Read Mark 12:38-44
In our world we often hear things like, “bigger is better, and biggest is best,” or “it’s always better to have more rather than less.” We sometimes idolize people and companies who have unbelievable amounts of money, the unbelievably ginormous mansions, or an ungodly number of twitter followers. We lift them up as a society and sometimes put them up on this pedestal as folks to be admired and emulated.
Think about the hubbub we recently had in the news over the trillion dollar company Amazon and their decision to build a new headquarters, HQ2, somewhere in the United States. This was a big news story because the shear size of Amazon’s wealth and their intention to build this huge facility and pump beau-coop bucks into a local economy.
It was just announced the other week that H2Q would in fact be split into two different locations, one in New York outside of Long Island and the second location outside of Arlington Virginia. As a people, as a culture, we are drawn to these stories of the big, the powerful, the wealthy. Our attention tends to focus on them as well as our imagination.
That’s where today’s story from the gospel of Mark comes into our consciousness and disrupts all of our norms and our expectations. This story from the gospel of Mark almost reads like one of Jesus’ parables, which may be exactly what the gospel writer intended us to see.
A parable, in case you’re new to Christianity or need a refresher, is a short story that Jesus tells which is intended to take all of our assumptions about the way the world is supposed to be an turn them all over on their head. It’s a story which is supposed to challenge the way that we view the world and we understand our place in it, in order to see more clearly where God is at work and how we are called to live and move and have our being in this life.
The story from today’s gospel does just that. it is a short story that seeps into our heart and into our minds and reshapes our understanding of the world and how we are called to be in it. Let’s unpack this a bit.
So Jesus is in Jerusalem, which is the heart, the very center of the holy land. It was considered the most sacred and important place on the face of the planet because it is the place where folks believed God dwelt closest with humanity, in the temple, which was in the heart of the city. Jesus’ trek to Jerusalem brings his ministry to the poor, the marginalized and the outcast closer and closer to the heart of power, wealth and might in the region. It was also a journey toward his crucifixion and resurrection.
But before that eventual end, Jesus spends time in and around the temple in Jerusalem, preaching and teaching. That is the setting for today’s reading as the treasury was part of the temple complex. Jesus is there with the disciples as people are coming to give their monetary offering to the work of the temple.
Jesus and the disciples see the most important and most rich people emerging from the crowd offering their large sums of money to the work of the temple. It was a public display of power and prestige. One of the things that might be lost on us as modern readers is that the currency of the day was entirely coin. There were no paper monies. So as these folks are making their large offerings, the sound of the coin being tossed into the treasury would have been noticeable to say the least. It would have resonated throughout the entire area. This was a very public act in this very public place.
So Jesus is witnessing one person after another, after another, making these large donations which sounded out through the crowds.
Then, from among the crowd, emerges a widow, an older woman single woman, to make her offering. Now it is worth pointing out that widows held a particular place in society during Jesus’ time. They were the most vulnerable or all persons. This was a heavily patriarchy society where a woman’s worth was dependent upon her relationship to a man; her father or her husband.
If a woman was widowed in her lifetime, there were laws and expectations that she would in fact remarry one of her late husband’s brothers so as to be protected and supported. So if a woman were to remain a widow it meant that she had no one to care for her and she was unable, due to the views and laws of the time, to care for herself. Widows were among the most forgotten, ignored and weak of all persons in all of Jesus’ society.
This widow emerges from the crowd to offer her offering. Two small coins, which were called a mite, which together equaled the smallest of all the Roman currency.
This is who Jesus lifts up and puts on a pedestal. This is the person who Jesus says to the disciples: be like her. That would have been shocking and completely unexpected. Jesus calling us to be weak, vulnerable, and impoverished and to give from that place.
That sounds pretty radical to me. Jesus sums this whole thing up in this way, he said, ‘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.’
There was a tremendous amount of faith, love and intention that prompted her gift. It meant something to her in a way that the gifts out of the abundance just didn’t.
One of the things that Jesus teaches over and over and over again in the gospels is that the heart space behind our actions matters. In fact, Jesus teaches us that it is our heart space, our intentions that matter the most. He calls us to live with our hearts constantly in the right alignment with God’s will for our lives.
He calls us to examine our lives and allow God’s love to fill our hearts first so that our actions in this world can flow from this place of love and grace. In other words, Jesus says that our spiritual life is an inside job turned outward. It is a job of being transformed in love inside the very depths of our beings which then is turned out in how we live in this world.
That’s what Jesus is uplifting about this woman and her offering. She offers more than all of those other large gifts and huge amounts of money because she offered her entire self to God, for God’s will to be done in and through every single aspect of her life. She offered more than everyone else because she turned her will and her life over to the care and love of God.
Jesus says, see that woman, be like her.
So today is Thanksgiving Sunday as well as Consecration Sunday. One thing we know in our faith is that generosity is intimately linked to gratitude. When we are grateful we are not living in a mindset of scarcity, a mindset of there isn’t enough. When we are grateful we can see more fully all of the abundance we have in our lives and we remember all that we have received. When we are grateful we remember that the blessings we have in this life don’t come from our effort, they aren’t earned but they are received as a gift of God’s grace.
Pastor and writer Fredrick Buchner described the gift of grace in this way:
“Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth. A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace….The grace of God means something like: “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.”
Gratitude flows out from us when we remember that God is grace and that grace is bestowed upon us continually. This week many of us will celebrate and give thanks around a meal with friends and family. We will eat, we will talk, we will laugh, we may even get into any argument with that family member who votes differently than we do about the mid term elections.
We celebrate this holiday with family and friends because this time we spend together is holy and sacred. It fills our hearts to the brim with love so that we can be poured out in loving service for our neighborhood and our world. There is a spiritual power in our gratitude, it humbles us, it inspires us, it grounds us.
And because of this today is the perfect day for us to consecrate our pledges for 2019 to God’s use and work through this congregation here in Mt. Healthy. If you haven’t yet filled out a commitment card or if you forgot yours, there is one in your order of worship and you are welcome to fill it out now.
Every pledge matters. Every single one. No matter the size. Every single gift matters because our spiritual practice of generosity, our giving out of love and hope for all that is to come, it transforms our hearts and our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. Because what really matters most is what lies behind the gift, a willing and loving heart ready to be transformed.
In just a few moments we will come forward and place out pledges, our commitment cards into the basket. I invite you to do this prayerfully, to do this intentionally, to allow this ritual action to bring your heart, our hearts, into alignment with our God who is self-giving love, who gave of himself by coming to be with us in Jesus Christ, forgiving, whole making love made flesh. Amen