November 8, 2015
1 Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:24-28
All That We Have and All that We Offer
Use your imagination to enter the scene we have just heard read in the Gospel. Jesus is walking in the Temple and observing the people coming through its gates. He sees many coming and depositing money in the temple treasury. Wealthy people, some of them perhaps temple leaders, glide up in their long robes and fine dress, and deposit large bags of coins that make a heavy “clunk.” They talk busily among themselves, and many and don’t even see the poor widow walking quietly up from the side. Or some of them see her, but don’t acknowledge her, for she is one of the multitudes of the anonymous poor, so they think, and then they go about their “important” business. The widow gathers her simple cloak about her, weary from her day’s work, and takes out all the money she has left in the world, 2 copper coins, and with a prayer on her lips and in her heart, she deposits them carefully in the treasury. She doesn’t know where her next money will come from; yet somehow it seems important that she offer what she has to God, and trust in his provision. Her life has been hard, for in that culture, widows without family to provide for them were bereft and alone in the world. There has been suffering, there have been times of despair, but God has always been with her.
Why do you suppose Jesus draws attention to this scene? Here he is, arriving in Jerusalem for the last time, where he will be betrayed and will suffer death. He is trying to prepare his followers for his suffering,, and to remind them of the coming of the kingdom of God and the ultimate triumph of the will of God. Yet, he still has time to notice the details, to teach in story, parable, and observation. Here he is teaching his disciples, and us, the importance of humility. He is also teaching us that we must live out our faith in works of hospitality and mercy, and that we are called, like the poor widow, to give all of ourselves, what we have and, who we are, to God.
First, humility. There is a common misconception that humility involves thinking less of oneself, or putting oneself down. Actually, the root of the word humility is from the Latin word humus, which means ground, earth. A humble person is grounded, secure in the knowledge of his or her great value in the sight of God. Humble people can appreciate their gifts and virtues, knowing they come from God and accept their faults and shortcomings honestly and without shame. There is no phoniness and needing to be someone they are not. Secure in the knowledge of God’s great love, a humble person does not have the need to be the center of attention, or to lord it over others. This arrogant behavior is what Jesus is calling attention to in this story. The religious leaders who crave the recognition and deference of all, who long to be lifted up as important, lose sight of their dependence on God and their responsibility to others. They become blinded to the needs of those around them, showing outward signs of piety, but “devouring “widow’s houses and their living.”
I think we can agree that our culture does not promote humility! I recently saw a bumper sticker that said: “ He who dies with the most toys wins” I thought to myself, what a commentary on the competitive, self-aggrandizing part of our culture. In advertising, social media, and in our institutions, we encourage people to be number one, to succeed at all costs, to promote themselves. This goes well beyond a healthy self-regard and pits people against each other, and blinds us to the call to be sensitive and compassionate to the needs of others. Humility, as taught by Jesus, is a much needed antidote to arrogance. Humility teaches us that there are limits to our human ability and power. Humility reminds us that we are but dust, and to dust we shall return. Humility teaches us to let go of our own limited human perspective, and to see the world from God’s perspective. There is a wonderful quote, and I’m not sure of the source, but it sums it all up. It goes: Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
This Gospel lesson also teaches us the importance of harmony between our faith, our words, and our actions. We can pray and attend church regularly, we can come up in this pulpit and preach beautiful words, but if we don’t live out what we preach and believe in acts of justice and mercy, our words are hollow, false, and accomplish little. Jesus tells us that our faith and our words must be reflected in our actions. It is not acceptable to offer long prayers and proclaim piety while letting poor widows suffer. It is not enough to conduct beautiful liturgies that bring comfort and solace; we must inspire people to extend the circle of God’s love to everyone, particularly the lost, the lonely, the poor, the forgotten. We cannot practice our faith for ourselves and our church community alone, or it will grow stagnant and die. We are the living body of Christ, and we need to be his hands, feet, mind, and heart in the world. We are indeed called, as written in the book of the prophet Micah, to “do justice, to love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8). If we live out our faith this way, it will turn this world upside down, just as it did in ancient times, and grace will run wild and free.
Finally, we are called to give all of ourselves, body, mind, and spirit to God in Christ. The widow in the story did not hold anything back. Though she did not know where her next income would come from, she offered all freely, trusting in God’s abundance. We are not to say, this part of my life, my church life, is what I will give to God, but ALL of it, my work life, my relationships, my decisions about vocation and money, the nitty gritty, I will offer all of it to God. We offer all of ourselves, our hopes, our fears, our joys, our gifts, our strengths, and our wounds and sins, to God, asking him to strengthen, heal, and transform us, and then send us out as bearers of his light in the world. We may feel at times like we don’t have much to offer, but we don’t have to depend on our sense of abundance but on the endless abundance of God. He will take our two copper coins and multiply them in his bounty!
It is also appropriate today that we remember and honor our veterans, who gave all of themselves, who held nothing back, in tireless and whole-hearted service to their country. Like the widow in the story, these soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women offered the utmost of what they had to God and to their country– themselves. They went off into the dangerous unknown, not sure if they would come back alive, and released everything they had, their hopes and dreams for the future,, their families, their very lives, into the care of God. Some of them were famous generals and commanders, many of them are the unknown multitudes who served with dignity, humility, courage, and unselfishness, and they are forever remembered by us and by God. As Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “it is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining for us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the “last full measure of devotion,” We also offer great thanks for all the living veterans, some of them right here in our congregation today, who by their sacrifice and courage have also given their” last full measure of devotion” to God and their country. We thank you, we bless you, we honor you, and we carry you in our hearts and prayers!.
Humility, acts of justice and mercy, wholehearted devotion to Christ- these things make the kingdom a present reality among us. There is a wonderful offertory hymn, “All That We Have, and All that We Offer, that goes like this:
All that we have, and all that we offer
Comes from a heart, both frightened and free.
Take what we bring now, and give what we need
All done in his name
We ask you to take our hearts, Lord, broken, frightened, free and loving, and fill them with your grace and compassionate love for our world. We open our hands and share our treasure, however humble, take it in your abundance, and multiply it. Speak through our lips, and love with our hands and hearts, and help us make your Kingdom come here on earth In Jesus’ Name, Amen.