Sermon for October 16, 2016

Sermon for LWML Sunday, October 16, 2016

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Texts:  Luke 18:1-8; Luke 21:2-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-7

Sermon Theme:  “Models of Persistence and Sacrificial Giving”

(Sources:  Emphasis Online Illustrations; “Mite Offerings,’ LWML website; “Mite Box Explanation and History,” LWML website; original ideas and examples; Life-Application Study Bible; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 26, Part 4, Series C; Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ)

Often, persistence will get a person, or an animal, what he wants.  Our cat Gatsby is one of the most persistent creatures God ever created.  He follows me into the kitchen and begins to beg for snacks with a quiet meow.  I ignore him, and the meows get louder and louder.  I continue to ignore him and he starts to howl, throwing himself in front of me and lying on my feet.  I can’t take it any longer, so I toss him a handful of treats.  His persistence always works!

It works with people, too, Harpo Marx, one of the famous wacko Marx brothers, once experienced this truth.  Harpo was staying in a New York hotel when a lady who worked for a charity found out where he was staying and phoned him twelve separate times in the space of 48 hours, always with the same request, ‘Would you please speak at our charity benefit?’  Eventually Harpo relented and agreed to appear.

To make sure he wouldn’t duck out at the last minute, the lady showed up at his hotel room to personally escort him to the charity benefit.  On the way out of his room, the phone rang.  Harpo ignored it.  She asked, “Aren’t you even going  to answer your phone?”

“Why bother,” Harpo replied, “it’s probably you again.”

I have chosen three sermon texts for LWML Sunday.  The first one, Luke 18:1-8, shows the persistence of a widow.  The second one, Luke 21:2-4, shows the sacrificial giving of a widow.  And the third one, 2 Corinthians 8:1-7, shows the sacrificial giving of a congregation.

The reason I chose two of the texts about widows is that in Jesus day, widows were the poorest of the poor.  If a woman’s husband died and she had no relatives to support her, she had no income and had to live off the charity of the congregation.  All church members were expected to give a tithe to help support widows.  Every Jewish congregation had widows, the older congregations having more than the younger congregations, and often the poor were helping the poor.

In Luke 21:2-4, as Jesus watched a poor widow put into the offering box, two very small copper coins, He said that she gave more than the rich members, because she gave all that she had to live on.  We refer to that as the widow’s mite, and it gave the LWML the idea for creating “Mite boxes” when the Lutheran women’s organization began.

With women holding professional jobs in today’s world and serving as CEO’s, and with a huge percent of mothers working, it is hard to understand the Mite Box concept.  But let me tell you how it was in the 1930’s and 1940’s when I was a child growing up in a rural LCMS Lutheran church in a rural community, where all members strongly believed “a woman’s place was in the home!”

Our country coming out of the Great Depression, in a farming community like Dime Box, there were no jobs for women even if they were bold enough to apply.  In fact, there were very few jobs for men.

Men, like my grandfather, were poor cotton farmers, and their wives were homemakers; my father worked on the railroad, and my mother was a homemaker.  That meant a woman in those days had no source of income.  But Lutheran women still embraced the idea of sacrificial giving through Mite Boxes.  To save money, they, like my mother and grandmother, made their dresses out of empty flour sacks and feed sacks (which were made out of cloth).  You could sell an empty flour sack for a dime, and an empty feed sack for a nickel (because it was rougher cloth); and because you had a cow, you could churn a pound of butter and sell it for a quarter.  That’s where the nickels and dimes came from that went into the Mite Boxes in those days!

In those days of the thirties and early forties, LWML women were practicing sacrificial giving through their Mite Boxes.  From the very beginning, God took these Mites from the ladies and did great things with them.   And from that point in history on, the mission giving grew and grew and grew, so that today, the 2015-2017 LWML Biennium Mission Goal is $2,000,000.  And of the 19 grants for Mission Projects,  11 are already paid in full.  $15,000 of the $85,000 to Uganda is paid so far, and $25,000 of the $75,000 for “Hope for Detroit” is paid.  I wish that my mother and grandmother could be alive to see the miracle God has wrought through the LWML.

What God has done through the LWML is a miracle.  Over the years of Recessions and downturns and layoffs and a sagging U. S. economy, the ladies have persisted in their mission goals, in their giving, fund-raising and planning.  They have been models of persistence, just as the widow in Luke 18:1-8 was a paragon of persistence.  In that text, the widow had no money or power, but she was not helpless.  She had a just grievance and she would continue her appeal for justice until she was heard and her grievance answered.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” goes the old saying.  That’s not always true if it’s merely a human’s will, but if it is God’s will, you’d better believe there’s a way.

It was certainly God’s will in history that His church would not only survive but also thrive.  Just look at the miraculous things which happened over the centuries to cause God’s church to survive and to thrive!  The Gospels and the Book of Acts and the Epistles are a testimony to that!  With God as our strength, the impossible can happen, . . . and does!

`        Look at 2 Corinthians 8:1-7.  Paul writes, “We want you to know brothers, about the grace of God that has been give among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.”  Paul, writing from Macedonia, hoped that news of the generosity of those churches would encourage the Corinthian believers and motivate them to solve their problems and unite in fellowship.

You see, during his third missionary journey, Paul had collected money for the impoverished believers in Jerusalem.  The churches in Macedonia, — Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea – had given money even though they were poor, and they had given more than Paul expected.  Because they were poor themselves, this was sacrificial giving.  With the widow’s mite, we saw the sacrificial giving of a widow; here we see the sacrificial giving of congregations.  No doubt there were many impoverished widows in those congregations, and they weren’t the only ones who were poor.  Only through God’s grace, strength, and power is any person or congregation capable of sacrificial giving.  And, believe me, the LWML will agree with that!

Paul continues in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, “. . . They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.  Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace.  But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of grace also.”

You see, the Corinthians excelled in everything – they had faith, good preaching, much knowledge, much earnestness, much love.   Paul is encouraging them to also excel in the grace of giving.  I think that’s why God again and again sets up models for us.  We think that our tithes and offerings to God are huge, that is, until we see examples of sacrificial giving.  God uses those examples to improve our stewardship.

I think I’m very generous in my tithes and offerings until I look at someone like my mother and grandmother in the 1930’s and early 40’s, and recall how they sacrificed those nickels and dimes and quarters to their Mite boxes.  I used to churn butter for them, and that’s hard work.  After churning for an hour, to sell my pound of butter for a quarter and then give the quarter to missions would have been hard to do.  For me, anyway!   That’s why God sends us models of Christian behavior.

In many ways the LWML has been a model for congregations.  We see them raise $2,000,000 for missions, and we dig a little deeper in our pockets on Mission Festival Sunday.   However, as consistent Christians we never give our money, time and talents to earn God’s favor, — you know that.  We give generously because He first loved us and we love Him, He died for us, forgives us, redeems us, and, as caring and sharing people, we want others to share in His grace.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.