Words from Our Pastor

Friday, November 16, 2018

Pentecost 25, 11/11/18: What Was She Thinking?

Sermon for Pentecost 25, 11/11/18                       Mark 12:38-44                     What Was She Thinking?
          A few days ago, sitting in my car in the Arboretum parking lot, focused on my phone, I was startled by a knock on the windshield and looked up to see a young woman who obviously wanted something. I opened the window. She said, “Can you give me $5? I need a place to stay tonight.” I probed for her story and got a few sketchy details. She’d been staying in hotels, working in fast-food, and had no car. She asked again, “Can you spare just $5?” I opened my wallet to find a $20 and some ones. Again she said, “Just $5, that’s all.” I counted out the ones—there were five. I handed them out the window to her. She said thanks and walked away.
Later, on the drive home, I got drowsy and pulled into a drive-through for some caffeine to keep me awake. My total for the Diet Coke was $1.07. I had no ones left. I handed over the $20—for a Diet Coke. Maybe that was God’s little “gotcha.”
At that moment I was not proud of what I gave the young woman who knocked on my closed window. What was I thinking?
I’ll tell you what I was thinking in that moment. While I fingered the bills in my wallet, I’d been rationalizing in my head: I don’t know anything about her. I can’t get enough information to make a good judgment. I simply don’t know what was up with her. I didn’t know the score.

I’ve been thinking about that decision up against the one the widow made in today’s story, and two differences have begun to take shape…
·      Unlike me, the widow knew the score. She knew where she stood, and she knew what she faced. She knew she was giving to an organization that was corrupt. And if she had heard what Jesus said earlier, she would have known exactly what he meant: “Beware of the Scribes….they devour widows’ houses.” She knew that. But still she gave everything she had.
·      Second, I had the power choose. I had the money that young woman at my window wanted, and in fact more. Out of my abundance, I gave her 5 ones instead of that $20. The widow had no big bill to put aside for herself, only those 2 coins—that’s all. And out of her poverty she gave it all.
What was she thinking?

In today’s culture, today’s economy, we may find it easy to look back at the widow and ask that question. We’ve been taught to calculate carefully, so as to have enough money to last till the next paycheck. Parents hope their kids will learn to save up and to guard their resources. So we might catch ourselves looking  down on those who can’t seem to budget or make wise financial decisions.
In short, this widow can rub us the wrong way. Her decision seems foolish, to toss her last means of support into the offering plate. No one in the Temple would have applauded her for that. In fact, no one would have looked at her at all. Having lost her husband and thus her identity and support, she would have become nameless and invisible. 
But not to Jesus. His gaze moves from the crowd putting their money into the treasury, then narrows to the rich people putting in large sums, and then frames her, only her, the widow, as she puts in two small copper coins, a penny’s worth. What she does matters to him.

If Jesus had not called the disciples’ attention to her, they would not have noticed her at all. But he does, not offering her as an example of poor planning or foolish extravagance. Not to ask, “What was she thinking?” but to note her unswerving commitment to giving what she has. He makes of her an example because in that moment she has chosen to give away her whole life.
What she trusted, the hope she held tightly to—that had nothing to do with the coins in her hand. Nor was it shaken by the corruption she surely knew was a ‘given’ among those who ran things in the religious life of the day. She was holding on to something more tightly than she held those coins. And Jesus knew what it was.
It was something money couldn’t buy and the world couldn’t corrupt. It was the promises of God and of God’s Kingdom.

Throughout the Bible narrative, many of those who held tightly to those things appeared to the world no more than foolish:
·      Mary, a child herself and with nothing to prove her worthiness, carrying a baby she claimed to be fathered by the Holy Spirit—foolishness;
·      David, the child-warrior who boldly trusted God to be his strength against the giant—foolishness;
·      Zacchaeus the tax-man, climbing up a tree to see Jesus go by and then offering half his own wealth just because Jesus noticed him;
·      the woman who very soon after today’s story, Mark tells us, will break open a jar of oil and pour it over Jesus’ head, oil that could have brought a fine price in the marketplace. It is an extravagant gift no more reckless than the one the widow gives in breaking open her whole life with one toss of two coins into a jar.
Judged ‘foolish,’ all these trusted fiercely in what they could not see, an abundance they knew only by faith. And all of them we still ‘notice.’ We tell their stories because of their trust and commitment and wholehearted faith.

The widow is today’s example. No wonder Jesus wants his disciples to notice her and learn from her. [I like to think he also urged them to help her, following the ancient command to the Hebrews to help the helpless, especially widows. Though the Gospel writer may well have valued that command, he did not choose it as his focus, but shined the light instead on her bold generosity and trust.]
And Jesus picks her out for that very reason, declaring her small gift to be worth more than the immensely larger ones others have given. But I wonder if he picks her out for another reason. Is he drawn to her because what she does—give away her life—is the same thing HE will do? In 4 days he will be dead—betrayed by Judas, handed over to his persecutors, condemned and stripped of his clothes and his dignity, tortured, killed. He will give everything, his very life.
What was he thinking?

I can’t go on here without remembering another person who gave his life away this past week in a panic-stricken bar in California. Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus rushed in recklessly, without hesitation, to save others, was struck by bullets and later died. And on this Veteran’s Day we remember many others in uniform who rushed in to stop the killing, to save others. Some of them gave their lives away. What were they thinking?

In his own holy and self-giving act, Jesus trusted what the widow trusted, and maybe those others did as well—an abundance, a power, a love deeper and richer than anything the world or even the church can offer:
·      It is that love for which she gave her 2 copper coins.
·      It is that love for which Jesus died.
·      It is that love to which we are invited to respond with our very lives, all that we have. 

May you do that with trust and commitment and wholehearted faith.