Small Gifts?

A pastor whom I met in California last month shared recently on Facebook the story of a homeless man who gave an offering of $0.18 to Mosaic Church, which is working to open a newly updated worship space in an urban context in the US South. 

On a related note, this past Saturday I listened to a golf talk show on a local DFW sports radio station. They said nothing profound that would help cure my slice, but the guys on the show brought up the subject of young amateur golfers who transition to pro status. Often, these young athletes need financial backing to overcome the obstacles (read: costs) that arise with such a move. They told the story of a golfer from a small town in Wisconsin whose wife used to raise the thousands of dollars necessary to make the jump. In just two days, the couple raised $24,000+. What's remarkable about this is that it took over 200 individual gifts to reach this amount. (That's an average of two hundred $120 gifts, but the gifts listed on the website include many $10, $20, $50 gifts.)

These two stories will not leave my thoughts alone, and I am wondering this week, "What can we learn about small gifts that make a big difference?"

One of the most profound teachable moments in the Gospel of Mark occurs in 12.41-44. From his seat across the way, Jesus is watching the crowd as they give money to the Temple treasury. Nothing particularly exciting happens until Jesus notices a poor widow, who gives two copper coins with the approximate worth of a penny. Seeing the opportunity to convey to others the beauty and truth at work in this woman, Jesus calls his disciples over and says, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."  

So, why would a homeless man invest $0.18 in a local church? Why would over 200 people give toward a budding young golfer? Why would an impoverished widow give everything she had to the Jerusalem Temple? I wish I knew the answers. But behind each question lies a unique story of inspiration and hope, and I couldn't begin to capture those with my best guesses. Perhaps, however, there's a bit of a common thread we can pull on for a minute.

Mosaic Church in Little Rock, AR, has had an incredible impact on its surrounding neighborhood; in fact, through their efforts of missional engagement and economic uplifting, their neighborhood has seen many real, tangible benefits. People are coming to know Christ. Thousands of hungry people are being fed. Crime rates have dropped 10% in the immediate area of the church. Over 300 people are receiving free legal assistance through the church's efforts. And those are just some of the ways Mosaic is seeing God's kingdom come to earth.

Sammy Schmitz shares what is probably a fairly common story with most of us. A devoted husband and father, Sammy works hard to provide for his family. They're behind on medical bills, and his wife, a nurse, picks up extra shifts to help provide for the family. Sammy had a dream of taking his father to the watch The Master's--yeah, that Master's--and now, because Sammy holds a USGA U.S. Mid-Amateur title, he gets a shot to PLAY in The Master's! It's an inspiring story, one which tugs at the heart strings of middle America. You see, Sammy is one of us, the many who struggle through life to make ends meet, let alone see our dreams come true. Medical bills are tough to pay, even when both partners in a relationship contribute. And how many of us know the pain of missing time with our kids because we picked up that extra shift? [As I write this, I'm thinking about those nights when I get home late from work to find my two little ones already asleep.] And yet Sammy has that rare chance we sometimes get to see a dream become a reality.

I think one of the lessons here is simply this: When we experience something that changes our world for the better, when something happens that shines a ray of hope into a dark situation, we are likely to feel compelled to give toward that person/cause so we can share in some beautiful new reality. For a poor widow in the first century Roman province of Judea, the Temple stood as a physical representation of the promise that God made to her people long ago. It was this God who called Abram from the wilderness and promised to fashion a people through him. This people found themselves enslaved in Egypt, and the God of their forefather Abraham saw their suffering. God acted to deliver the people, to bring them into a new land where they could dwell with their God. The building which this widow likely saw every day stood as a symbol of the hope of her people, the hope that God will see our suffering and deliver us. Long ago, invading forces had colonized her people. The actors in the story changed through the years--Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and now Romans--but the occupation remained almost constant. Even though things were complicated--those in charge at the Temple were likely in cahoots with the Roman occupiers--the Temple itself stood as a reminder of the hope of generations past. Why would this woman give everything she had to this dream of her ancestors? I'm taking a bit of license in speaking about her intentions here, but imagine the sense of hope this Temple represented in comparison to the abject poverty she experienced (no money, malnutrition, virtually no possibility of upward mobility). The Temple stood for something. The Temple reminded her of the God who once delivered her people, and who, surely, would again. When the poor widow looked at the world around her, she saw pain and suffering; however, she also saw the possibility that God could work through her small gift to bring about great restoration and a chance at a new life, a better life, for her people. And that, to her, was worth more than life itself.

Who has made a difference in your life? What gives you hope? Where do you see light shining into the darkness? If you can answer these questions, then chances are those are the things most worthy of your gifts. And I don't just mean money. Maybe those people or causes also deserve your time, your presence, your prayers, and your witness that the God of all grace is still in the business of giving us hope.

You see, being generous isn't about how much we already have, or even about how much we stand to gain. True generosity is about taking the risk to believe in the impossible, to speak life where there has only been death. It's about investing in someone or something beyond ourselves so that the gift of life may flourish.

Now may the God of all grace empower you to be truly generous with your life. And may you find a way in the coming days to show someone how much both you and God love them and believe in them. And if you think your gift is too small to make a difference, may you remember the powerful witness of a man whose life was so changed that he couldn't help but give what he had, even if it was only $0.18. 

Pastor Jon