The Widow's Mite

Rev. Marilyn Washburn

[]I find this morning's words from Mark's Gospel very interesting and I've always loved this section. The first part reminds us of the pomposity that can happen when we allow our egos to get very big. In particular, for those of us in the clergy and church leaders in general, we have to be careful because it is very easy for us to be like those Scribes and go around very proud of who we are and what we are doing, and forget why we are doing it. They forgot, according to Jesus, to take care of the people. And the reality is it hasn't changed that much over the years.

Today we have many TV preachers who preach from the Scriptures and then turn it around and shift to what one writer called, 'a market-driven theology of blessings flowing from cars, houses, and clothes.' The CEO pastor of today echoes more 'think and grow rich' than 'the spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor.' It's very easy for us to get into that groove. It's easy for us to forget why we're here. Unfortunately, I've had many occasions to encounter some of those pastors in my thirty years in the ministry. I remember one who would remind people every chance he got that he had 'made it' because he was now pastoring a church of more than a thousand members and was the epitome of a good, solid pastor. But he 'bragged' about it more than he 'did' the job of being a pastor. He did not always go out and visit, he did not always reach out to people. He did not always care for those who needed him.

I had occasion to chat with another man once whose wife had died. She had been very active for forty years in the music ministry of the church, and he had likewise been actively involved for many years before he was not able to do as much. About a year after she died, the pastor came to visit him, asking him to make a major contribution of money to the church. And the man told me that he refused to give because the pastor had not come to spend any time with him after his wife died. The question is, what is more important, the giving to each other or the giving to the church? Well, we begin to wonder after awhile which one it really is. Should we be giving to the people or should the people be giving to us? Should the people be giving to the church or should we be doing things for them? Well, I think it's a piece of all of that. And I think that's what Jesus is trying to hold up for us today. What Jesus was warning us about was not the vocation of the Scribes in their church leadership, but the values adopted by them. That is what is most important. Instead of putting the values of who we think we are and what we think the world wants to see, we are called to put the values of love, justice and mercy above everything. The use of our money and the giving of our money is in response to the call for a world of peace, of harmony, filled with love and caring, a world filled with hope, of giving to those who are in need.

Have we gone awry? Is our religion more rooted in the values of the world than the values of God? Do we have false images of power? I remember a story once about Robert Schuller who had some kind of confrontation with flight attendants onboard an airplane because they weren't giving him what he wanted to receive. And he said to them (this has been on the news), "Don't you know who I am? I preach every Sunday from the Crystal Cathedral. I deserve to have better treatment." Well, I've always wondered about that. Why did he deserve to have something more than the ordinary person flying on that airplane? Were his values awry? We are called to abandon our exploitation of the poor, the abused and the young. We are called to remove ourselves from oppressing and pushing others to the margins so that we can be the bigwigs and the important ones, and people can look at us and say, "Aren't they good? They go to church every Sunday. Isn't that wonderful?" But they don't do anything about it.

We are called to see the extreme sacrifice of that widow in the temple. She gave more than she had to give, her all. She gave herself. That is so important for us to remember. It's not just about money, although I remember reading that Jesus talked about money five times more than he talked about prayer. I think the reason is that even in his day money was getting in the way, just as it gets in the way for us. As we live through this recession with its difficulties, unemployment and all of these things, we begin to re-evaluate what is most important. What do we really need in our lives? What are we looking for? Do we have to have the latest technological gadgets? Do we have to go into stores and buy, buy, buy just because we're there? Is it that we can't live without an expensive pocketbook or shoes or suit, or whatever it is that is being offered? "It's on sale for only $100, 50% off?" Is it worth it? Think about it. I know many of us may say, "Yes, it is." But is it really? Do we really have that opportunity? These are some of the things that Jesus is reminding us about. We are called to value our relationships, to use some humility when we are dealing with money.

Many can give generously. Many can give generously even if they have little to give. We're called to see that God is in our midst, that Jesus walks with us, and that Jesus values every single person in this room. One of the things that made it difficult for the leaders of his day to deal with Jesus was that fact. He respected women, he respected children, he reached out to the poor, he reached out to the lepers, he reached out to those on the fringes of society. He saw them when the others walked by. So we are called to use our money wisely and well because our money is of ourselves. We are called to share fully of who we are and of our faith. We are called to walk with Jesus toward justice, offering hope and love everywhere we go, to everyone we meet.

When we give our money, we give it for the good of this world of ours, even when it means going against the tide and rejecting the cries of the material world. We're called instead to hear the cries of the people around us and to do everything in our power to help them just as Jesus did. It's not an easy thing for us to hear. But then, much of what Jesus was about wasn't easy for anybody to hear. We don't want to be told that maybe we're being too pompous, too demanding, too commercial, and too grabbing of things. But that's one of the things that Jesus is reminding us about over and over again. We've talked about this in the last few weeks: who is the greatest, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. And here we have a woman with no money giving what little she had to the treasury of the church.

We are called to share, to put our priorities where they belong, to see that it doesn't matter whether we're rich or poor. It's what we do with our lives, how we live and give of ourselves…fully, openly and honestly. That is what Jesus is looking for. Jesus is there to guide and lead us even when we don't want to hear it. It's amazing because it took him to the Cross, but he came out on the other side to offer us life and hope and guidance. And that, my friends, I believe, is most important for us to hear.

And as we give of ourselves, we become more like Jesus, giving fully and openly. We become like that poor widow, sharing all that she had. We become better when we are willing to give up some things that we really don't need. We are called to examine ourselves - our lives, our faith, our trust in God - and the way we share ourselves and our money. Not an easy task, but something we all need to explore and think about. And Jesus is there with us every step of the way. Thanks be to God. Amen.

November 8, 2009

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