The Legacy of Two Copper Coins
Pastor Charlie Wang
August 11, 2019
As [Jesus] taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For 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."
Our God created the world. Mankind is a unique creature. People are born like little animals to be fed and taken care of. They are the receivers of nurturing grace in the early life stage. And then they are trained to be a producer, and finally they are demanded to be a provider like a tree to supply fruit for others’ stomach, leaves for others’ shelter, branches for others’ fuel and trunk as building material. Some people have opportunities to grow to be a giant sequoia to give away a lot, while others to be a small bush to barely take care of themselves. Life is not necessarily fair. However, we should understand that the whole life drama for humans is based on God’s judgment. After our first parents had rebelled against the creator, God judged in Genesis 3:19 “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." This verdict tells us two laws: that first, humans no longer have the right of free food as animals. They are under curse of hard working to support themselves and others. They have to go through a transition to be a producer. Secondly, no matter what, their life will vanish as dust upon the inevitable death. You may say that this is the beginning of bad news. Remember, whoever you see, from your own lovely baby to superstars, to kings, all are at the mercy of these two laws.
Since humans no longer have free grocery as animals do, we have to learn to be a provider. There must be ways to measure the quantity and quality we can give. Society has established various evaluation systems to check our performance. The report card is the first measurement for every child. When the tax money or the money from the parents furnishes kids with education, they have to learn to be responsible for the resources they have received. They have to present the report card to the parents. The price tag along with a job offer indicates the labor value of the applicant. Ideally, the income and status reflect the contribution people are able to give. We ordinary people find a proper place in the world to exchange our skill, labor and time for our contribution, living and giving. We all thank God for the ability and opportunity to support ourselves and the family. And we, Christians, are willing to give our offerings and tithing to the Kingdom of God to further Christ’s mission.
Not only we are interested in how much we can give but also we are curious to know how others and God view our contributions in general. The Bible requires God’s children to give offerings and tithing as their commitment and contribution. But the Bible does not spell out how to collect offerings. Churches have their own different ways to handle money according to their own traditions. I once worshiped in a black Baptist church. They counted money on the spot after the first round of offerings. They had a big plate in front of the altar. People walked or danced by it in line and put their offerings there. Then the money counters counted the offerings right away. If the money was not enough for the week, they had a second round of offerings, and possibly the third or fourth round of collection until the ends meet. Their theological reason was that the worshipers had to refill God’s barn first as an indispensable part of worship. Some churches publicize the amounts of offerings of every family and individual periodically. Others don’t allow any members to run for leadership unless they have measured up tithing.
In today’s gospel story, Jesus came to the Holy Temple to watch over the way people gave offerings. Jesus also commented on how people gave. Those who gave much were not commended but a poor widow who gave only two small copper coins was celebrated. Hopefully, through what Jesus did and said, we can see the will of God and how we can honor God through our giving. Mark 12:41–44 Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "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."
First Jesus was God in human form. God is never short of cash. How much people gave had nothing to do with God’s richness. But Jesus sat opposite to the treasury, watching closely the way people gave this time. I believe that our offering is spiritual. God’s believers give their hard-earned money as a commitment and contribution. The way we give to God deeply reflects how spiritually healthy we are. It is true that we deliberate a lot before we give offering. Offering challenges us to be aware of how thankful we are to God, how tight our hand is and how obedient we are to the word of God. This time, Jesus was present physically to watch us. But actually, God’s presence is with us in every aspect of life. The omniscient God cares about how serious we are in our prayer and devotion time, about how we give. Offering shows where we place God in our life. Lord Jesus says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We have no way to stay away from God’s divine monitoring. Actually, Christians live a transparent life in the eyes of God. God wants our life to be filled with light and brightness. There is no dark corner God can’t see in our life no matter where we are. We Christians always remember that God watches over every detail of our life. God challenges our weak points in character and integrity, especially without human supervision.
Jesus and his disciples were observing the treasury. Quite a few wealthy people put sizable amounts of money in the offering box. However, Jesus was not impressed. He said that they gave out of their abundance. In other words, they had already received God’s blessings in good fortune. Their offerings, in terms of absolute sum, were large, but relatively they did not give as they were supposed to give. God requires all to give according to how much they have received in God’s abundant grace. That’s why the Bible spells out the proportion of 10 percent of Christian income should go to God’s treasury. And people of high end incomes should be more thankful and willing to increase their offerings by doubling or tripling their tithing, or even more. Jesus articulated this spiritual law in Luke 12:48 “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Those who have received more in God’s grace should give more. Our Christian world view speaks loudly to us that we are merely made of dust. God makes us to be who we are with ability and opportunity. God has nurtured us to be producers and providers. We can never thank God enough and outgive to God. God demands from us according to how much He has given us first.
That day Jesus was unhappy with those who gave offerings not out their ability or willingness. Some gave to fulfill their religious obligations; others, to show people their generosity to God; still others, under peer pressure. Here came a poor widow. She celebrated this Festival and worshiped God with her people. She didn’t have much except two copper coins with her body warmth, which might sustain her for food for days. She didn’t have a complicated life. She didn’t have a membership fee of a golf club to pay. Her life was narrowed down to keep her soul and body together by making ends meet. She knew for sure that she couldn’t come to worship God with empty hands. She might struggle on how much to give, one coin or all she had. She didn’t complain that she was at the bottom of the social food chain. Scarcity couldn’t intimidate her from worshiping God with a thankful heart and offering. Her ability to give was very limited but not her willingness. She glorified God with all she had. Perhaps, she had to go to bed with an empty stomach that night. But anyway she exhausted her ability to give with a grateful willingness.
Her offering story was commended by Jesus in the Holy book, for she did her best. Her offering is miraculous legacy. She became a forerunner to give her best for God’s children. Through her unreserved giving, her ordinary life turned to be legendary in the book of life. She poured all she had into her love for God. I am thankful that in my life I see how those faithful servants have followed this poor widow to give their best as their legacy. Here I want to share three legacy stories of giving and offering I have witnessed.
The first story is regarding how I came to Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. In April 1991, I was ready to complete my MA degree at Garrett seminary. I came to Dr. Bob Tuttle’s office to hand in my thesis. The professor asked me, “Charlie, where are you going upon graduation?” “I’m not sure. But I want to continue my education in the United States.” He asked me what I want to study. “I want to study church history of mission.” He said, “Fuller seminary is the best school to go. I was a faculty there. Would you like to go?” “Of course I would. I heard of this great school for a long time.” said I. “April is kind of a little late. Let me find a way to help you.” Therefore, Dr. Tuttle picked up the phone and called Dr. Paul Pierson, the Dean of school of World mission of Fuller Seminary. “Hey Paul, Charlie is one of the best students of mine. You have to help him by finding scholarship money for him.” Dr. Pierson promised to call back in an hour. Just in about 20 minutes, the phone rang. Dr. Pierson told us that a Hummer family promised to support my tuition scholarship. Dr. Tuttle thanked him, “Paul, you and this Hummer family made a best investment for the church. I myself pledge to send money to Charlie’s student account at Fuller every year. Surely, he did for years. It was the generous giving of Dr. Tuttle and the Hummer family that helped me receive theological education and serve church.
The second family I can commend is Pastor Dennis Nelson and his wife Terry. They are our long time friends, and preached at our church a couple of times. Pastor Nelson served Christ Lutheran Church in West Covina for 40 years and retired years ago. When church needed audiovisual equipments for worship, Terry donated the construction of the loft in the sanctuary and all the equipments. (See the picture) The church continues to use the whole equipments today. Pastor Nelson and his wife donated their house to the church about 15 years ago. Church sold the property and used the produce money to build a fellowship hall, called Nelson Hall. (See the picture) Nelson family is one of ordinary clergy families but they did offer their best to the church like the two copper coins of the window as our role model. Their legacy of giving stands there and speaks loudly for their love and dedication to Jesus Christ.
The third story I want to share is a faithful member of our church, Alice Deliman. She was a Lutheran for life. The first time I came to this church, she gave me a warm hug to welcome me. She told me that this church was looking for a bilingual pastor to serve the Chinese neighbors in this area. She left her insurance policy to the church as a beneficiary. (See the picture) She passed away in the August 2018. Now our church has received $68,000 of her gift. That’s not the end of the story. She also designated 10% of her estate, around $100,000 to our church. The transfer of the estate money is in the process. Some day her donations will be a fund for our youth ministry. Alice was an elementary school teacher for life. She loved kids. She had a three unit property near the supermarket at the corner of Santa Anita and Foothill. She had a good income. But she was so frugal to save money for others and for the church. I ran into her at that $.99 market many times. She drove a Toyota Tercel as her last car until an accident in front of our church. Then she moved to a retirement home in Claremont. She developed Alzheimer’s for her last couple of years. Our church caroling group visited her a couple of times. The last time we went to see her was before 2015 Christmas, (See the picture) she couldn’t recognize any of us. But her spirit was still with the Lord by her dedication and generous giving of her two copper coins. (See the picture) Our church council is going to dedicate our garden to be the prayer corner in honor of Alice Deliman. She was a very ordinary church member, a mother, a grandmother, a teacher, a generous and joyful giver with a great legacy of two copper coins. Her legacy will live in our midst. May God continue to bless our church with generous offering and giving to his kingdom.
Now at the end of this message, I want to express my wish to be a grateful and joyful giver. I don’t have much. But God’s Grace is so abundant in my life. I already pledged my house to Garret seminary. I want to be a part of legacy of two copper coins. If they can, I can and you all can. Who are they? They are the poor widow in Jesus’ story, Dr. Bob Tuttle, the Hummer family, the Nelson family, Alice Deliman, and you and me. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Let us give our best to honor Jesus’ name.
In church as well as in society, people have a state of mind that we count on the big and significant numbers. But God counts our willingness more than our ability. Life is not necessarily fair in terms of ability, opportunity and resources available, but fair in accountability and willingness. The story of the two copper coins challenges us all. We all have more than two copper coins. As long as we are willing, we all can give our best, and become a part of the legacy of two copper coins. God will remember us for our willingness.