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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko

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 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 12:38-44


Praise to the Passionately Philanthropic


Philanthropy! The word was first used in an ancient Greek play about Prometheus. The Greek Titan felt sorry for the primitive creatures who lived in caves, in the dark and were in constant fear for their lives. He decided to improve our lot.1 First, he removed the knowledge of the day of their death. This removed our sense of limits and mortality. Secondly, he placed in us a blind hope for the future instilling incentive. And finally he gave us fire to cook our food and make weapons for protection.2 Zeus was furious with Prometheus and has him taken to a remote mountain where he is chained to a rock exposing him to the scorching sun and night cold. Every day vultures attack him to eat his liver. Every night his internal organs heal to be ready for the next day's assault. Prometheus is defiant and unrepentant. The giving of fire, enlightenment and technology makes it possible for humanity to live civilized lives. Prometheus is referred to as having a human-loving, or philanthropic character

The term philanthropos is the combination of two Greek words—philios, which means “loving” in the sense of benefiting, caring for, or nourishing. The second part of the word comes from the Greek word anthropos—humanity, humankind. A philanthropist is someone who contributes their financial resources for the betterment of humankind. While every donor is important the mega-philanthropists garner a greater amount of praise and recognition.

Forbes Magazine recently had a very splashy issue listing those who have contributed over $1Billion to humanitarian aid. The members of this elite list should not surprise anyone. It is headed by Bill Gates and includes Warren Buffet, Michael Bloomberg, Michael Dell, and Ted Turner to name a few. There are some interesting facts about this list. First, the list is rather small. There are over 789 billionaires in the world and over 700 are worth more than a billion dollars. However only 14 have given more than a billion dollars. That is a rather small number. Secondly, all of the 14 are self-made billionaires. None of them inherited their fortune. Inherited money tends to stay horded. Another characteristic of this list is the number of Americans. Ten of the 14 are from the US even though only 45% of the mega-rich live in the US.3. Philanthropy has a long history in our country. People learned very early that by pooling their resources they could enjoy libraries, schools, and medical facilities.

Comfort and Discomfort

The giving patterns of the mega-rich can easily make our generosity seem a bit paltry. Even if we combined the financial resources of every member of our congregation and gave all of it away, we could not match what the mega-rich give in one month. The story of the widow's mite should do two things for us. First it should offer us at least some comfort to know that God is not impressed by the exact dollar amount.

Consider who is more generous. Bill Gates has given over $28B over his life time to humanitarian causes but is still worth over $40B which is about 40% of his gross assets. On the surface that is pretty impressive but remember even after giving away $28B he is still worth $40B. Is he really more generous than the widow who gave less than a penny?

However, the story of the widow's offering should also bring a certain amount of discomfort. It reminds us that Jesus is very interested in our potential for giving especially when we fall below expectations.

How many parents would be satisfied with their children getting Cs and Bs when they could be getting A's and B's with just a little extra effort?

Purdue can gloat over beating both Ohio State and Michigan this year but with a 4-6 record they have not really lived up to their potential. Do you think that the coach and fans are satisfied with that?

One of the ways we fall below expectation is by focusing too much on the numbers. Hard data quantifies the goal. It gives us a fixed reference point. Facts and figures can be helpful but they can also be distracting by relieving us of responsibility. Let us take the windows for example. A more typical fund raising drive would have announced the total cost of the project and used some type of visual aid to communicate the progress of the fund raising campaign. Or it would have asked for a specific dollar amount from every person. That approach helps people to know what is expected of them and strips them of the responsibility of considering how much they could actually contribute. In these types of fund raising drives people usually give less than they are capable of donating. We have attempted to shift the emphasis with the window by not giving you an exact $ amount. We want you to give what you think God is leading you to contribute. We believe that each member must assume the responsibility of deciding for himself or herself. What if more money is donated than is necessary? Any extra funds will be designated to the Memorial Fund and used for another project.

An over emphasis on facts and figures can also be distracting because they can be misinterpreted and even contradictory. Let's consider our contributions to the Operating and Building Funds. The GA tells us that if we compare our membership to other churches we are doing very well. Our membership gives $1279 per member. The average for the entire PCUSA is $1079. But if we consider worship attendance than the numbers do not look as impressive because we give $1870 per worship attendee but throughout the PCUSA the average is $2175. Regardless of what figure we were to use to measure ourselves neither takes into account the unique social economics of our congregation.

Maybe we could give even more and do not even know it. So rather than try to use numbers and figures to manipulate you the Stewardship Ministry asks you to consider taking small steps toward tithing.

Therefore we do not announce in advance our goal for the Stewardship Campaign. We ask everyone to pray and seek God's direction. We ask everyone to consider taking a one small step toward tithing. That means to determine what percentage of your income you give to the church and then increase it by 1%. If you make $45,000 a year and give $1000 then you are giving 2.22% of your income. If you were to take One Step of Faith you would increase you giving to 3% of your income bring your yearly contribution to $1350.

Someone once said that church people have a “Goodwill Industries” philosophy toward giving. We give out of our surplus. We give our leftovers. We give our hand-me downs. Here is what I do not need so I will give it to the church.

Mother Teresa once said “If you give only what you do not need, it is not giving.”

The challenge before us is to discover how do we balance our comfort with our discomfort. How do we challenge ourselves to be more generous without spiraling into a legalistic system of works. Ironically, this passage comes a week after Martin Luther nailed his paper challenging anyone to debate him on 95 items of Catholic doctrine. One of the issues that Luther was contesting was indulgences. An indulgence is a full or partial remission of punishment to someone who has already received forgiveness for a sin. Indulgences can be earned through many different acts of good works—reading Scripture, prayer, and giving to the church. In1517 Pope Leo X needed additional funds to build a new cathedral. He commissioned a German preacher by the name of Johann Tetzel to sell indulgences throughout the church. Tetzel distorted the Catholic doctrine and advertised that the indulgences would ensure personal deliverance from hell itself. He is most remember for boasting

"As soon as a coin in the coffer rings
the soul from purgatory springs”

We do not want to recreate such a system. We are saved through faith in the work of Christ on the Cross not by how much we give to the church. However, how we treat our money will reflect what we consider most valuable. God gives us the resources by which we are to live and build his kingdom. How can we honestly say that Jesus is Lord if we hoard our financial resources?

After the ushers have passed the plates can we say that we have withheld nothing from God?


2Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles.


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Crossroads Presbyterian Church
1445 Welch Rd
Walled Lake MI 48390

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