foolish as God was in giving us the freedom to either
love him and our neighbours or to break his law of love - and to hate and
to hurt one another.

Indeed it seems as foolish as Christ was in allowing wicked men to hurt him
and kill him in the name of the very God whom he served.

But the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of mankind,
and as I have so often said, 
the word of God does not return to God empty,
but rather it accomplishes all that God purposes.

I leave you today with the question that is often asked me 
- how much is enough?

And I leave with you Mother Teresa's dictum: 
- "If you give what you do not need, it isn't giving."

And I leave with you, as I end this sermon, with a poem about the Widow in
the Temple, a poem by Susan Jones, that I found particularly good.  It goes
like this:

Widow
A word to strike fear
Into the heart of every Jewish woman

Widow
A hard word synonym for defenceless
Poor.  Alone.  Nothing.

For in your world you were nothing without a man
Only father, husband, brother or son
Gave you validation

For you, the fear has come true and here you are
Widowed,
One of the poor ones
Life hanging by a slender thread
A tissue-thin connection
Between you and hunger
Between life and death
             
Poor widow
Nothing on which to come and go
Just two small coins in your hand
Enough for the next meal, perhaps
      
But you
Make your way bravely to the Temple treasury
Ringing with the noise of many coins
Thrown ostentatiously into brass trumpets.
            
Quietly you slip between the crowd
And drop in
Your offering.
          
Did you wonder whether anyone would notice?
Whether your two small coins would make any difference?
                     
Someone did see
One who rated your two coins more highly
Than all the clattering money thrown in that day by scribes
Who make stripping widow's assets an occupation.
             
And down the years
Your act tugs at our heartstrings
And makes our overloaded purses
Heavy with shame
               
And any time we offer something small
We commemorate your gift as we say
"It's just a widow's mite."
           
Thank you, widow woman
For daring to come out of the obscurity
Of your status-less life
             
Refusing to let poverty restrict you
Refusing to be a nobody
Daring to be one
Who gave the most priceless gift of all
          
All she had.

Praise be to the Name of God, now and forever.  Amen


SHARING TIME


THE PASTORAL PRAYER AND PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Let us pray.... Merciful God of compassion and justice, have mercy on us as
we confess our sin.  We are not the stewards Christ calls us to be.  Riches
possess us while others go hungry.  We mismanage creation with our
pollution and strife to obtain ever more than we already have.  We abuse
your provision for us by our selfish desires.  Help us hear again Christ's
call to be faithful, and through him forgive us as we repent of our sin and
turn from it...  Lord, hear our prayer...

Loving God, The widow of Zarephath, with a handful of flour and a drop of
oil fed the prophet Elijah before her child and herself.  God, teach us the
joy of hospitality which welcomes friend and stranger, neighbour and enemy,
and so finds You feasting among us....  Lord, hear our prayer.....

God of Abundance, the widow of Jerusalem, with two small coins offered to
you her love, her worship and all she had.  Teach us the joy of giving
freely, which counts nothing as ours by right, but willingly shares and so
finds you sharing with us....  Lord, hear our prayer...

God of Resurrection, Christ Jesus, with his whole being sacrificed himself
for the sake of your love for us.  Teach us the joy of giving ourselves to
you, so that we yearn for your presence, long for your salvation, and so 
find you living in us.....  Lord, hear our prayer....

God of Mercy, it is ever your will that we love and work and pray for those
who are in need of bread and of shelter, of healing and of wholeness.  Hear
the prayers we make for those of our world - those of our community, and
those of our family who are in need.   We lift before you now in the
silence of our hearts and with the words of our lips....

.....Lord, hear our prayer...

Bless we pray, O God, your church throughout the world and help it to
fulfil the purpose you have given it.  Especially we pray for our own
congregation - for St. Andrew's and its mission, its plans and its hopes. 
Guide us each day and help us to give as completely as we have received. 
We ask it in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord and our Saviour, our brother
and our friend.  Amen


MINUTE FOR MISSION


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS:  The Offering Is Received and as it is presented
all stand for The Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU
#541) and the Prayer of Dedication

     O Selfless God, fill our hearts with gratitude for all the gifts
     You give to us; help us use them as Jesus would; take away our
     greed and fill us with generosity to share your good gifts with
     all; both here as we keep the great commandment to love you with
     all of ourselves, and beyond these doors as we keep the
     commandment to love one another he loves us.  Bless all that we
     offer to you now - that it may be a blessing to you, to your
     church, and to the world. We ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"              - VU 333


* COMMISSIONING (unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go forth
     into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body
     of Christ.


* BENEDICTION & THREEFOLD AMEN                                     - VU 971
Go in peace, love and care for one another in Christ's name,
and may the grace and love of Christ attend you, 
the knowledge and the strength of God surround you, 
and the wisdom and the gentleness of the Spirit fill you and equip you for
every good work, 
both now and forevermore.  Amen


SUNG BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                                  - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1997 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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