Step Up

Step Up end Graphic“Step Up”
Mark 12:41-44
Pastor Todd Buegler
Trinity Lutheran Church
October 18-19, 2014

Grace and peace to you, from God our Creator and from Jesus, who gives all.  Amen.

Stuck!  Sometimes we just feel stuck.

It’s a phrase you would have heard in my home when I was growing up.  “Mom!  Dad!  I’m stuck!”  I was referring, of course, to my nemesis all throughout my education: Math. (Blech!) Algebra two, trigonometry, pre-calc…I struggled with math all throughout my educational career.  And so I’d shout to Mom or Dad for help.  Nine times out of ten the reply was…”Keep working on it!?   <sigh>  A few minutes would pass.  “Dad!  I’m still stuck!”  “Work harder!”  Eventually, probably, I’d get it.

My parents knew two things about me:  They knew that I had a tendency to look at a problem, and if I didn’t know immediately how to solve it, I’d just kind of give up.  And they knew that sometimes to overcome, I would just need to work harder…to become unstuck…to step up in my commitment and my effort to get something done.

Of course, now as a parent of a 6th and an 8th grader, I realize that it is also completely possible that Mom and Dad really didn’t know how to solve the math problem either.  At least that’s works at our house!

But sometimes in life, we just get stuck.  Stuck as in we can’t move.  Stuck as in we don’t know what to do.  Stuck as in we don’t know where to go.  Stuck as in, we feel paralyzed.

We might feel stuck in a bad relationship…stuck in a job with not a lot of future…stuck in habits, or addictions that feel destructive…stuck financially…I don’t know how or when you might feel stuck.  But I’m fairly confident that in some point in your life, you have felt stuck.

I recently read the biography of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple computer.  The biography tells the story of the time that he stood in front of a group of computer experts, industry analysts and business leaders.  This was just when technology was beginning to move towards smaller, portable, handheld devides.  It was the era of the palm pilot…do you remember the Palm Pilot?  With the small screen and the stylus?

Steve Jobs said “We are going to make use of a new kind of input device.  A new stylus…one that won’t cost us anything to produce.  In fact, everyone has ten of them.  We are going to use our fingers as styluses.”

The industry experts scoffed.  “Not possible!”  “No one will buy it!”  Why?  “The screen will get dirty, no one wants that!  Touch screens will never catch on!”

Steve Jobs just smiled.  Today, there are an estimated 1.75 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) smart phones in existence…almost all of them operated with your finger.

After his talk, Steve Jobs told an interviewer “Those people:  they don’t get the future…they’re stuck in the past.”

Stuck happens.  And the way to get unstuck?  To step up.  And while this sounds like a simple thing for me to stand here and say, it can be incredibly complicated…incredibly difficult.

Our Gospel lesson today is about “stuck” and about “stepping up.”

Jesus is near the entrance of the temple, where people would come to put their offerings.  He is watching the crowd as they present their gifts.    Rich people would come in and put a lot of money in the collection box. <pour coins> But Jesus was a bit bemused by them.  Because the rich folks would come in and kind of parade around so that everybody could see them.  Look at how generous I am!

I’m reminded of an old Seinfeld episode where George is putting a tip in the tip jar at the pizzeria.  But just as he’s dropping it in, the guy turns around so he doesn’t see it.  So George wants to get credit obviously, so he’s putting his hand back in to pull it out, so that he can put it in while the guy is looking, and just then the guy turns around and sees him, apparently stealing from the tip jar.

Well, Jesus views these rich folks in the temple as George Castanza’s ancestors; because by their actions they are saying “look at me!  Look at how generous I am!”

But Jesus knows that for many of them, what they’re giving is a small portion of their actual wealth.

But as Jesus is watching, he notices a poor widow who walks in and drops two copper coins in the offering.  <drop in 2 coins> Just a penny in value.  Not enough to buy a cup of coffee; it makes almost no noise; it seems almost a meaningless gesture.  But Jesus notices.  And he takes full advantage of this to be a teaching moment with his disciples. Jesus lifts her up as an example of profound generosity and faith.  Indeed, Jesus says that her 2 pennies are far more valuable than the much larger sums given by the wealthy.  Why?  Well those two little coins in the woman’s hand, they were all that she had.

The woman gave more than the rest because while they gave out of their abundance, she gave out of her poverty. She quite literally had “stepped up” and given from her whole heart.  She gave everything.

Now, the actions of that widow might seem foolish.  But Jesus is trying to teach his disciples about where to put their faith and their trust.  Remember that Jesus is stepping up.  He is going to give everything; his whole life.

Now, we’re talking about this text just a week or two after you should have received in the mail your generosity and pledge materials for 2015.  For those of you who pledged for this past year, it shows what your pledge broke down to on a weekly basis.  It also shows what your weekly financial pledge would be if you could increase it by 15%, as Trinity’s congregational council, staff and leadership have set as a goal for all of our families.

This Gospel actually seems a little too easy, a little too convenient to me.  All I should have to say is “Well, the widow stepped up her game!  If you don’t want to face serious judgment from God, then you should step up too!  Thanks for coming!”

But actually, I don’t think that’s the message of our gospel for today.  You see, the issue is not really how big our offering is.  The size of the gift, the amount of our offering, does not buy our relationship with God.  That comes to us freely as a gift.

Instead, our Gospel pushes us to ask ourselves: what does our money mean to us?  Is it our heart, our security, our source of power?  Are we dependent on our money to give us all that we want; all that we need?  Or do we recognize that we are fully dependent on God?

Nationally, among those who go to church, the average family gives 2.1% of their income in offerings to their church.  According to our data, we find that at Trinity, our members give approximately 1.35% of their income to the church’s general offering.  Which causes me to proclaim “Hey!  Let’s just be average!”  (Not something I say often!)

It seems like we could afford an opportunity to “step up.”  And now we have this plan.  <hold up brochure> This 5 year plan that’s been created out of all the input you gave:

  • The CAT study we did 2 years ago
  • The visioning days last winter
  • The cottage meetings this past spring.

Out of these things, we’ve developed this plan.

We developed this because there is a strong sense at Trinity that it’s time to move forward.

Now I don’t want to imply that we’ve been at a standstill.  Far from it.  Great things have continued to happen; the Word has been preached and the sacraments administered.  There has been faith formation, Sunday school and Confirmation.  There have been mission trips, and service projects.  There hungry have been fed, the sick have been visited.  There have been weddings and funerals.  It has all gone very smoothly at Trinity.

I don’t think Trinity has been “stuck,” though I’ve heard that word used to describe the waiting, the interim.

But I think there is a better word.  The word is “Ready.”

We’re ready to go.  Ready to get moving.

You see, there is, I believe, a single cure to feeling stuck.  What is it?  It is mission.  It is a sense of moving together on a mission.  A vision.  A direction.

And these brochures that you received…they describe our mission, our goals and our plan.

Communications…hospitality…organization…faith formation…family ministry…ministry with those who have special needs…early childhood ministry…outreach… benevolence…evangelism…deeper service…more giving…it’s all in here, and more.

These things are, to put it simply, what God is calling us towards.  This will be our ministry, and our legacy.

I believe that God is calling Trinity to step up; for the sake of Jesus Christ, to go deeper and farther in mission.

Now let me be clear, I’m not encouraging anyone to give your entire net worth to the church like the widow.  That’s not what we’re talking about here.

But we have to ask ourselves: how should we give?  How should we be committed?  Well here I think the idea of the tithe is helpful.  The widow gave it all to God.  The Old Testament counsels us to tithe, or give 10% of our income to God.  That seems like a reasonable goal for us to work towards.  I don’t know how you do it, but here is a really simple financial plan:  Give 10% to God.  Give 10% to a savings account, or somewhere where you can save.  And then live on 80% of your income.  It doesn’t work for everyone, it may not be practical in every period of your life, but it’s worked really well for Lori and me.  It’s been our attempt at being faithful; at stepping up.  We’ve talked about it, and this year, we are going to increase our pledge by Trinity’s goal of 15%…because we believe in this plan.  We think it is a part of Trinity’s legacy, and we want to be a part of that.  And to be honest, it’s what we’re all going to need to do for this plan to become a reality.

So as people of faith, how will we be remembered?  What will be our legacy at Trinity Lutheran Church?

I want to invite and encourage you to step up; to fully engage with God’s mission.  The widow in the temple is an example to us to put our whole faith and trust in God.  And whether this is your offering <drop coins> or this <drop 2 coins>, either way, let it be a faithful response to the gifts you have been blessed with.

And be generous with all you have, not just your money.  Be generous with your worship, be generous with your words, be generous with your forgiveness, be generous with your kindness, be generous with your love.  Hold nothing back.  If you want to be remembered, step up and be generous.

We have a lot to be thankful for.  We’ve got this beautiful church…we’ve got our families and friends…we’ve got our money and possessions.  our freedom to worship.

But what we are all most thankful for, are the gifts of God through Christ Jesus:  for grace…for forgiveness…for love.  For our Savior, the one who loves us so much that he stepped up…all the way to the cross, for you, and for me; who gave, and who calls us to do the same.

Amen.

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