Stewardship Sermon

by Adolf Hoenecke
translated by Evan Chartrand

Hoenecke preached this sermon in 1890 on the eleventh Sunday after Trinity. It was translated as part of the American German Lutheran Writings Class in 2009. Translated by Evan Chartrand, Benjamin Ehlers, and Benjamin Reichel.

The Gospel of St. Mark 12:41-44

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

In Jesus Christ, dearly beloved!

It is well known that for us Christians, the special form and kind of service to God in Israel is abolished. We have no temple like Israel; we have no Holy of Holies with an Ark of the Covenant. There also stands before us no altar on which animals were sacrificed for offerings, because such offerings have been done away with. This was all only a shadow, which pointed to Christ and after which Christ came, so it has, as God’s Word itself says, become obsolete and has fallen away and therefore no longer concerns us. Yet in spite of all this, a piece of the old temple has come to our time and our church: this is the offering plate, which the reading in the Gospel is about. And to be precise it is said for us, “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put.” And this, even though invisible to our dear eyes, is nevertheless certain and true still today. And that shall be the focus of our meditation:

The Lord Jesus is at our offering plate.

  1. Let us hear where our offering plate is;
  2. Let us consider that Jesus watches how we place our offerings in the offering plate;
  3. Let us accept his judgment concerning our offerings in humility, as if it were being done concerning our offerings in the offering plate.

I. Let us hear where our offering plate is.

Our offering plate is there, where our gifts are required in God’s name for God’s concern. Now, God’s concern actually and truly is his kingdom, his dear church, in which he rules the ones gathered within as the Father of all grace and mercy, saves them and sanctifies them through the grace-rich Gospel and the very worthy sacraments, so that they walk in love to him and to their brothers. God is sincerely, eagerly, and truly concerned for this issue of his, the highest matter on earth, his church. Where his church is, founded in faith through Word and Sacrament, there he desires that it should also remain. Therefore he wants, above all things, that correct preaching of the Gospel and correct administration of the dear sacraments remain. In other words, God desires that the preaching office, wherever it is, remain, be preserved, cared for, and supported. Now where his church is not yet established, there God desires that it should be established in this way, that the Gospel and the sacraments be brought out to those who still lack them.

Now because the children, who are given as a gift of God to the believers, belong to the church of God and must be raised in a Christian way, so also does the Christian school belong here as a true concern, work, and matter of God, which lies very much on his heart, and for which he truly wishes a serious spread in all the world. Now of course the arch-enemy of God and his concern, the church, causes God this sorrow: that he not only wants to hinder the spread and promotion of the Christian school and therefore the church, but also, wherever it is possible, he wants to totally overthrow the church as well as remove the Christian school from the way through all kinds of cunning attacks under the appearance of the highest right of the state and the true welfare of parents and children, as we experience it in our days. For now this belongs to God’s concern: that he will protect his dear Christian church and his so worthy Christian school and defend them against enemy attacks. So it is only natural that this happens not with fleshly weapons, but with spiritual weapons.

Still one thing belongs to God’s concern. I name it last, but it is therefore not something little in God’s eyes, but something very high and important. It is mercy towards the poor. It would truly be a completely strange thing if, in the church of the loving God, where he rules all poor sinners as the father of grace and mercy, mercy towards the physically and earthly poor and miserable, widows and orphans, and the needy of all kinds were not a matter which lies very much on the heart of the gracious God.

All this and many a thing which I have not told, but which also belongs to it—that is God’s concern. God’s concern is the church—after all, it is called God’s kingdom. God’s concern is the preservation of the church. He has founded his kingdom so that it shall remain. God’s concern is the spread of the church, for God wants that all men be helped. God’s concern is the Christian school, that the children come to him and remain with him, for he says through his son, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” Yes, he shows through the word of his own son how highly Christian education lies on his heart, that even one child not come into an unchristian school where he is only offended in his faith, for he says through the son, “Do not harm the faith of one of these little ones; for whoever does that, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” That is truly both a tremendous condemnation of an unchristian school and a glorious confirmation of the Christian school as a high concern of God. God’s concern is also the protection of his dear church and school, for he says through the son that the gates of hell shall not overthrow his congregation, neither church nor school. God’s concern is the care of all the poor; he calls himself the father of widows and orphans, the redeemer of the wretched, the helper of the poor.

So certain is this, so certain is it now, that the high, great, almighty, and merciful God indeed requires your gifts for his concern. So he requires your gifts for the preservation of the preaching office, for this is his most important concern of all. So he speaks through Paul as a preacher, “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?” And adds, “In the same way the Lord has commanded that those who preach the Gospel should receive their living from the Gosepel.” And to be sure, with these words here God does not mean the government of the land, but rather the members of the Christian congregation, for Paul speaks not to a government, but to the congregational members of the Corinthian congregation. Likewise, God requires your gifts for the spread of his kingdom. He rightly says that to you through the example of the Christians in the congregation at Philippi, who gave gifts to the apostle Paul so that he could accomplish the mission work. And Paul calls their gifts the pleasing sacrifice and then a fruit (namely, a fruit of faith), which Christians should bring forth as good trees.

So God requires your gifts for his concern which lies very much on his heart, for the care of the poor. Brothers and sisters, there are many passages through which he goes collecting among you. Share with God’s people who are in need, and not merely with words. What does it help when you say, “Feed yourself,” but give nothing? Be merciful, as your Father is merciful. Give, as it is given to you. The passages are God’s caretakers of the poor, who go around with the collection bag for the poor. Now, where the dear God now also requires our gifts for his affair, there our offering plate is. I have now spoken in detail about that, but I think that it is really very necessary that this be shown clearly and plainly, that our offering plate is really and truly an establishment of God. For whoever realizes this will handle the offering plate of God not contemptuously, but will think, “It is God’s offering plate.”

Therefore, brothers and sisters, do not let it irritate you that I now indicate still a little closer where our offering plate is. I answer that it is with our treasurer and with our collectors. Yes, many a person says that it is merely the congregational budget, which we men have set up and which men manage. That is why many have no respect and no deference for it and do not care for months or years at a time how their account stands. Now you know that one must view a congregational budget not as lowly, but that it is an offering plate of God, from which the dear God will provide for his work among us, the preservation of the preaching office. He who handles a congregational budget disrespectfully shows contempt to the dear God himself, for the congregational budget is God’s offering plate. Now each one already well understands that the school’s budget is also an offering plate of God. And in going further from the individual congregation to the synod, so is the mission budget an offering plate of God, and the budget for das Gemeindeblatt—that too is an offering plate of God. For special cases the dear God requires particular gifts. So now money must be available in order to defend our Lutheran school against the enemies whose flags bear the inscription “The Bennett Law.”1 The budget for this thing, for the defense of the Christian school, which lays on God’s heart, is not the budget of a political party—it is now also God’s offering plate. And it should truly not be forgotten that we and other congregations have a couple of collecting tins near the entrance: “For the Poor” and “For Poor Students.” Who is actually the one who asks and begs there? You know the answer. It is God, who calls himself the father of the poor, God, who so gladly had poor people educated as preachers for the spread of his kingdom. These collecting tins and God’s offering plate. Then have respect, brothers and sisters! Have high regard for the congregational budget, the school’s budget, the mission funding, the money for the poor, and so on! They are all more than the name means and worthier than the name means: they are all God’s offering plate. And now

II. Let us consider that Jesus watches how we place our offerings in the offering plate.

Just as the Lord acts in today’s gospel reading, so he indeed still acts today. – How then does he act in today’s gospel? Let us consider this closely. The Lord sat across from the offering plate for God and watched how the people gave their offerings. He also watched how much they gave. He watched this very closely. The poor widow certainly did not first turn her offering over in her fingers, nor in a boastful way hold it over the offering plate for a long time for all to see, as does happen. Rather she quickly gives it, ashamed of her small offering. But the Savior certainly sees that it was two mites. He has counted exactly. So he also watched the rich, who gave much, and God noted how much. We also hear that Lord with his watching noted the circumstances of the people who gave there, for example, those who were rich and wealthy and gave from their abundance; they gave what was not necessary to sustain life. However, the widow gave her entire savings, which were necessary to sustain herself. It is certain that the dear Savior assessed each of their gifts given, according to their circumstances. Whether or not he gave well according to what he was actually able to give, and should have given on this account. Surely the Savior saw among the many rich, who gave much, that their gifts were great when one counted out the offering. It was, however, a small amount in the eyes of the Lord Jesus when he compared it with the ability of the man. But, as it seems to me, the Savior still sees much more miserable people among the rich and wealthy. He saw many rich people who gave much, but he did not see all the rich and wealthy people give much. There he saw many well off people sneaking as quickly as possible to give their gifts unnoticed, as if he were one who does not want to make a big deal of his gift; but prefers it if the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. But the words in the Gospel give this to us to recognize that the dear Savior has seen the fingers of such misers and has already seen and counted their outrageously poor gift exactly. That is the way of God and the dear Savior. Because of a future reckoning, in so many things he puts an emphasis on counting exactly. He pays attention to the sighs and counts their tears. In this way he counts the thalers2 which are put in, like the real caretaker of God’s offering plates. Still, there is something else about the way God works. He sees not only the fingers, and how much they give, but he also sees the heart, and how gladly they give. Yes, that is precisely the way he works. He considers the heart, and that is particularly what the gospel suggests in the example of the widow, and in the Lord’s judgment concerning her gift.

Just as the Savior acts in today’s gospel reading, so he still acts today. Our offering plate is very much on God’s heart for the sake of all the work which should be pursued from them to honor God and to do good for men now and forever. The Savior says to us Christians that we should always pay attention to our offerings – this means that we should pay attention to how we give for the poor in the offering plate. He says also that God pays attention, so we should also pay attention. – Yes, isn’t he able to do this too? Ah, then there is nothing to doubt. Think again about the two mites of the widow. Think still, how once the Savior commanded Peter to fish and at the same time foretold, first, that the caught fish would have a gold coin in its mouth, and second, the Lord also knew how much, namely a stater.3 Think about what Peter confessed about the Lord: You know all things. – So it is certain, what Jesus wants to see, he can see it, and so there is no doubt: Jesus also sits at our offering plate and watches today and certainly sees exactly how we give.

And let us consider this, so that the dear Lord at our offering plate may see in us what he wants to see with pleasure. – What does God want to see with pleasure when we step to the offering plate for God? That we give as much as he thinks; that is also the right amount. A man says, “I give however much I think.” That is not completely right. One must give what Christ thinks he could probably expect for us to give. And he surely expects that the giving of his Christians should be according to the amount at least the size and sum as he saw in Jerusalem. Certainly he wants to see that the rich give much from their abundance, and that the poor give what they are able from poverty, and that those who stand between, who are well off, give at least richly. It says in the Bible that he expects this. He says it himself, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.” That means the rich should give much. – When the dear God collects for the poor through Paul by the Corinthians, he says to them, “Be rich in your good deeds, give richly, that your gift may be a blessing,” that is, much and not stingy, that is, sparse or skimpy. And the Corinthians were certainly poor themselves, with hardly a few who were well off. The main idea about how Jesus thinks about the offerings in God’s offering plate can be found in his words in the Sermon on the Mount. “Be merciful, as your Father in heaven, and in addition pray.” Now, we should give according to God’s example, as the Savior says, this is written especially for the rich, give much; for the well off, give richly; and for the poor, give as you are able. If one collects for any one thing of God’s, the people probably ask, “What do you think I should give?” If you want to ask, dear Christian, ask the Lord Jesus, “What do you think I should give?” He answers, “You know what I think would be good. Do the good that you know.” – But Jesus wants to see something else, “that we give gladly as he loves.” God loves a cheerful giver. It should make us happy that we are able to give for the matters of God and the Savior – for congregation, mission, school, poor or otherwise. We want to give with joy as people whom God and the Savior ask for a gift and who help to support the most glorious works. – Thus we know what the Lord Jesus, who sits at our offering plate, wants to see from us. That we give as much as he thinks and thus gladly love to do it.

And certainly he will enjoy watching us put our offering in the offering plate, when we rightly consider that he actually sits at our offering plate, and see him there in faith. When you want to give to the congregation’s offering, then look at him, our Lord Jesus Christ at our offering plate. He kindly looks at you, because you belong to his dear congregation. What then do you see on his hands and feet? The nail marks, which proclaim his suffering on the cross, whereby he has brought about that you are in a congregation of people who can be saved. How will that not make you open your hand to give richly? Who would want to appear before the man with pierced hands as a stingy one with almost empty hands! If you want to give to the mission budget, seminary budget, or the budget for the spreading of the kingdom of God and Christ, then look at the Lord at the offering plate. In his eyes you see a glimmer of a true, fervent desire. Hear what he longs for. He wants the fire already blazing; he wants his Word blazing around the world. If you see the desire of Jesus’ soul, then you cannot remain so cold at heart, that you calculate and count not to give too much to harm yourself; rather, you give richly.

If you should give for the poor in the offering plate, then look him, the dear Savior, who shared the last piece of bread with the poor, who above all things became poor, to make you, a lost and poor person, rich. Then it will be just like when a beggar appealed to our dear Luther. Even though Luther had just one more thaler he said, “Come on out, Joachim, the Savior is watching!” Oh yes indeed, if one considers that Jesus is at the offering plate, and looks at him there, there he will see in us really his desire.

And with respect to such thinking, which has been lacking by all Christians, it is not the way it should be and not as Jesus wants to see it. It is not the way it should be if one calls himself a brother and always remains indebted to the congregation’s budget. Do you respect Jesus so little that you never make your debt right with him? Our congregation’s budget is rather God’s budget. A congregation must contend with casual brothers who pay attention to all other distributions, but not to their own offerings in the offering plate of the congregation’s budget. But watch out that you, as a careless debtor, make your debt right with the Lord of the offering plate. It is not the way it should be with you, dear fellow Christians, if you give, but your gift is no gift at all, but rather stinginess, so that although you can give plenty, you indeed here, where not one thing is gathered with open plates or where gifts are written down and kept track of, compensate the dear Lord with the most meager gift. It is not the way it should be if an unhappy giver annoyingly coughs up money, considers the beautiful thaler ten times over as to whether or not it would be too much for the offering plate. So it goes when one does not look upon the true Lord and manager of the offering plate; because here the abominable materialism rules, the heart; and not for the preservation and spreading of the dear Gospel, nor for the protection and support of church and school. Not even for dear poverty itself is the heart open and willing to give. It is also evil when a person says, “I give what everyone else gives; and the rich man gives, therefore, what the poor man gives.”

It will become better by us all when we consider that Jesus watches as we place our offerings in the offering plate. Yes, by us all. If we have given little up until now, then we will learn to give more generously. If we have already given generously, then we will not only continue doing so, but will still increase our giving. The more we have Jesus before our eyes in sincerely thankful hearts as the true recipient and collector of all offerings in the offering plate, ever more will heavenly love rule our hearts and hands when giving offerings, and ever more will Jesus have his joy in us. And, dear brothers and sisters, who would not want to make our Savior happy! But this leads us to our last point:

III. Let us accept his judgment concerning our offerings in humility, as if it were being done concerning our offerings in the offering plate.

Even the Lord, our Savior, wants this. Whatever the Lord, our Savior, had in his thoughts there at the offering box in Jerusalem concerning the gifts which were being offered, he did not keep it to himself. He announced his judgment, and to be sure not to those who like the world are said to be in error, but rather know the truth. The ones who believe in him and listen to him are his own. He calls his disciples to himself. They, his own, are the dear church which should know how to judge concerning its offerings. He says to them: “This poor widow has laid more in the offering box than all the others who have placed their offerings, because they have all given from their abundance. But this one has offered, from her poverty, everything she has—her whole source for food.” That is his judgment. Now, dear Christians, brothers and sisters, we hold all this as an accepted fact that the dear Savior sits at our offering plate and that he sees what we place in it, and that he also has his thoughts and judgment concerning it. Just as it is true, however, that the Savior does not call a single one of our fellow Christians to himself and say to them, “This person and that person in St. Matthew’s Church is like the widow, and these ones are the ones who give the most.” He does not say it to say one of us individually either. Therefore I say, let us apply the judgment given clearly and distinctly by the Savior in our text to our gifts in all humility. Therefore I know for sure one thing we do not do: namely we do not regard ourselves as those who give the most or more than many others. Not if we should perhaps actually have given a truly considerable gift, also not if we were poor and had actually given from what we really, really needed readily and willingly. Then that would be indeed truly not humble, if one thinks of himself: I have been looked upon by the Savior just like the poor widow, so that he thinks of me: I gave the most, or more than all the others. No, I know one thing which therefore we will do straight away. We will think everyone else gives more than us. If the sum of what we give were more than the sum which others give, we will think that each one gives more than we give according to his circumstances. We will think of others, “He certainly gives more happily than I do. He certainly has a much more thankful heart for Jesus’ grace in the congregation and he places his offerings with much more joy for the congregation and school than I do.” We will think, “Everyone else has a much warmer and much more compassionate heart for the poor than we do.” That would be using the judgment correctly in humility, if one thinks that everyone else gives more than we do. If we do this, then it is entirely according to the instruction of the dear God and Savior. Because it is expressly written in the Scriptures, “Consider others better than yourselves.”

How good it is when we do this! If we are so humble, then God gives us grace. He gives grace to the humble. Here then will we become richer in gifts and in placing offerings into the offering plate of the dear Savior. Here a congregation, mission, Seminary, school, and the poor will be better off. God’s grace will take care of them richly. And then we ourselves will become ever richer in the heavenly goods. Grace just makes humble people even richer. On the other hand, whoever considers something from himself higher than something from another, that person is arrogant, and a person whom God opposes and leaves him empty. And so we have it good, as his humble Christian people who love to give and therefore regard all others as much greater givers, through the grace which remains by us humble people. And it is certain that even though we do not look at our gifts in such a way that we would want to praise ourselves, but rather do not let our left hand know what our right hand does, the dear Lord sees it: he sees it with joy and also speaks in very high terms about it in his heart and will someday also make it public and reward his people publicly. He will do this when he opens his treasure box on the Last Day and takes out the reward for his people: the crown of honor and the scepter of triumph. He will also assign to them the kingdom which has been prepared for them from the beginning of the world. Do you want to be among them? Be among those who give their last piece of bread to the poor, according to Jesus’ demand, but who build their hope solely on Jesus. Be among his disciples!

May God help us all do this! Amen.

  1. The Bennett Law sought to require that all children in Wisconsin be instructed solely in English, whether they were enrolled in a private or a public school. This law, if enforced, would have effectively shut down the Wisconsin Synod’s many parochial schools. 

  2. a coin used throughout Europe in the 16th century 

  3. Matthew 17 says a four drachma coin 

An 1890 sermon on the topic of stewardship.

 Nov 11, 2010