The text for today’s sermon is taken from Mark 12:38-44.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Once again, the kingdom of God, as understood and taught by Jesus, runs counter to what we often call “the norm.” “Don’t be like the Pharisees,” Jesus says, “because they like to prove that they are better than anyone else. They like to make a big show of things, be recognized and get the best seats in the house.”
Well, what’s wrong with that? Most of us like the same things. There aren’t many people who don’t like a little recognition every now and then. If you doubt this, just try recognizing individuals who work together on a project and leave someone out. We don’t like being overlooked and we get offended if we are ignored when it comes to receiving accolades.
In my last year at seminary, I remember how I reacted when people where publically thanked for the work they did for the senior party and I, who had slaved in the kitchen and served on the planning committee, was inadvertently left off the list. Others, who had not worked the number of hours that I did, and all who had visible jobs of entertaining the group (and had already received kudos for they did), were recognized, BUT NOT ME. So, I was upset! I was so upset, in fact, that a couple of days later I spoke to the class president who had made the thank-you speech that night and laid him out to dry. I told him how offended I was and in the future, if he were ever to give such a speech again, that he had to make sure that everyone was thanked or thank no one by name. I don’t know if he learned anything from that lesson, but I sure felt better.
It feels good to be recognized…whether we use our talents painting the walls of the church or singing or playing an instrument or cooking or cleaning up the pews. But Jesus comes along and throws a monkey wrench into the system. He says, “Don’t be like that. Don’t be like the Pharisees who seek the kudos.” And as he is saying this, he sees an older women enter the courtyard of the temple. He watches her as she goes over to the treasury box and puts in her offering of two small coins – totally about a penny.
Now, people had been making contributions all day long. Some of them made quite a to-do about their generosity and crowds gathered around them and “oohed and aahed” as the big contributors put in their sizable offerings. But no one, except Jesus, noticed one poor old soul, a widow who had barely two coins to rub together, who gave everything she had. And upon watching her, Jesus held her up as the example of faith-filled giving.
Now, her offering didn’t involve a great sum of money. Others gave more. They gave a portion of their abundance, and she, in her poverty, gave all that she had to live on. In so doing, she placed her trust in God to provide for her daily needs. Oh, that we should be so trusting and giving! But sadly, our stories are more like that of the red-faced father who attended a small, informal rural church. When the offering plate was passed, he discovered that he only had a twenty dollar bill in his wallet and he had intended to put a five. So when the plate reached him, he put in the twenty and took out three fives. His young son was watching this process and noticed only that one bill was put in and three removed. So, in a voice loud enough that everyone could overhear, he said, “Hey, Dad, you took out more than you put in!”
Our practical 21st century system of economics tells us not to give away our hard earned cash, but to spend it on ourselves and our families. Our practical 21st century system of economics would have us believe that if we have enough we can provide for our every want and need. Our practical 21st century system of economics would have us believe that the widow’s giving was foolish. But what is foolish giving? That which is made sacrificially or that which is made reluctantly? Jesus would have us believe that wisdom is found in the actions of one poor soul who withheld nothing from God, but who trust God completely, by offering everything to him. Should we not learn from her to give without fanfare and accolades, to give out of love and devotion, to give in trust and thanksgiving for the blessings of God no matter how small those blessings may seem to the casual observer?
For what God gives cannot be purchased with all the money, all the good works, all the recognition, all the prestige and power in this world. What God provides is salvation and eternal life, purchased for us by the innocent suffering and death of his Son, Jesus Christ. What God offers to us is peace and joy in his presence. What God offers to us is life, and all the blessings of this world. What God offers to us is a relationship with him and a relationship with others which is not based on the economics of this age or IQs or power or nationality or race or dress size or anything else that differentiates us. What God offers to us a relationship based in his love and grace, and a connection to others through him. Is this not more precious than silver or gold? Is this not more precious than the illusive 15 minutes of fame which we are told that we can expect to experience sometime during our lives? The poor widow thought so as she placed the coins in the coffer – for as she did that she put her whole life in God’s hands for his keeping. May we be so bold!
All of the glitz and show, all the posturing and pontificating, all of the glory seeking and praise craving does not amount to a hill of beans. It is the faithfulness of God and the trusting hearts of God’s people who show his love by their action that really matters. So, as we think about the needs of our church and our need to place our lives in God’s merciful hands, may we remember the widow and the red-faced father in the pew; may we think about what we give and what we hold back; and may we think about what we teach the next generation about the importance of supporting the mission of the church, and the ministry in which we all play a vital role. May we think about what it means to be faithful – faithful to God, faithful with that which He has entrusted to our care, and faithful when it comes to the care of souls around us.
Those of us who have blessed mightily in this world with fine houses, good jobs, steady and substantial incomes, often find it harder to give sacrificially, to part with the dollar, than those of us who have little. That’s why we find that the biggest percentage givers in the church are usually those living on Social Security checks. Our vision can become limited by our good fortune. But let that not be so for us on this day and the years that follow. Let us take off those green glasses and let us give thanks for the blessings we have received, in portion to our good fortune, and without desire for accolades and recognition. Let us show, by our giving, that we trust not in what we can do for ourselves, but in what God has done and continues to do for us. For in the end, what he has to offer is the only thing that counts.
God does not demand that we give so that we can purchase his favor. There’s not enough money or time or talent in the world to buy a crumb from his table. No, God demands nothing from us. Instead, God gives to us the privilege to share the blessings he has given us. May we, like the widow, show our thanks and trust in God, by what we share in his name. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.