11/8/2015 Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Mark 12:38-44.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, here we have it – the story of the widow’s mite as written in the Gospel of St. Mark. I’m sure you’ve hear this story many times before, especially around the time of the year when stewardship campaigns are done in churches. Because of bad timing, this wonderful little example of giving and commitment is probably not one of your favorite Bible stories for it has been held up as an example of giving in order to prod you into giving more of your hard earned money to the church. We know that without good givers, the church is in trouble…and often Emanuel is as I have had to hold onto rubber paychecks, awaiting next Sunday’s collection. But, I’m not going to exploit this story in that way. So, relax!
I realize that most of us, including me, are like the majority of the givers in today’s gospel. We give out of our abundance and not out of poverty. I know that the majority of the poorest income earners in the congregation, namely the retired crowd, give a greater percentage of their income to the church than those in households where there are two working adults and a six-figure income. I know that the rest of us need to learn from the example of our faithful elders in order to grow in our financial commitment. And you know these things too. So, I’m not going to preach to you about what you know, and I’m not going to sit outside the counting room in the way that Jesus sat by the coffers, watching what you place in the plate each week. For that is between you and God. Just like what the widow, when she placed all that she had in the giving box, was between her and God.
I suppose that if I were as poor as the widow, I might be as generous as it really wouldn’t matter to me what I did with my money. I couldn’t save what little I had in order to buy a house, a car, or any of those things that most of us consider essential to a good life. Yes, I might be able to purchase a morsel of food with what I had, but I know that wouldn’t last. Soon, I would have nothing at all, nothing other than hope and faith in the God who sent Elijah to the widow in her hour of need.
I can imagine the welling up of despair as I looked at the two small coins, and in that despair, turning to the only place where I could find solace – turning to the church to pray for some unforeseen rescue, placing my very life in the hands of God, knowing that I couldn’t make it on my own. In the privacy of my prayer, the hustle and bustle of people processing around me in order to display the greatness of their offering to God, would be shut out. And when the din quieted, I can envision myself silently moving to the offering box and placing in it all that I had.
This, my friends, is the story of the widow’s mite. It is a story of hope in the hour of despair. It is a story of faith in the darkest moments of life. It is a story of generosity and commitment to a God who knows our need and who listens to our woe. It is a story of placing our very lives into the hands of God, trusting that what he has to offer to us is greater than all the things we consider to be valuable in this world. For, no matter what we have, be it large or be it small, nothing can compare to what God offers to us through Jesus Christ. The blessings which we can hold in our hands pale in comparison to what God has in store for us through Christ our Lord. That is why we come to the font to be baptized. So that we may share in the blessings of a relationship with Christ. For through the crucified and risen Lord, we have life and light; through him we are made whole and righteous; through him we have the gift of eternal life, not because of what we can and do place in the offering plate, but because God has chosen to provide this to us through his son.
So, what about those offerings? What about the mite? Well, my friends, there was a time in my life when giving to the church was totally unimportant to me. It wasn’t that God didn’t matter – he did – but I didn’t grow up in a religious household. My parents were not regular church goers, so it’s no surprise that they did not commit themselves to weekly giving. When they went to church, which was usually on Christmas and Easter, a small token was placed in the plate. I was given a dime to place in the plate as a Sunday school offering on the days I went. I never really understood why, but I felt terrible if I didn’t have that coin to offer to God when the plate was passed. It may have been that I felt like odd-man-out as everyone else put their coins in.
When I grew older and became active in the church, I began to realize that I needed to support the budgetary needs of the congregation. So, my giving increased. But, my understanding of giving was still very limited. I gave in response to the needs of the church. I did not give as a response to God’s giving to me.
I can’t tell you exactly when giving became something different to me, something that I needed to do for myself as a way to thank God for the many blessings in my life. There was no magic moment when that happened. But, I can tell you how awful I felt when I found myself unable to give while in seminary. During those years, I was in a negative cash flow position. I needed to borrow to stay afloat and still struggled to meet basic needs. My embarrassment about my lack of giving as generously as I had in the past sometimes kept me away from Sunday services. I felt that every eye was upon me when the plate passed and that everyone knew that the seminary student was no widow, willing to place her last two coins in the treasury box. So, just when I needed to be fed by God’s word and sacrament the most, I felt unworthy to be in his house.
This feeling of unworthiness, kept me away. I stayed away – worshiping only at seminary chapel services. I stayed away and I prayed in silence. I wrestled with my feelings until I became overwhelmed by guilt and had a heart-to-heart conversation with my pastor. It was then that my understanding of giving grew once more, for he helped me to understand that although I was unable to financially give at the time that I was indeed giving to God by offering my life in service and ministry. Although I put few dollars in the plate, I was giving the best that I could give by giving myself to God in trust and thanks to him who is the author of life. And that is exactly what the widow did when she placed her two small coins in the box.
Today, I continue to give in time, talents and possessions, and I continue to grow in my thanks-giving to God. But, I know that the time and seasons of life change, and when they change, the mixture of what I give will change too. But, as long as I place my very life in the hands of God, I know that I have given him my best.
Each of us grows throughout our life time. Each of us is blessed by God in different ways, at different times. We all have something to offer, and we all have reasons to give thanks to God and to place ourselves securely in his hands. May each of us grow in our commitment to the God who is committed to each of us. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.