2021 was the first year since you called me to NorthHaven Church as your pastor that we didn’t have a stewardship sermon series in the Fall. In the year when our financial challenges are the most severe, you may want to know why.
There’s a story in the Gospel of Luke (21:1-4) we call The Widow’s Mite. Jesus and his disciples are in the temple watching rich people dump bucket loads of coins into the collection pots. Then, a widow comes forward and puts her last two coins into the collection. Jesus tells his disciples, “this poor widow put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Often, this story is told as a way to inspire people to give sacrificially. It’s true, Jesus honors the woman, and it’s also true that we are commanded to give sacrificially. It’s not a suggestion. That’s an interpretation not to overlook. What is frequently overlooked is the context in which this story is told. Luke gives us some heavy handed clues on another compelling way to interpret it.
Immediately before the widow’s story, Jesus warns about the teachers of the law in the temple and synagogues whose religion is for show since they devour widow’s houses. The temple in that day was not only the religious center of the Jewish world but also the economic center. Women were forbidden property ownership except on very rare occasions. If a man died without a son to inherit his property, then instead of passing to the wife, the property went to the temple. The temple got rich this way, and the teachers of the law provided the theological justification for this ungodly practice.
After Jesus warns of this temple system and its leaders who rob widows, the very next story is about our poor widow giving away her last two coins. It’s an illustration of exactly what Jesus just warned about! This widow is being manipulated out of her last penny by an unjust religious system.
In case Luke’s interpretation isn’t clear enough, he follows the widow’s story with another telling story. While still in the temple, the disciples comment on how lavish and luxurious the temple building is. Jesus responds by proclaiming condemnation on the temple- the system and the building itself. He goes so far as to say that no two bricks will be left on top of one another. Utter destruction. It comes to pass in 70 A.D.
The interpretation Luke suggests is perfectly clear: religious systems that take from those who don’t have it to give are robbers, opposed by God, and they have no future.
I didn’t do a stewardship campaign this year because I take seriously this warning in the widow’s story.
If you read the State of Our Church Address, then you see how NorthHaven is financially overextended and the steps we’re taking to correct it. Our primary problem isn’t a giving problem. For the most part, NorthHaven is filled with faithful givers. What we have is a spending problem, and I have a righteous fear of God that we will be judged for how we talk about money during this time.
When organizations struggle, it’s a temptation for anxious leaders to become manipulative about money. To badger and pressure or coerce people into giving more and more and more. NorthHaven’s leadership is committed to a different path.
We’re committed to open and honest conversations about money and about our financial situation, because we know that we will be held accountable.
Are we still an organization worth giving toward sacrificially?
More than ever before.
The way our leadership is handling these conversations and the transparency with which they operate convinces me that NorthHaven Church is more in line with my values than even I knew.
What our church stands for and the work we do matters. You know that or you wouldn’t be getting this letter. Our mission to create an inclusive community is more prophetic now than any other time in my life. And despite all the challenges, I’m more optimistic about our ability to be that prophetic witness than I’ve ever been. NorthHaven’s brightest days are ahead of us. I believe.
That’s why my household is increasing our planned giving for the 2022 year. It won’t be by much, but it will be sustainable. I hope you will join me by using this as an opportunity to make a tangible recommitment to the mission of our church.
If you can’t- if what you’re already giving is all you can give, then please do not increase giving even a dime. Remember the widow. While others gave out of their wealth, she gave out of her poverty. In the eyes of the kingdom, she gave more than anyone else.