Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Sermon November 8, 2015 Mark 12:38-44

Genuine Heart, a Grateful Spirit, and a Generous Attitude
Have you ever had an encounter or perhaps many encounters with people who are pan handling?  I must say that I have not had that experience since I moved to Parkhill.  You probably don’t run into many panhandlers in Grand Bend or Port Franks.  This is not to say that there aren’t people who need assistance but it doesn’t seem to be in that form.  However, when I lived in London and when I return to London or when I am in Toronto it is not uncommon to have people approach me for handouts.  It is something which I must say I do not look forward to.  I seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place of wanting to do my Christian duty of generosity and not being taken advantage of.  Do I give something and if so how much?  Is this person really in need or is it a scam?  How can I avoid this person and avoid having to deal with these requests?  There are the stop light pan handlers who approach cars stopped at a red light and ask for help.  I find myself hoping and yes even praying that the light will turn green before the person gets to my car.  So much for Christian charity and loving your neighbour.

The reality is that I consider myself to be a generous person and I try to give back to various causes part of what God has given me.  I do try to live my life as a Christian and not as the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus so often criticized and condemned.  In today’s Gospel we have Jesus doing that.  It is the scribes that get the force of Jesus’ criticism, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”  That is quite a list of wrong doings and wrong attitudes.  Basically they are more concerned with doing good for appearances than doing good for the sake of the good.  There was no shortage of opportunity for Jesus to criticize them and he seemed to make use of every opportunity; making man for the Sabbath rather than the Sabbath for men; showing that we should not pray like the Pharisee giving thanks that he is not like the tax collector; and on and on. 

I think it is very clear that we should not devour widow’s houses or pray long prayers for the sake of appearances.  That should be possible to do.  However, how do we live on a day to day basis when we are faced with choices about what we support, how much we give, and how we do it?  Do we have a goal of tithing—the biblical ten percent—if so is that gross income or after tax income?  Is it the modern tithe or the biblical tithe?  

The biblical tithe is based on the passage in Genesis, “And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him one tenth of everything”.  We can turn to the NT to see how the tithe should be spent.  It says in the epistle of James, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world”. 
All in all it is not something which is simple.  Life today is more complex than in biblical times.  We have fairly significant taxes which we pay to support our various levels of Governments.  The money we give to charity is tax deductible or at least we get a tax credit.  We have the opportunity to support our church but also to support so many different possibilities and we are inundated by offers to help us contribute; health groups, arts groups, United Way, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, Habitat for Humanity, disaster relief, and on and on.  Of course we are currently being given the opportunity to contribute to the Syrian Refugee crisis and support the initiative of London Deanery.  It can be confusing and almost overwhelming.

I believe that the lesson we can take from Jesus today is to give with our hearts.  One commentary I read held that what Jesus is valuing in the widow who gave the mite is a “Genuine Heart, a Grateful Spirit, and a Generous Attitude”.  The widow did not give from her abundance but from everything she had.  We are called to give from a sense of gratitude and thankfulness for what God has given us.  The amount that we give and where we give is a matter between each of us and God (and perhaps our accountants).  

I have resolved some of my conflict with giving to panhandlers by deciding I am not going to try and judge whether they are worthy or are trying to scam me.  I will give a certain amount when I am asked and when I reach my limit and will say I am not supporting them today.  However, I will try to do it out of a generous heart and try to treat each person as a human being who is a child of God even though he or she may not appear to be made in the image of a God that in my heart of hearts I recognize.  Each of us as Christians is called to discern how to respond to Jesus command to love our neighbour as ourselves.  We are called to try and do that each day.  Some days it is easier than others and sometimes we will do it better than other but we are called to try.  The cultivation of a Genuine Heart, a Grateful Spirit, and a Generous Attitude can take a lifetime but it is the journey we are called to as followers of Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.  Thanks be to God.   

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