Sermon for 24th Pentecost -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
This morning I would like to talk about sacrifice and commitment, sacrifice and commitment.
Today’s gospel lesson from St. Mark (Mark 12:38-44), the well-known story of the poor widow who gave everything she had to God in her offering, a story commonly known as “The Widow’s Mite,” is all about sacrifice and commitment. And, it is almost too familiar for some of us. We know this story. It is not a coincidence that the folks who set up the lectionary readings put this text on the second Sunday in November, often a stewardship Sunday in Christian congregations. The widow is often held up as the stewardship example. She is the example of giving everything to God.
In this text Mark tells us about rich people who put large sums into the offering and a poor widow who put just two small copper coins, worth about a penny we are told, in the offering. Jesus then holds the poor widow and her gift up as an example since this widow had, apparently, given everything she had, even all that she had to live on, to God in her offering. The rich gave large sums, but their gifts came out of their abundance and were not sacrificial. The poor widow gave a small amount, but it was out of her poverty and was all that she had to live on. Sacrifice. Commitment.
Now I know the usual interpretations of this text – I have preached on it often, calling on my listeners to make a sacrificial gift to God, like that poor widow.
However, truth to tell, even the poorest among us here at worship are not at all like that poor widow. We do not and will not give everything we have to God. We do give, some very generously, out of our own abundance. That makes us, you and me, like it or not, like those rich people in Mark’s gospel. Our gifts are generally not sacrificial. They come from our abundance. Moreover, our lives are not even close to the life of that poor widow. We know where our next meal is coming from. We know where we will sleep tonight. The poor widow in today’s Gospel probably did not know either of these.
And the thought of putting everything that we have in the offering plate, every last penny, everything in our savings and retirement accounts, why that is just not even “on our screen,” so to speak, and is not going to happen here this morning, no matter what text commands or the pastor suggests.
In today’s gospel, the rich gave as if they were poor and the poor woman gave as if she were rich! If you do not feel condemned by that statement, you should. I know I do.
I have met this poor widow, or, at least, many like her, in my travels and ministry over the years. I have previously shared with you the story of the women who run the food kitchen at Divine Light Lutheran Church in Lima, Peru, how, out of their poverty, they feed hundreds of people in their desperately poor neighborhood six days each week. The ELCA World Hunger Appeal and Lutheran World Relief support the 38 volunteer women who provide 175 breakfasts and 150 dinners each day at Divine Light Lutheran Church. When the ELCA hunger funds run out, the women supplement them from their own meager funds. When Kris and I visited their congregation and soup kitchen one of the women leaders told us that, “In the midst of our own poverty we have solidarity with those who have even less.”
Many congregations take part in service trips to help people in need nearby or even far away. Some of you have shared with me stories of the service trips you have taken in the past. At least in my own experience, part of the appeal of these trips is that the people we come into contact with during these journeys seem to have a sense of faith and life in the midst of sometimes their abject poverty or a disaster that has destroyed nearly all their personal possessions that you and I do not have in the midst of our abundance. Somehow, possessions and money do not seem to hold them down or back. They can easily, like the poor widow in today’s gospel, and without a lot of reflection, give all of their meager possessions and assets away and not be burdened by them. The women Kris and I met at Divine Light Lutheran Church in Lima, Peru, understood this also. One of them even shared with me that she and her husband lived on his pension, about $29 US per month, and that they gave 30% of this amount to their congregation!
All this leads me to reflect that I believe today’s gospel lesson is a wake up call for us, or should be.
It is always easy to get caught up in “woe is me” feelings. A quick look at national and international news can give us much to feel bad about: Mass shootings, wars and fighting seemingly all around us, racism and so much more. Our sometimes our personal lives feel just as bad. You know the feeling. Woe is me. Woe is us.
Faced with such a time, I wonder what would the poor widow in today’s gospel text would do? Well, what did she do? She gave all of her wealth to God. She knew that none of it was her own.
Or, as one of the women at Divine Light Lutheran Church said to us that day we visited, “I am a widow. I put my faith in Christ. God gives us grace to share with others.”
God gives us grace to share with others. Perhaps that statement provides a key for us – “God gives us grace to share with others.” The life and experiences of the poor widow in today’s gospel or the women at Divine Light Lutheran Church are very far from our own lives and experiences. But, to all of us, rich and poor alike, God gives us grace to share with others. That’s God’s commitment to us. And it is a commitment sealed with the sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
You and I have been blessed with abundance. But, whether it is out of that abundance or out of poverty, God gives us all grace to share with others. Now. Today.
This is not a “cheap” grace, but a demanding one. The poor woman in our Gospel text is our example. God gave her grace to share with others and she shared it all, everything she had. God’s grace, God’s love and promise of salvation, is constant, but it does not “let us off the hook,” so to speak. God gives us grace. But, it is a grace to share with others.
So, what is it like for you? How are you sharing with others? What is your financial commitment to Mt. Olive? What about your additional gifts to help the poor and hungry? Your prayers? Your time in service to others?
When we look at today’s gospel lesson we know who we are in this story. We are not the poor widow. We are the rich people in this text. But, fortunately, by God’s grace and love, we are not condemned, but called to commitment and maybe even sacrifice.
God gives us grace to share with others. What is our response?
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
God give us grace to share with others
Sermon for 24th Pentecost
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
November 7/8, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California