The Widow’s Mite. That’s the name for this morning’s Gospel as you ought to know after a few years in the church. This is the day when we tell you that giving isn’t something you crow about, it is something that you consider, that you plan for, that you take seriously enough to give an amount that matters to you, that has an effect on your life so that at least some of your trust is placed in God ahead of money.
That is today.
It is the day when we also ask that you prayerfully consider your gift to the church, your own Widow’s mite, so to speak, to think about what it is that the ministries of this church, the music and the outreach and the giving, what all of that means to you and what part of it you want to play.
That is also today.
We also, in our Hebrews reading from this morning hear about the great and once for all sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did not make the typical priestly sacrifice of blood that was not their own, the sacrifice that must be repeated over and over to remain effective for the forgiveness of the people, but instead poured out his very own blood, making the sacrifice effective for all time. I assume that this is given to you in the context of “look how much Jesus gave, you can probably give a little more, right?”
And then there’s the very unsubtle reading from Kings where we learn that even in desperate times, it is through giving that we receive, it is through generosity that life itself comes upon us. The jar is not emptied and the jug of oil does not fail and renewal of life is yours when you give.
That is also today.savior
These are proud and traditional pieces of scripture and they have been used to greater and lesser effectiveness over the decades and even centuries to encourage giving mostly by making the sacrifice of Christ look huge and the giving of people look paltry in comparison, after all who are our examples, the Widow of Zarephath and the Widow in the temple, poor, on the edge of death, weak and faltering yet trusting in God or at least in the man of God in Elijah’s case, and in so doing, guaranteeing a good outcome for themselves.
It’s sort of the “It’s the least you can do” kind of argument, one that says, “well, you’re probably not going to lay down your life for the sake of the sinner like Jesus did, but you could certainly kick in a few extra bucks, right?”
Even the Psalm, that place I turn to when I don’t particularly want to preach the other scriptures seems to have let me down today; but then the Psalm is usually “Trust God above all else and things will be fine” and this morning is no different, singing to us “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”
Maybe it’s time to turn the script around a little.
First, let’s get this out of the way. God is bigger and better than you as is amply demonstrated in the person of Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of all creation. We’ll accept that as a given, right, we’re all on board with that one? Since God gave us literally everything in the act of making literally everything, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do if we ever expect to repay that.
If you only read this morning’s readings you could easily come to that conclusion. If you only read this morning’s reading you could easily come to the conclusion that you get back what you put in, that you receive in direct relationship to your giving.
Hey we could make this one of those fancy prosperity gospel churches and I could finally get the private jet I’ve never wanted. Let me see if I can get the voice right, give me a minute <adjust attitude> “All you need to do is to plant a seed, Jesus is calling you to plant a thousand dollar seed so that He can give the harvest He has promised. For nothing grows until the seed is planted, so unless you plant that seed, there will be no harvest and the will of the Lord is thwarted.”
I don’t know if you noticed there, and I assume that nobody does because those guys are all still in business, but I didn’t say God would give you the harvest, God would give a harvest. If you don’t believe me, switch to those channels mainline Christians skip over and watch for a half an hour. If you don’t come out thinking that Jesus can be bought, then we’ve done a good job here in the Lutheran Church but it is easy to see how people might be swayed.
I think that’s the danger behind this morning’s pericope, or periscope, as my spellchecker changed it to twice before I added pericope to the dictionary, the danger is that grace appears nowhere in the readings whereas it appears everywhere in the story of God’s love for us and to leave it out makes God just another huckster, looking to fleece the creation.
It makes all we do look paltry in comparison and asks us to identify with people we have little in common with. Sure some of you are widows, but few are penniless and none without resources.
We need to remember that Jesus didn’t come to save us like Arnold Schwarzenegger, in full heroic regalia and then ride off into the sunset. Sure Jesus came to do what we could not accomplish ourselves, lending His righteousness to us so that we might be free, but we are not helpless damsels in distress or, I looked pretty hard online for a male equivalent and came up with demoiseau in distress in the search for gender neutrality, it means a young man of gentle birth, not yet made a knight in French. Whatever the word, we are not that.
We are full and willful participants in our sin and recipients of unmerited grace in the life and death of Christ but there is no riding off into the sunset. We are still here, we await Christ’s return and until then there is still the world around us to manage.
Where are we to find the strength? We who are small and weak and can only merit God’s love if we pay for it?
How about we take today’s Gospel, the story of the Widow’s Mite (m-i-t-e) and change it into the Widow’s Might (m-i-g-h-t), the strength of the believer, the power to get up off of the couch and participate in God’s ministry in the world instead of waiting for it to arrive? What if we picked up the mantle that is the name “child of God” and acted in such a way that Christ might be reflected in us?
What is the characteristic of Christ’s offering that we can emulate since we can’t follow Him to the cross?
Maybe the Psalm is the redemption for this week’s scriptures. Verse five reads “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, 6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever,” and it is that last piece that catches the eye.
Keeps. Faith. Forever.
We are not called into fellowship and ministry once a week. We are not called into ministry and service for the years in which we have children in the congregation. We are not called into service and stewardship for the years after we retire, when we have more time. We are not called in the one true faith for the span of our own lives, but for the lives of all who follow us and who will take up our mantle when in death we lay it down.
Keep. Faith. Forever.
Jesus stood in a different place than we do and I don’t just mean geographically. From where Jesus stood the whole of time stretched out into the future, tens of millions of generations perhaps, people unborn beyond counting, all lost in sin, all lost to fears also beyond counting, all unable to claw their way to righteousness, to find their way home.
Generations long gone gave their sacrifices to god and still fear and death persisted and there on the cusp between yesterday and tomorrow Jesus knew there was only one way forward where we could be free, one way where we could find the mission and make it our own, where we could keep the faith forever and see as He saw it.
We are the faith of Christ for the future. Ours is the ministry, ours the mission, ours the inheritance from god, through Christ in whom we have our life as His body.
The widow’s might, (m-i-g-h-t) is that she sees beyond herself and into the ministry of God in the world. She knows that she is a part of something larger than herself and she knows that her power is found no matter her state in the works of her hands in giving, in the words of her mouth in proclaiming, in the trust in her heart that God is with her and so long as that is true, then the jar is not emptied and the jug of oil does not fail for the hand of God is with us.
It is not her weakness, her frailty, or the measure of her offering that is the measure of her faith, it is that all she has is her faith, not even the money is hers because of it. She is sustained by her faith not because she gives but because she believes.
She trusts and keeps faith forever.
If it doesn’t start there then it doesn’t go anywhere. It will not emanate from this people; it will not flow from this church if it does not first start with Christ.
Then your giving is not so that you can be saved it is because you are saved, therefore you see your giving moving beyond the walls of the church, to the people touched and helped by its ministries, to the people they encounter and beyond.
You do not know the impact. It is sometimes hard to see the change, it is often times disappointing and very frequently frustrating not because we do not know the will of God and cannot always see the way to take our part in it, but because so much calls us back, draws our attention away.
Maybe that is why the people in this morning’s readings are such poor and lowly people. Not because they are meant to represent us but because they are just people who have so little to distract themselves from what their faith calls them to do.
“‘tis a gift to be simple,” we sing, but seldom achieve true simplicity like the widow, not unless we gave everything away and I am not that naïve; but that doesn’t mean we cannot find the might she had, the faith to see ourselves as a part of God’s mission on earth, of God’s mission to all people.
It starts with Christ. It might actually be fun to see where it goes from there, it might not, but it starts with Christ. Let’s see where it goes.