I Kings 17:9-16, Mark 12:35-44
November 9, 2008
You gotta love homonyms! Homonyms are words that sound the same! I often wonder how confusing that must be for people trying to learn or understand English! I’m sure all languages have homonyms, and I’m sure they’re just as confusing in whatever language. Because so much of any language is context. You know the word someone is using because of how it fits into what they’re saying. For example, if I simply said the word “there,” you wouldn’t know which “there” I meant unless you heard the rest of the sentence. “I went there to have their pizzas because they’re the best.” (That’s a sentence with three different ‘there’s.)
Well, today I’m using a couple of homonyms. And these are special homonym as well, because this is also an oxymoron! I think you know what that means. And oxymoron is a two word phrase in which the two words have the opposite meaning. Oxymorons are things such as “Jumbo Shrimp,” or “Military Intelligence,” “resident alien,” or one of my personal favorites, “Microsoft Works!”
Today in my homonymic oxymoron, I’m using two different spellings of the word “mite.” And I’m referring to this story in Mark’s Gospel which has often been referred to as “The Widow’s Mite.” This is the story of this poor widow who gave to the treasury this small coin – which was called a mite. That was the smallest of their coins, but it’s power – it’s might – was great!
Now, before I go any further, I want to make this disclaimer! By using the story of the “widow’s mite” I’m not making any suggestions, on this Stewardship Sunday, as to the amount we should be giving! I’m not suggesting that like this widow we too should give only the smallest of coins! I’m sure there are those on the Stewardship committee who were sweating that one!
What I am suggesting here is that this oxymoron is true. There is might in the mite! In other words, the smallest gifts have great power. Especially when given in great numbers! Jesus recognized this, and he pointed that out to the people around him. There was power that day, in the sacrifice made, and the spirit in which the widow’s gift was given! That’s what I want us to think about as we dedicate this day our Stewardship pledges.
This past Tuesday evening – election Day – I was in Times’ Square. And you can just imagine how crazy that was! (And for those of you who might be worried if I did my civic duty, yes, I voted before I left!) Well, being in Times Square, and being in New York City, you can probably guess what the vast majority of the people there were hoping the outcome would be that day. And you can probably imagine the craziness when that became a reality. (Am hope I’m being “politically neutral” enough here! I don’t want to bring my political preferences into this!)
Later that night, I did watch the concession and victory speeches. And I only did so because I knew they were going to be the first speeches in a long, long time that would not be tearing people down! (I haven’t been able to watch any speeches for months now because of all the negativity!) Well, in his victory speech, Senator Obama said how the victory that day belonged to the people, especially to the multitudes of those of little means who scraped together what little they could spare because they believed in the cause. Again, I am not telling my political preference in this, but I am asking us to think about the importance of that thought. It is the many people, in any important cause, that is the strength of that cause. That’s what this country is built on!
If you’ve ever known anybody in Fund Raising, they’ll tell you that it’s important to identify and approach the “large donors.” And certainly there’s merit in that. And that’s wonderful. (We love you, large donors!) But again, the strength of any fund raising campaign is always in the numbers. The more people you engage, the more successful the program. And that’s so important in the church! All of our gifts, no matter what the size, are important in the Stewardship of the church. And there are several important reasons for this.
For one thing, everyone taking part in the Stewardship of the church makes everyone feel like they’re part of the team. It makes them feel like Stewards! And that’s the idea! When we give of ourselves, it makes us engaged in the process. When we support something, we put ourselves into it. And that’s always important in the church. As you’ve often heard me say, the church “doesn’t work” when it’s people are standing on the sidelines and doing what I’ve often called “the minimum of faith.” As I’ve been saying all along, we all need to be involved – in all ways! As I said just a few weeks ago, even our very presence makes a huge difference! As I said then, (and I’ll say again!) we should never think, “It’s not necessary for me to be at something at Church.” or “It’s not that important that I go.” It’s always important – to all the people there!
The other important part of this story has to do with the “life-situation” of this widow, the “Zietsenleiben,” as we used to say in seminary. (I thought it would be a good time for a pretentious German word!) To be a widow in that time and place was very difficult. They didn’t have life insurance or retirement plans in those days. And to be a widow, to lose a husband, meant losing all their income. Unless a widow had family to support her, life was very tough. Throughout the Old Testament there are passages that taught the people that they should help widows. For instance, farmers were told not to harvest their fields all the way to the edges, but to “leave some” standing for the “widows and orphans.” But in spite of that, widows were usually very poor. Earlier, we read the story of Elijah and the Widow of Zaraphath, and the same was true for her. She was barely surviving.
For Jesus to recognize this woman in the Temple to be a widow, was to know that she was in a bad state. Then when he observed her giving this small gift, he recognized that what she gave represented “her whole living” (or something like that) And Jesus honored her for the sacrificial way she gave of herself! He told the people that she sacrificed in ways none of them could have imagined. He said that she put in more than all the rest! This was sacrificial giving to the highest degree. And when we think of our own giving, we should think about our own level of sacrifice? We should ask, “Do we truly give to God our ‘first fruits,’ as the scriptures call us to?”
I want you to notice something else that’s very important here! I want you to notice that, despite his knowledge of this woman’s life situation, Jesus didn’t tell her not to give her gift. He didn’t tell her to take the money back. He didn’t tell those who were in charge of this “collection” to give it back to her. He honored her gift. He honored her sacrifice – even though he was often critical of those religious leaders who took advantage of such people! Jesus often blasted those who burdened the people with their giving requirements. Jesus turned the tables of the money changers and those who bought and sold in the Temple because they were bilking the people in the guise of the giving of offerings. But even with all of that, Jesus honored this widow in the way she gave of herself. When he saw this great sacrifice, he honored the spirit in which it was given. Because Jesus, as he often did, looked on this woman’s heart. He knew her sincerity. He knew the love with which she gave of herself. He knew the devotion that gift represented! And he saw the great power that was there! This mite was indeed mighty!
As we think today about this woman who’s story has been preserved now for thousands of years, we should be compelled to look to ourselves. Do our gifts represent our hearts? Does our giving reflect our sincerity, our love, and our devotion? That’s always important because, as I said before, God looks on the heart. He’s always interested in the spirit of our gifts. And for too many people in this world, and sometimes even in the church, giving is more a matter of obligation, guilt, and even resentment. And we know that God cares about our attitude. And we are called on to choose our attitudes. And that’s not easy, living in a world that says we can’t help what we do, we can’t help what we think, and we can’t help who we are! God says we can and we should!
So, as we dedicate our pledges today, let us think of this poor widow. Let us remember her gift. Let us remember the “might” of her “mite.” And let us know that our gifts – our sacrifices – are honored by God. Let us strive to give our gifts in the right spirit. Let us know that each one of us matters to God. Though we may be small and weak and even poor by some of the world’s standards, still we are mighty by our faith, we are strong as we join our hearts and minds and our means, as the body of Christ here on earth.
In that spirit, may we dedicate our Stewardship pledges we make this day. And may we join in prayer and in joyful thanks for all that God will do in us and through us as we seek to grow closer to him and to live our lives in his service.
Eternal and ever living God, look upon our hearts, and help us to see where we can be more fully devoted to you. Help us grow in our ability to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. Bless us, we ask, in all our efforts to be your people here in this time and place. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.