The Widow’s Mite, The Poor Woman’s Dollar Bill

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I want to open today’s post as all good Christians should, with a confession.  I am, once again, breaking one of my rules.  When I started this blog the idea was to keep it separate from my local church.  I wanted this blog to be more about my own thoughts and experiences than about those of my church.  After all, no church needs it’s pastor interpreting their community’s ups and downs in a public setting.  Therefore, simply put, this is not a church blog but a Pastor’s blog.  However, something happened on Sunday so kingdom shattering and profound I couldn’t help but share it with the broader world wide web.

One of our neighbor churches is trying to purchase a property adjacent to their building. They have been in negotiations with the property’s under water owner for the last year.  Last week they were informed the city had foreclosed on the property due to back taxes and are auctioning it off this very week.  We are scrambling to get the funds together to buy it, which is a magnificent chore considering we have no idea how much money we need.

At the end of my Trinity Sunday sermon I closed by sharing with my congregation that the unity of God implies the unity of the church.  I then explained the situation of our sister church and led our congregation in prayer over the property.  I ended the prayer with a brief note that, “If anybody wants to financially contribute let me know.”

We have a wonderful saint of a woman who attends our church periodically.  I only know snippets of her story but I know life has dealt her some severe blows, financial and otherwise.  But they are the kinds of blows that sanctified her and she worships the kind of God who walks with us through all seasons.

After church, while people were milling about, she came up and told me she had left a $1 bill on the altar, noting, “It’s all I have on me right now but you make sure they get that property.”

Somehow the dollar got to my treasurer who later asked me, “What do I do with this?”

I totally understood the question.  We could create an account line for $1 but that seems like a lot of hassle.  Being just one dollar, I could have also pocketed it and taken it to the Pastor of their church.  That still seemed risky, even for a dollar.  So I muttered, “I don’t know what to do with it, but I tell you what, I love this dollar bill.”

At that moment the magnanimity of it dawned.  Nobody else had yet given me anything.  Our board would later start a conversation about how to help.  I myself hadn’t considered giving any of my person funds, not for any selfish reason but because the amount I could give wouldn’t sway the auction in any way.  We needed tens of thousands of dollars, not the measly $200 I could come up out of my checkbook.

None of that logic had occurred to the wonderful widow.  She had just caught a vision beyond herself and knew she wanted to be a part of it.  Her life with Jesus had not taught her to think practically but spiritually.  She knew the value of a dollar because she had never had too many of them throughout her life.

Me, on the other hand, well as I type I am picking crumbs out of my teeth from my $8 breakfast this morning.  I swiped my debit card without thinking twice and because it was a church meeting, my congregation will reimburse me for it.  Yesterday I threw a dollar in a machine at the mall to give my kids a fun ride.  Last week I bought a $20 video game and an $8 book.  I regularly spend money on anything from entertainment to food.  Have I forgotten the value of a dollar?

This was all she had and our Bible, nay our Jesus, tells us that it is worth many thousands of dollars, worth so much more than the coffee and breakfast and video games that I purchase regularly.

I said to my treasurer, “You know, we should just treat it like we would any larger donation.  Go ahead and make the Quick books account and when we write the check for however much we are going to give we will make sure it is +1.”  My treasurer had all ready reached the same conclusion, having been dealt similar blows in the last year.

“It is a big gift,” he said.  “We should definitely treat it like one.”

That’s what we did.  We treated it like any other gift because she, out of her poverty, gave all she had.

Still, I wish I had the dollar.  I would carry it with me wherever I go and take it out as a prop for sermons on giving.  Another part of me wanted to frame it and put it in the sanctuary.  If I had had a dollar bill on me, I would have traded it out and done so.

Instead I took the picture posted below.  My lousy phone has a really lousy camera so the picture is blurry.  But I love how blurry it is.  It isn’t fitting that a picture of that dollar bill should be like any other picture.  After all that dollar isn’t like any other dollar.

And of course by the end of the day I was reviewing my own financials to figure out how much I wanted to contribute.  Generosity is contagious like that.

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A Sermon Somewhere: The Gospel of Junk Management

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I joke a lot about the classes seminary did not offer.  I do not do so as a way of insulting my education (which was incredible) but as a way of reminding myself that you don’t go to school to learn what to think but how to think.

Still, there were some classes I wish they had offered.  I wish they had a class on how to paint church rooms in a way that offends no one, though I am not sure anybody has mastered that.  It would have been nice to take a course on how to purge your membership list and a lesson or two on making great potluck courses also would have been nice.

But more than anything, it would be really nice to have taken a class (or even achieved a minor) in how to organize, clean, and get rid of stuff inside a church.

I have now had some form of official ministry responsibilities in 4 churches and at least 3 of them seemed to be cathedrals to the gospel of junk management.  It all started when I was a junior in college and I walked into a gigantic room at my local church.  It had been the kid’s church at one point in time but at that moment it was piled completely with junk, one large pile that stretched from wall to wall and from the floor to the ceiling.

I asked the children’s pastor about it and she firmly explained that “some people” insist the church not collect junk but they are wrong.  Instead it is unethical to throw church stuff away because, “you never know when you are going to need it.”  Throwing away something useful that belongs to God is poor stewardship.

Needless to say, she moved onto another ministry assignment a month later and one of the first things I asked the new children’s pastor was, “Can I throw away all this junk?”  He gladly obliged.

A few years later I ended up a senior pastor of a small church with a gigantic facility.  While I was interviewing, I toured room after room that was packed with junk, useless things that nobody would ever need.  We spent an entire year cleaning it all out.

Now I have just taken over the pastoral responsibilities for yet one more assignment and, sure enough, the parsonage and church building are both packed with junk before my arrival.

It seems we have bought into a shallow and non biblical view of stewardship that says God is glorified by how much stuff we accumulate in our ever expanding buildings, not by how many stray and lonely people we welcome into our loving communities.

If the idea is to build a large building and then stuff them with junk for Jesus than we are certainly winning.  We may not be able to take any of it with us when we cross from this life to the next, but at least God will be so “glorified” that our mansions in glory will come prestuffed with old curriculum, televisions from the 1960s, flannelgraphs, blackboards, christmas lights and fake flowers that smell like Lysol.  I can’t wait to die and move in!

At the same time I am reading Henri Nouwen’s, “Road to Daybreak.”  I plan to review it when I finish it but this afternoon I read a brief part about a church in Morienval, France.  The building was built in 1050AD by a group of nuns.  It has three rows, a clock tower and a semicircular choir loft flanked by two elegant towers.  Nouwen prayed the vespers there during Advent one year.  He did so with nuns and monks from the area.  He left the service all ready longing to return because as he put it, “the church was built for prayer” (p. 80).

That sentence made me wonder what our church buildings are built for.  .  .

And there has to be a sermon in there somewhere, but good luck finding it beneath all that junk.