Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sermon for the Twenth-Third Sunday after Pentecost, November 12, 2006

Oh my favorite topic once again! Actually that is not true. It is really one of my least favorite topics. But still for today, we get to talk about money. I suppose it is timely since the Vestry is once again working on the budget and we will soon to presenting that to the congregation and beginning once again our parish stewardship campaign.

And if we have to talk about money I think the first thing to share, is that God is great. St. Peter’s has been blessed this year once again, thanks to the generosity of many, many people.

So if things are so good, we do we keep talking about money. Well we keep talking about it because Jesus and the Bible keep talking about it. I forget now where I heard this and don’t remember the actual numbers anyway, but it was once told to me that the Bible speaks over 600 times about money in one way or another and less that 100 times about sex. And yet it seems in many churches in the world today we hear a lot more said about sex than money. That would indicate to me that something is wrong in our priorities.

And so we return to today’s story in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus sits opposite the treasury (or offering plate if he was here at St. Peter’s) and watches the crowd coming forward to put in their money. They are giving their gifts to God. Out of this crowd coming forward to give their gifts to God the author observes the rich people putting in large sums and then along comes a poor widow with two small copper coins which he tosses in. This poor widow is giving sacrificially. Jesus points out that she “has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” After this gift she literally didn’t have two coins in her pocket to rub together. It is this same level of giving that Jesus had called the rich young man to. To give all that he had to the poor and follow Jesus. And yet the response of the rich young man was to go away in sadness because he was wealthy. He could give all he had away and follow Jesus.

Now a more practical person, like myself, would, if giving something at all in this time of great financial crisis and need, might have convinced myself to give one of the two small coins and save the second for myself. After all, that is a gift of 50% of all that I would possess back to God. That is a very exceedingly generous donation.

But when you compare this donation to what the others were giving it seems like nothing at all to us. But it was definitely not nothing to Jesus. It was the most valuable gift given that day. This poor woman held nothing back from God. She was willing to give all to God. And she had to be demonstrating her trust in God at the same time. Widows and orphans were the most disadvantaged groups in Jesus time. She would have nothing to fall back on. She would have no one to depend on. So this woman turned to God. She gave all that the possessed to God with the expectation and trust that God would care for her needs.

This is not unlike the other widow we met today. This widow was ready to die. She had nothing left but enough to make one last loaf of bread for her and her son and then they would die. But Elijah called her to faith. Like the widow in Mark, Elijah called on this other widow to trust in God as well. She was also called on to give up all she had and trust in God. She did it and God provided for her needs.

To me this never seems the smart thing to do as I read these stories. To give up what I have in life and what I can control and instead trust in God is a hard thing to do and often seems just a bit crazy. And yet both these woman were able to do so. We know that it worked out well for the widow in First Kings. We never hear again about the widow in Mark.

How would have we responded if either of these women had come to us, asking for advice on what to do? I know that my faith would have been more lacking then theirs. I would have encouraged them to give to God, but not everything! I would have reminded that the standard goal for the Episcopal Church is to tithe, so even though it would be a sacrifice, I would have encouraged both to tithe. How much less my faith is than theirs is!

How do we apply these lessons in our lives today though. I’m relative sure that none of us here, including myself, is going to run out and give every last cent in our possession to the church. And just as it is hard to turn this into a lesson convincing everyone to give everything, it is also hard to turn it into a lesson about tithing. After all, all the other people in the story were most likely tithing and they get no recognition from Jesus at all. And it is very hard to turn someone who gave everything into a dutiful tither.

I think that the lesson we can take today is about control. I know for myself, I’m the kind of person that likes to be in control. The idea of turning control over to someone else, even God, is very difficult. All of us like to control that which is going on around us.

But these two widows were willing to give up that control. What is it in my and your life that we want to control and not give up to God. Each of us needs to examine our lives. Those areas which we refuse to turn over to God can become idols in our lives eventually controlling us rather than us controlling them.

Control. We want it. God needs it. If we are to be effective serving God in the world today we need to turn it all over to God. Just as those two poor widows were willing to do.

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