Testimony of Treasure

October 24, 2021 Pastor: Rev. Matt Wilcox Series: Presence & Treasure

Topic: Presence & Treasure Scripture: Malachi 3:10–3:12, Mark 12:41–12:44

“The church only wants your money.” Sad as it may be, that is the earliest memory I have of hearing someone talk about church. I’ve shared in the past how my mother was incredibly devout and super involved at my childhood church. That wasn’t the case with my dad. My dad was always supportive of my mom’s involvement but that’s about where it stopped. My dad didn’t like church and he didn’t trust religion. I never really learned the full extent of why that was but there was one thing my dad always seemed to say, whether it was when I was a child or when I started attending youth group and missions trips as a teenager. It continued as I went through college - learning and training to work in student ministry, and it usually came up at one point or another during my career in ministry. It was always the same: The church only wants your money.

And as I grew, those words impacted me differently. As a child, I didn’t really understand them but I believed them because my dad spoke them. As a teenager, those words confused me because what my dad had said all those years didn’t match up with what I found in the church that showed me the love and the truth of Jesus, the church that welcomed me and repeatedly told me that God had a plan for me. In college, I mostly ignored those words from my dad. Filled with all the self-assured certainty of a college student, I just wrote my dad off as a curmudgeon. But it was after I started my ministry career that my dad’s words – the church only wants your money – actually began to grieve me. Because, both in the context of full-time student ministry and especially now serving as a pastor, I’ve learned two things: First, those words just aren’t true. Saying the church only wants your money misses the truth I’ve seen in every ministry context and that is that the church wants to see people become closer to the God that loves them so very much. The desire is to see people grow in their love of God, to find and nurture meaningful relationships with others, to be shown the ways in which they can love and serve their neighbor. I know this is what we want here at First Pres, and I believe you’d be hard-pressed to find a church that doesn’t echo these hopes. Second, those words from my dad and that idea that is sadly held by so many actually cost me something. When those words are repeated and reinforced, they end up robbing the speaker and the hearer of something incredibly precious. That is the Testimony of Treasure.

I want to be transparent about something. Talking about money in the church context makes me uncomfortable. A good portion of why is likely because of all those years I heard that sentiment from my dad and from others. And because of that, I do worry about people thinking that about our church. So, there’s this sensitivity that I try to be aware of, and if I’m honest, avoid if I can – almost like a minefield. I’ve had to wrestle and come to terms with the fact that trying to tip-toe around the subject of money and giving not only puts me in more awkward moments than I wish but also when I do that, I’m not approaching the subject in the same way that Jesus did during His time on earth. Jesus didn’t shy away from the subject of money. Jesus spoke about wealth, finances, and money a great deal in fact. Even when he was addressing other subjects like the kingdom of God and the afterlife, Jesus would use the imagery of wealth or treasure as the object lesson because he knew how personal and meaningful the example of money would be and how it would be received by his audience.

Jesus also taught that the way we use the financial resources we have speaks volumes about us. There’s a reason some have said a bank statement can say more about a person than a speech. And Jesus took the opportunity to point out this truth with his followers when he witnessed it during his ministry. There’s one specific instance of this at the end of Mark 12. It’s a moment where Jesus notices the offering a particular person makes and he takes advantage of the chance to show his disciples what he sees, to show them the Testimony of Treasure right before their eyes. We’re in Mark 12:41-44.

This brief but powerful moment comes at the end of a fairly lengthy discussion that Jesus had been having with his friends and disciples. A conversation that included subjects like resurrection, taxes, the Messiah, and marriage ends here with Jesus urging his followers to notice a poor widow who is making a faithful offering to the temple. If you’ve ever heard the term “the widow’s mite” this is where that comes from. It means a small contribution or gift that is given freely but that essentially makes up all they have to offer. This is what this woman offers, what Jesus notices, and what our Savior lifts up as an inspiring example. On the surface, this is simply a poor widow giving a few coins to the temple. But Jesus sees more. He sees her heart, her faithfulness. He sees a story that is being shared, a Testimony of Treasure.

This morning is our second and final message within our 2022 stewardship campaign: Presence & Treasure. Last week, we explored the incredibly valuable gift of your time and energy and I encouraged you to check out our narrative budget document so that you could see for yourself all of the opportunities we have open to faithfully do all that God is calling us to do in 2022. I pray you’ve already been going through that document. We have several at the Welcome Center if you don’t have one yet. This morning, we’re talking about giving of our treasure. Specifically, the offering of our financial gifts to what God is doing here at First Pres.

In the 2022 narrative budget, you can see precisely what it will cost for us to accomplish all we hope to in the areas of Worship, Mission & Outreach, Adult Discipleship, Children’s & Student Ministries, Congregational Care, and Operations. Every joy, every moment, every experience, every event, and every memory fostered within our church is made possible by your financial gifts and generosity. Just like with the widow in Mark 12, your gifts become a story that is told. They become a testimony to all that God is doing in this place, in our family of faith. Last week, I shared a few examples of how you can offer your presence in an impactful way. I couldn’t share every open opportunity, but I hope you were able to see that every person, regardless of personality or interest or gifting, has a space where they can serve here in the church. Well, I want to try and tell you a few of those testimonies that have been made possible because of the financial treasure that has been offered here in this place. Each and every one of these examples was only possible because of your generosity, so first and foremost, I want to say thank you.

Thank you for making it possible for First Pres to regularly partner with organizations like Habitat for Humanity. A portion of your stewardship pledge every year goes to making it possible for us to financially support a portion of a Habitat build right here in Bloomington-Normal. Families have literally been given homes. Families like Arielle Ashley and her kids who will be the recipients of the Habitat house we are currently supporting and helping to build in Bloomington.

Thank you for making it possible for us to offer moving, meaningful worship services each and every Sunday in this space. Every piece of music, every vestment, the sound of every instrument, every guest we invite to share with us, every word spoken in a sermon. It’s all possible because of you. And I have to add this: When we were forced to pivot like the rest of the world in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to do so as quickly and seamlessly as we did because we had the financial resources to acquire and implement all the necessary technology and because of the incredible gifts of Tyler Gatto, one of our talented staff who you support through fulfilling your annual stewardship pledge.

The summer nights when this building is filled with children learning, laughing, and playing at Vacation Bible School are only possible because of your giving. Those moments where a teenager learns just how much God loves them, exactly as they are. Every service project and mission trip where our students have the chance to literally become the hands of Jesus. The tender moments where one of our elementary-aged kids is left smiling because one of our youth group students helped to serve during Kids Worship Time. All of those inspiring stories, and all the work that people like Ann and Juliette tirelessly offer, happen because of your financial generosity.

Every event on our church calendar. Every program we offer. Every act of compassion we give. Every staff member that serves here. Every room we use inside this church and every corner of beautiful creation outside. It’s all possible only because of the act of faithfulness and generosity you make in fulfilling your stewardship pledge each year. For more than 150 years, this congregation has written so many stories out of our generosity. And I pray that 2022 is one that leaves us all breathless. So, I am asking each and every one of you to consider what your treasure commitment will be for 2022. My hope is that each of us would give as the inspiring widow did in Mark 12. I don’t mean that we might give literally all that we have and I don’t mean that we might give a small, meager gift. No, I pray that we might give not out of comfort, convenience, or obligation, but that we might give out of the love we have for Jesus Christ. That we might give out of our belief in God’s presence here within First Pres. Whatever that might be, you will have the opportunity to write it down and record it on your 2022 pledge card that might have already found its way into your mailbox or will be shortly. We all have something we can give and we are all called to be a part of the story God is writing here. I love what William Barclay wrote in reference to the widow of Mark 12. He says, “We may feel that we have not much in the way of material gifts or personal gifts to give to Christ, but, if we put all that we have and are at His disposal, Jesus can do things with it and with us that are beyond our imaginings.” By the grace of God, might it be so here at First Pres. That we might be given the blessing of seeing all that our God can do with our gifts and our Testimony of Treasure.

More in Presence & Treasure

October 17, 2021

Presence & Treasure: Many Hands
2 Service Times

Sunday Worship Times

8:30am Traditional Service
11am Contemporary Service