Sermon for November 11, 2018 (Sorry, due to technical difficulties, the video is unavailable this week.)
The holy gospel according to Mark, the 12th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
8As [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.”
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We hear stories about poor widows today. In the times of the Old and New Testament, being a widow nearly always meant you were poor. It meant that your voice was not heard. Your opinion and your needs were not considered when important decisions were made. If you were mentioned in a story, your name was left out. Yet, throughout the scriptures, God sees the widows and commands the people to care for them.
I would like to share some stories today from the perspective of four widows. The first is the widow in today’s gospel story. The second is a widow I met when I served Tema parish in Tanzania. The third is a widow who lives in Indiana. The fourth widow could be from anywhere in rural America.
I am going to give these anonymous widows names, and add details as I share their stories.
My name is Joanna and I live in the city of Jerusalem. My husband died a few years ago. I still have the small house that we lived in while we were married. We had a son, but he died when he was little.
I was already past the age of child-bearing when my husband died. That is why I did not have to marry my husband’s younger brother. I am glad for that and I am sure his wife is relieved. They help me when they can, but they have their own family to take care of and I understand.
I have a small plot of land with a little garden. I also glean from the fields after the harvest and get some grain to use for my bread. We didn’t have rain when we needed it this year, so it has not been a good year for the crops. I pray next year the weather will be better.
I went to the Temple today to pray in the court of the women. Before I left home, I took out my last two small coins that I had safely hidden, so that I could put something in the offering. I don’t often have money, but I was able to save these coins from selling a few vegetables this week. It’s all I have, but God will provide.
As I entered the Temple Court, I went to the end of the line of worshippers. I could see the Temple scribes at the front. They have beautiful long robes. How well educated and important they are!
There are many other rich people in front of me in line. There are thirteen different donation chests in the temple court, all labeled with the purpose for the offering. The well dressed rich people make a big show of their offerings, putting many coins in each chest. All those coins make a loud noise as they rattle in the brass chests. I think God must be very pleased with them and their generosity.
I put my two little coins in one of the donation chests. I am sure that no one heard the sound of them or even saw me. It is embarrassing how little noise they make. I like to come here to pray, but I come alone and no one notices me. I wonder sometimes if God even sees me or hears my prayers.
Jesus sees Joanna! He saw her and he told the disciples that her gift was far greater than all the gifts from the rich people, the ones who made a show of their offerings. Jesus valued her gift, no matter what the others at the Temple thought. Jesus recognized the dignity of her offering.
My name is Esther and I live in the village of Tema in the Hai district of Tanzania. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Kilimanjaro from my house. I am 55 years old. After my husband died 10 years ago from malaria, I took work whenever I could get it, cleaning and cooking for people in the village. Then, after only 2 years, I got sick and I lost my eyesight.
My oldest daughter took me into her home. She and her husband have a little 2 bedroom house for themselves and their four children. I sleep on a mat on the living room floor. I am not much help with the children, but I do the best I can to help my daughter and not be a burden.
I am trying to help the children learn a few words of our tribal language, Chagga. Everyone is speaking Swahili at home these days and learning some English in school. I am so glad the children can go to school, since my parents couldn’t afford the fees for me.
My favorite time of the week is Sunday morning. I love going to church with my daughter and her family. The singing is the best part. Once a month we sing hymns in Chagga.
The choir and the congregation sing during the offering time, too. The elders put the baskets up front and the people walk up to put in their money offerings or some offering from their garden, like bananas or avocados, or even eggs from their chickens.
Since I can’t see, my daughter waits until near the end of the line to help me walk up there. I don’t have any thing to give. My back is to the congregation, so they can’t see that I just pretend to put something in the basket each week.
Jesus sees Esther!
When I was serving as pastor at Tema Parish, I sat up front during the offering, and I could see Esther and her daughter come up every week. I was the only person in the church who could see her, but Jesus saw her. She didn’t have to do what she did. She could have just sat there in the pew and no one would have minded.
Esther’s gift was walking up front and showing everyone that the offering matters, that we give out of thankfulness for all God has given us. Even a poor blind widow can be thankful to God for her life.
My name is Elizabeth, but I go by Liz. I live in Indiana now, with my son and his family. I am Burmese, but our country is now called Myanmar. I haven’t been home for a long time and I will probably never be able to go back. We were refugees in Thailand for many years, waiting for approval to enter the United States. My husband died while we were there.
I struggle to say a few English words. That’s why I love my church so much. They are all people like me and they sing and pray in our language. It is the only time all week when I can get out of the house and really talk to people.
My church has a basket in the entryway. There are envelopes in there with a dollar in each one. If you don’t have any offering, you can take one and put that in when it's time to go up front. They don’t want anyone to be embarrassed when we go up front to put in our gifts.
I always have to take one of those envelopes. I try to take it when no one is looking. I wish I had something of my own to give.
Jesus sees Liz. He blessed her with a loving church family who provided for her so that she could feel a part of the whole worship service, so that she could have dignity and self-respect.
My name is Lois and I live in rural America. It doesn’t matter where, I could be your neighbor. I hate that I have to call the food pantry. I hate that I have to go there. I used to believe that everyone who worked hard could take care of themselves. I used to believe that only lazy people asked for help.
My husband and I got along OK. We didn’t have much, but we could eat and pay our bills every month. But then, my husband got sick. He was sick for a long time before he died. Medicare didn’t pay for anywhere near all of the bills and I had to quit work to take care of him. The medical bills took everything we had.
I hate that I have to ask for help, but this social security check only goes so far. The only place I can afford to rent doesn’t have much insulation, so the utility bills are terrible. I can’t risk having my lights and heat cut off, so I had to call the food pantry.
I told them I can’t pay them back with money, but I said I would volunteer down there a few hours, whenever I can get a ride.
Jesus sees Lois. He loves her and values the gift of her time, given to help others. He blesses her for her care and concern and her compassion for those who find themselves in need.
These widows all wondered if God saw them, if God even noticed them. They wondered if their small gifts of money or time or even their gestures in place of a gift mattered at all. They wondered if things they did ever made a difference.
There is good news for these widows and for us. Jesus sees them and Jesus sees us. No matter who you are, no matter how small you think your gift is, even if your gift is only a gesture, even if no one knows your name, even if no one notices you at all - Jesus sees you.
Jesus recognizes you. Jesus calls you by name. Jesus values what you do. Jesus gives you dignity.
What gift do you have? Is there something you feel isn’t worth giving because someone else has more to give? Is there something you feel you shouldn’t volunteer to do because someone else might be better at it?
Jesus sees your circumstances. He is with you in the midst of all your struggles and challenges. He knows the pain of all those who are discriminated against because of their ethnicity or their language or their gender or their marital status.
God sees even the smallest gifts, the smallest gestures and gives them dignity. God says that your salvation doesn’t depend on giving a loud noisy gift or two tiny mites. God will use whatever you give to proclaim the good news that Jesus loves you enough to go to the cross for you. Jesus loves you enough to rise from the grave for you.
Jesus honors your gifts and he honors you. He invites you to really see your neighbors and honor their gifts, too. Amen.