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November 12, 2006 (Sunday 32 • Time after Pentecost)—“The Widow’s Might”
The Rev. Robert Miles, Jr.
(Webmaster’s Note: This Sunday LCH finished its celebration of Children’s Sabbath that was curtailed on October 15 because of the earthquake in Kona. Children and youth served as deacon, subdeacon, lectors, and ushers. They also provided music throughout the service. Follow this link to see pictures of the musical offerings.)
(Preacher’s Preface: As I prepare to develop sermons each week, I first pray for guidance of the Spirit. I then do a good deal of exegetical work, comparisons of scriptural versions, reading of commentaries, and perusing of as many sermons by others that I can find. About every five years I come across a sermon that I read and reread several times and finally conclude addresses every issue I would, but which I could not improve upon. This is one of those occasions and I find Pastor Robert Miles’ sermon preached over 10 years ago most compelling.—Interim Pastor Steven Jensen)
The story is told of a farmer who woke up one morning and decided he would have ham and eggs for breakfast. He went outside to the barn, found his best-laying hen, rounded up a prime, tender hog, and said: “I’ve got a taste for ham and eggs this morning! How about it?”
The hen responded immediately by delivering two find grade A extra large eggs. But the hog hesitated. The hen turned to the hog and said: “What’s your problem? This farmer feeds us and protects us and gives us everything we need. The least we could do is give him some ham and eggs for breakfast!”
“Hmph! That’s easy for you to say,” said the hog. “All he wants from you is a contribution. From me he wants a real commitment.”
Today’s Gospel teaches us the difference between a contribution and a commitment. It is a story that comforts us in our affliction when we feel we have very little to offer. It is a story that afflicts us in our comfort when we are willing to give everything but ourselves. It is a story that calls us constantly to real commitment and invites us to participate in the power that can change the world.
It is often called the story of the widow’s mite, m-i-t-e. It is truly the story of the widow’s m-i-g-h-t. For in it the widow—weak, helpless, disenfranchised, with no job and no money and no family, no support, no welfare, no hope—proves herself to be mighty—mighty enough to turn the heads and perhaps even the hearts of those in the temple courtyard.
Jesus has been debating his opponents throughout this twelfth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. He has systematically disarmed representatives from each faction of first-century Jerusalem politics. Finally no one dares ask him any more questions. Jesus has been all this time in the temple courtyard, and now he sits down alongside one of the inner walls.
Perhaps he was resting. Perhaps he was praying. Perhaps he was reflecting on why people still sought to find God even as God sat in their midst. Across from him stood the temple treasury, the metal trumpet-shaped boxes into which temple taxes and offerings were dropped. These funds were used to purchase animals, grain, and oil for the ritual sacrifices of the temple priests, sacrifices made on behalf of all the people.
All faithful Jews were obligated to pay these taxes. As Jesus watched, “many rich people put in large sums.” Their gifts resounded as the coins clanged down into the metal boxes. There were of course no checks and no paper money. They attracted as much attention as someone dropping a double handful of quarters into our offering plate. For them appearances were everything. They gave for their own benefit more than for God’s.
But then a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which were worth [less than] a penny. They were the smallest coins in the economy. Light, thin, and cheap, they made little noise. But Jesus heard. Jesus heard! And he called his disciples to him and gave them their first “temple talk.” It had absolutely nothing to do with a budget for the church. It had absolutely everything to do with commitment to Christ!
“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.” They all contributed out of their abundance. She made a commitment of all she had.
She had two coins. Certainly she could have put one in the treasury and kept the other for herself. That would have been more than proportionate giving, more even than the tithe. “Half for the Lord; half for me.” A fifty-fifty ratio between current expenses and benevolence.... Absolutely no one could fault her for that. But no! She gave everything, “all she had to live on.”
She understood it was all God’s to begin with. By giving it to him, she acknowledged that ownership. Having acknowledged God’s ownership, she knew God would bless her with what she truly needed.
Her gift was the widow’s might, because when she put her money in the box, she put her life in the box, “all she had to live on.” None of us can put our life on the line without some passion. And whenever there is the least bit of passion, there is always power.
You see, when God had the widow’s gift, God had the widow. Such is the difference between a contribution and a commitment. Such commitment is indeed power to change the world....
It is the widow’s m-i-g-h-t because, when all is said and done, when the bottom falls out of the economy or when the top blows off and everyone is rolling in high numbers, the church will survive, the mission of Christ will be carried out, the kingdom will come into your life and mine not through the contributions ... but through the passion of the committed; not through the sharing of our surplus but through the commitment of ourselves.
Such commitment is indeed the widow’s might, the servant’s strength, the Christian’s power, the disciple’s dynamite. It is the source of eternal life itself. For it is the commitment of Christ, Christ’s commitment to us, commitment that in its passion puts his life on the line for us, gives everything he has, his whole living.
It is Christ’s commitment to give us everything when we ourselves have nothing; to die for us while we are yet sinners; to come to us in Holy Baptism—when we cannot even name his name—and name us and claim us for his very own and keep us in the sign of that same holy cross we bear on our brow.
It is the commitment we ourselves make in our Confirmation, when we promise to live as Christ’s own died-for people. It is the commitment we make in our [unions], when we promise to love each other as Christ loves the church. It is the commitment we make at the baptism of our children, when we promise to be teachers and examples of righteousness for them. It is the commitment each one of us has made in joining our congregation, “to live among God’s faithful people, to hear his Word and share in his Supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”
It is the kind of commitment to which Christ continually calls and recalls us, commitment not just of time and talent and treasure, but commitment of self, with a passion that becomes the power of God’s kingdom breaking into our lives in this time and place.
The person the entire New Testament holds up as a model of generosity is one who gave a mere two coins, but she gave them with her heart. This widow’s might afflicts us in our comfortable willingness. For it reminds us that this God who created us and redeemed us demands that we have no other gods, not even our self. But it also comforts us in our affliction when we feel we have very little to offer. For the good news it proclaims is that God will take what we have and what we are—when we give it to God—and will make of it and of us far more than we could ever imagine. God will use the strength of our commitment, the power of our passion, the gift of our self that we give him in faith and trust, to change the world around us!
Once upon a time there was a beggar. He sat each day by the gate of the city, collecting in a wooden bowl whatever people would give him. Each night he returned to the shack that was his home and sorted through the day’s gleanings.
One day as he sat at the city gate, he heard in the distance the thunder of hooves and watched as the king and his entourage approached the city. When the horses slowed to enter the gate, the beggar called out to the king, “Can’t you give me something for my bowl, as I am just a poor beggar?”
The king answered, “You give me something first.”
“But your majesty, I am a beggar. I have nothing. You are the king. You have everything.”
“But I am your king. You give me something first.”
So the beggar reached down into his wooden bowl, found two grains of corn, and dropped them into the king’s outstretched hand. He watched in bewilderment as the king and his court left and entered the city with great ceremony.
When the beggar returned to his shack that evening, as was his custom he dumped the contents of his wooden bowl onto the table. There in the midst of the day’s gathering gleamed two shining grains of gold. Only then did the beggar realize what had happened. And he cried to himself, “If only I had given him everything. If only I had given him everything.”
Such is the mystery and the meaning of the widow’s might for us.
Copyright © 2006 Robert Miles, Jr.
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org