November 9, 1997
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Mark 12:38-44
"Once upon a time, a pig and a chicken were walking down a village street. They came upon a church sign which was advertising a bazaar and breakfast which was going to be held in a few days.
At the bottom of the sign the menu was given, it read 'Ham and eggs will be served from 6:30 to 8:00 am.' The chicken turned to the pig and said, "See!!' Even we can help the work of the church!!!"
"Yes," said the pig, "but yours is only a contribution, mine is a SACRIFICE."
The Temple in Jerusalem in Jesus day had designated areas for different persons. The outermost and largest area was the Court of Gentiles. There was a wall or barrier with a strict warning to any non-Jew who might venture further inside - dont enter, those who do risk being put to death. The next area was the Court of Women. Further inside was the Court of Israel (or, to be more precise, the "men" of Israel). Beyond it was the Court of Priests and, of course, the innermost part was the Holy of Holies in which only the High Priest could enter once a year.
This mornings story from Marks gospel takes place in the Court of Women. The time is Passover - the last week of Jesus' life. During this week Jesus used various parts of the Temple as his classroom to teach his disciples. As the week progressed, Jesus faced more and more conflict with the powers-that-be, something that would result in his being arrested, turned over to the Romans, and eventually his death on the cross. Jesus words in relation to the widow and her offering were his last inside the Temple itself.
Jesus was sitting in the Court of the Women, close to the collection containers for offerings. We know that there were 13 trumpet-shaped offering containers there. They were made of metal, and the larger end was on the floor and the smaller at the top through which you would put your offerings (mainly coins). Each container was designated for a different use - to buy wood for burnt offerings, to purchase incense, to purchase goods for the needy, and so on.
Since it was Passover Week, Jerusalem was crowded. What a sight it must have been there in the Temple. Pilgrims from all over the known world parading by to make their offerings. You could hear the coins as they rolled round and round until they clanged to the bottom of the metal collectors. Those who gave the most made the most noise. Some scholars suggest that people were supposed to call out the amount they were giving as they placed it in one or more of the containers. Wonder if we should try that? (Nah!)
Amid all the pomp and circumstance, all the clanging coins in the Temple that day - the ears and eyes of Jesus heard and saw something unnoticed by the crowd. He saw a poor widow, with ragged clothes and lean from hunger, making her way through the crowd to give her offering. He called his disciples over to him, saying, "Hush! Listen! Watch!" and together they saw her put her two tiny copper coins in and perhaps in a whisper say, "Two lepta," as her two coins, worth less than half-a-cent, dropped into the container, hardly making a sound at all compared to the heavy coins others were giving. No one heard them - no one but Jesus.
"There you see," Jesus told his followers, "a real example of giving. The others give out of their abundance, but that poor widow has given more than all of them put together, for she has put in everything she had."
For Jesus, the gift which counts is the gift which costs. He didnt criticize those putting in much more than the widow, mind you - though he had some choice words about religious leaders who prey (i.e. prey not pray) on God and widows. In relation to the other pilgrims in the Temple, however, Jesus simply pointed out to his disciples that their giving didn't really cost them anything. They'd never miss it. It did not require a sacrifice on their part. But the widow gave the money for her next meal! She could have given only one coin but she gave both! She gave all she had. Her gift was costly, but it brought the greater honor to God, you see. She glorified God because she came with faith and trust that her well-being did not depend upon mere material things but on God. Her offering was an act of faith, knowing God would take care of her.
Since this is November, and this afternoon an item of business at our Fall Council meeting is our 1998 church budget; and since in this month we usually ask you to look at your personal finances for the coming year and indicate your intentions for giving; with this in mind, I bet you think this is my annual financial campaign sermon. Wrong. Actually, this is not a very good text for that purpose. After all, two copper coins hardly cover the cost of lighting this room for more than a minute.
a man once prayed.
"Yes?" came the reply.
"God, can I ask a question?"
"Go right ahead."
"God, what is a million years to you?"
"Only a second."
"God, what is a million dollars worth to you?"
"I count it as a penny."
"God, can I have a penny?"
"Sure!! ... just a second."
I trust that you will take seriously the stewardship of your money (which is really Gods money), and place Christ and his church not at the bottom of your list of priorities, but at the top. I trust that you will hear the call to give sacrificially as you prepare for a new fiscal year. However, the focus of my message this morning is not about budgets and pledges, its about lives. Next week, several persons will be taking new steps of faith. Some will be transfering their membership to this congregation. Others will be entering the waters of baptism. It will be a time for us all to reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ. Thats what I want to prepare the way for today.
This story of the widows might is about radical dependence upon God. Actually, all the stories of biblical widows mentioned in worship this morning have been pointing in this direction. The widow of Zarephath used her last handful of flour and last drop of oil to cook what she thought was her final meal in the middle of a drought. However, she had a guest for whom she also provided: Elijah. What little she had she chose to split 3 ways so that this prophet of God might also share in her and her sons "last supper."
She wasnt planning for next year. This was all there was. From here all she could see was death for her and her son. In the process of baking that last loaf of bread, however, God snuck in. For the remainder of the drought, her jars of flour and oil never went empty. Furthermore, when her son later became sick, God (through Elijah) brought him back from the brink of death. Dare we trust such a God with our lives? Not just when things are going well, but especially when things arent! Not just when its convenient, but when we are at the end of our rope!
From those widows, Ruth and Naomi, we discover that radical dependence upon God involves walking side by side with another person or persons. Amazingly, or maybe it shouldnt feel so extraordinary (after all, God is an awesome God), when we find ourselves at that bitter end of the rope, God is beside us in the form of others who are there for us, if only we allow them to travel with us. I do not believe all of what that old spiritual claims: "you must walk that lonesome valley, you have to walk it by yourself. Oh nobody else can walk it for you, you have to walk it by yourself." Now, I do believe in personal responsibility - we dont make someone else walk our walk for us. However, the Bible does not teach a "lonesome valley." As the Psalmist sang, "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me." We are never alone. The Great Shepherd is with us. Furthermore, for every Naomi in this world, our Shepherd provides a Ruth. Dare we make that claim?
In committing ourselves to Christ, we are becoming a part of his church - a fellowship of valley walkers. "Where you go I will go. Your people will be my people, and your God my God." That is no less an act of radical dependence upon God. Thomas Kelly once wrote, "Every period of profound re-discovery of Gods joyous immediacy is a period of emergence of this amazing group inter-knittedness of God-enthralled men and women who know one another in Him ... The disclosure of God normally brings together the disclosure of the fellowship. We dont create it deliberately; we find it and we find ourselves increasingly within it as we find ourselves increasingly within God."
"Do you believe in Jesus Christ, and receive and trust him as your Savior and Lord?" ... "Will you turn away from all sin, accept Gods forgiveness, and by Gods grace live according to the example and teachings of Jesus?" ... "Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, receiving our support and prayers, and giving yourself freely to us?" Well be asking these questions once again next week.
As we approach them, whether we are answering them for the first time or are renewing our original response, I encourage you to approach them like that widow in the Temple. Are you giving only a portion of yourself to God, or are you willing to put in everything that you are? Are you willing to trust God with all aspects of your life, on the outside and on the inside, when things are going fine as well as when they arent?
©1997Peter L. Haynes
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