38As Jesus taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.43Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For 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."
A few years ago I was working with a youth group at a church in Pittsburgh. We had a great location. The church was on a main street at a pretty busy intersection with a traffic light. People walked past on the sidewalk. That spot was a great place to make a statement about Jesus.
So, the kids and I decided that we would use the churches lawn to do something Jesus-y. Something to show the neighborhood the love of Christ. We decided to stand outside on a chilly day and pass out free hot chocolate and talk with the people went by.
The church members donated the hot chocolate and toppings like marshmallows, candy canes, whipped cream and mini M&M’s. But we also had some cookies to sell and put a can out for donations.
The kids were excitedly shouting out “free hot chocolate” to the passersby as teenagers will. Some people ignored them but many came up and took some hot chocolate. Some people took the free drink. Others threw in a dollar or two into the donation bucket. Church members stopped over and would toss in $10s and $20s.
Then, an old woman in a babushka came up and a hush came over the kids. She was obviously different from them. Her mouth was sunken in and she had layers and layers of clothes on. Taking the lead, I asked her if she would like some hot chocolate. I explained that it was free,
Yes, she nodded.
“What do you want on it?” one of the kids asked gently. She seemed bewildered by the question.
“Do you want some whipped cream on the top?” the young man tried again.
She nodded again.
As he was making her drink, she took out a tattered change purse. She had seen other people putting money in the can. As she opened her change purse I could see she literally had two coins in it.
She started to take the coins out to put them in the can.
“You don’t need pay for this. It’s free,” I said, touching her gently on the arm.
But she shook her head and dropped the coins in the can.
“Thank you,” I managed to get out. All of the kids said thank you as well.
The teens knew they had witnessed something radical and different. At that point, the kids started handing her anything they could from the table, bags of cookies, candies. Maybe it was out of guilt or a desire to help. Or maybe it was out of admiration.
I don’t know if the kids knew our gospel story of the widow who gives all that she has to the Temple treasury, but I did. I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit gave us a real life example of that on the church lawn that day. And so I’d like to share my reflections about what it taught me—lessons that we see in the gospel story today.
First, if we confine ourselves to what we call church, we miss out on witnessing God at work. In our reading Jesus tells us to beware of the scribes who love to hang around and be greeted with respect and adoration.
Beware of clergy who walk around in long robes, like this one.
Beware of the leaders who get the get the best and fanciest seats, maybe like these red velvet ones behind me.
Beware of preachers who say long prayers and have special parking places.
Umm…I think Jesus is telling you to beware of me!
Actually, I think Jesus is telling us to beware of the things we use to separate ourselves from one another—it might be a robe or a Walmart tag or a Talbots label or camo pants or a Brooks Brothers suit. We should not let the things on the outside separate us from one another.
I’ve been spiritually moved many times in church, but some of my most powerful lessons of faith have come from outside the sanctuary—like the one I just told you about. I am absolutely and utterly convinced that God has a sense of humor and messes with me. He seems send messages of faith in some of the strangest people and the most unlikely circumstances. So when someone comes to me with a bizarre or unusual circumstance, I stop and pay attention. Is the crazy man Jesus? Is the homeless woman and angel of God? Who knows?! It could be.
Second, our giving reflects our trust in God. I confess on this one it’s hard to follow Jesus. It’s hard to practice what I’m about to preach. Please know that there is a huge discrepancy between what I’m about to say and what I feel confidant doing in my own life. I can’t and I won’t judge you on what you feel you can give. Jesus will judge you, but I won’t. No, I offer this as an opportunity for reflection for all of us.
The call of Jesus is to give it all up. You can’t read the Bible and come to any other conclusion. In the Bible Jesus says this over and over and over. He tells disciples to drop everything and follow him. They didn’t go pack or grab a few dollars or say goodbye to their families. They went.
Jesus tells a rich young ruler that he is to sell all that we have and give to the poor. He calls the man who saves things in his barn a fool. He says we can’t serve God and money. Jesus applauds the widow who gives all that she has to live on. He teaches the disciples to pray for daily support, not prosperity and safety--give us our daily bread, our manna, that which we need to get through each day.
And so, I remind these lessons of Jesus to you and to myself as something to think about and pray about.
Third, even the poorest and most destitute people want to give something back. When I remember the woman who came for hot chocolate, I suspect that she knew that those two coins wouldn’t pay for her drink, but giving was her response to the offer of hot chocolate. It was her way of saying thank you—and truly meaning it.
By taking her meager offering we were including her in what we were doing that day. We saying you can participate, your gift is matters, too. It made her one of us, if only for a moment.
Finally, true giving happens when we give out of our poverty, not out of our abundance, for that is when we are relying on God.
On the hot chocolate day, some church members dropped tens and twenties into the can. For that I was grateful. We actually made almost $100 by “giving” away hot chocolate and that money was a great help to the youth group. But time and time again, I feel like true giving happens when we give something we don’t think we have.
For the widow in the story and the woman on the street it was money.
But for each us, it might be something a different. And so I invite you to reflect for a moment, where is your poverty? What part of Jesus’ call on your life is the hardest for you?
Do you feel like you don’t have enough money to give to help our church finances? Do you feel like you never have enough time to give for leadership? Do you feel like you don’t have enough Bible understanding to give as a teacher? Do you feel like you aren’t good with people or can’t say good prayers?
I was talking with a pastor friend this week and we were discussing the various aspects of ministry, which did we like, what are we good at, where can we improve.
And every preacher is different. Some are great in the pulpit and terrible at pastoral care. Some are great pray-ers with members who are sick or hurting, but terrible at talking to strangers about Jesus. But we are called to do all the jobs regardless of whether or not we are good at them. We are to serve in our richness and our poverty.
We show up in some of life’s hardest situations and pray that God will use us. Maybe it’s to witness the Holy Spirit teaching something about giving to teenagers. Maybe it’s to pray for someone as they die. Maybe it’s to speak in front of hundreds of people or point out the way people are sinning. Over time, we end up practicing all of these things.
But this isn’t just my call. Jesus doesn’t say this is the job of the scribes and clergy in their long robes and adoring followers. For Jesus, giving our of richness and poverty is the call of his disciples and followers, including you. Our call is to go and make disciples, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in jail, sell all that we have, give all that we have to live on, love our neighbors and our enemies, pray for those who persecute us. The Jesus Way of being a Christian is hard stuff. None of us can do it on our own.
But as the Apostle Paul reminds us, we can do all things through Christ. As Christians we can do this. Even when it seems like we can’t.
When we are giving out of our poverty, our hands might shake in fear.
Maybe it’s happened to you when you increased your giving and gave to the church before paying your other bills. Maybe it’s happened when singing or playing or reading in church. My hands and knees were shaking the first time I gave a sermon. Who am I to speak about God? Then, a mentor reminded me that I wasn’t in the pulpit alone, God was with me. I could trust that God insure the Word was given. I thank God each week for the work of the Holy Spirit who can interpret our sighs and groans and disorganized thoughts.
The first time I went to the subsidized housing plan for ministry, my hands were shaking and prayed telling God he had a lot of work to do because I was scared. I had a seriously impoverished spirit. I thank God for walking with me.
When I started work as a chaplain in the hospital I was angry and resentful that I had to do it. I did not want to face hurting and dying people day after day. But I did and I’m better off for it and I thank God for that opportunity to grow.
When we give from our poverty, we remember to be grateful. When we give from our poverty we give thanks to the God who gets us through.
When we give from our poverty, we grow in faith and trust. Some people, like the disciples took a leap of faith and left everything to follow Jesus. If you can do that, I encourage to!
But for most of us, faith is a journey that we take one step at a time. And so today, I encourage you to take your next step of giving your life to Christ, whatever that might be.
I invite you to open the tattered change purse of your own life and take out your coins of money, time, leadership, evangelism and offer them to God. Offer them with hands that shake a little bit, but offer them trusting that God is with you.
Offer what you have in thanksgiving to God who is faithful, forgiving and just. Give in response the God who gave up everything to be reconciled you through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our LORD.
A poor widow came to the treasury and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Jesus called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For 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."
Thanks be to God.