Sermon – November 9, 2003 – Giving Our Best

I know that you can’t see this, but I have shared this with some of

you. This is a widow’s mite. A lepton, it was called. A very small

brass coin, the smallest coin in use during the time of Jesus. It wouldn’t

buy you much. It would take four of them probably, to buy a loaf of

bread. You might be able to buy a piece of fruit with a lepton. Two of

these was all the widow woman in our story had and she threw them into

the temple treasury. The money that was put into he trumpet-like

receptacles at the portico of the temple was to support the structure of the

synagogue, to pay the scribes and other temple workers, to maintain and

improve the grand temple building so central to the faith of the people

of Israel, to support even the Jewish political structure that

functioned by permission of the Roman government.

Two lepta would make no difference to the ability of the temple to

carry on its mission. It was a meaningless amount in the scheme of things.

Here is the ragged, poor widow being compared favorably to the rich who

put in rather large sums of money. Their contributions made a

difference to the temple. They were of some significance. But as Jesus sat

and watched the procession of alms givers, he called the disciples’

attention to the widow. He wanted the disciples to understand. He said

she had given more than all of the rich men. This woman only had two

small coins and she gave all she had. here is the ragged widow being

lifted up by Jesus to a place of honor, given as an example.

That was the place that the scribes aspired to, coveted, expected. The

place of honor. Ostentatious in their long robes. Given certain perks

and prerogatives because of their position. Places that they assumed

which created and sustained a hierarchy, a pecking order, based on the

assumption that those in higher places deserve more honor than those in

lower places. Part of the problem in taking such positions is that it

becomes important to sustain that appearance and that for which you are

given honor is put under the need to sustain the appearances of status.

It think part of the scribes and the rich people in this text was that

they put on the appearance of self-righteousness. “Look at me.” In

contrast, the widow’s two little chinks as she tossed her coins into

other containers probably resounded in their paltriness.

Yet Jesus lifts up the widow because she gave all she had.

This is not a message about parting with all of your money. If you

cast yourself into poverty you will be sanctified. That is not the

message. If that were the case, I would call each of you in this

congregation to empty your pockets into the offering plate, drop in the titles to

your cars, the deeds to your homes, your CDs, insurance policies and

jewelry. The little jar you have in the closet for emergencies, all of

that would go in because in doing so we would all be saints and martyrs,

a bunch of holy poor people, self-satisfied with our dramatic gesture.

If money was the point of this story, that’s what I’d ask you to do.

But what kind of a God demands that we impoverish ourselves our

families, endanger our lives and those of our families? What kind of God

would demand a widow’s last coins and then send her on her way to

inevitable suffering? This would be a selfish God who demands that we endanger

our lives in order to please him.

But that is not the kind of God we serve, not the kind of God revealed

in Jesus Christ.

To make money a means of salvation, is to replace the one who gave

himself for our sakes.

As Jesus sat and observed, he wasn’t counting coins, calculating

financial contributions. It was a larger picture that he reveals. This

woman gave all to God, in faith, and for that she is commended. It was

all she had to give. One lepton was just as meaningless as two, but she

did not withhold it. She gave them both, in gratefulness. Remember

that old Beatles song, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Can’t. Not salvation,

either. In this story the characters are giving from the gifts they have

received, some meager, some abundant. It was no big deal for the rich to

give up some of their money, while the widow woman gave her life.

This is a story of the widow’s faith, her humility, her gratefulness.

To live in Christ means to shift into God’s domain that which is dear

to us, important to us. Our gifts. We take the place of the rich when

we reserve to ourselves the best of us, to benefit ourselves, when we

reserve that for our own security, for our own benefit and comfort.

When we reserve the best of ourselves to ourselves, we are acting like the

rich people in our lesson today. The example of the widow is to give

over that which is dear to us to God, to shift it into God’s domain, to

put it at the disposal of the kingdom.

The widow gives her life because that’s all she has to give, it’s all

she can do.

A life in Christ calls us to give to God, not the least we can to, but

the best we can do. The rich in this story were not doing the best

they could do. They were shoring up their position. The scribes were

using their gifts for their own benefit. The widow gave her life, the

best she could do.

What is the value of one life in the kingdom? The shepherd would

leave the 99 to find the one. The value of one life is of infinite value

to the kingdom of God. The kingdom doesn’t use the same math as the

market. The ethic of the kingdom is not to cut its losses, but that each

life has value, that none should be lost. This woman lived is though

her life had value in the kingdom. To give our best to the kingdom is

to act out of the faith God has given us in Christ, and it gives us the

power to change in the name of Jesus Christ, to improve the prospect of

the proclamation of the Gospel, to lift up those whose lives do not

seem dear to them . . . or to us.

What is the value of one life to the kingdom? It is of infinite value.

We have to take one more look at this story. Jesus is in Jerusalem,

the place of his betrayal, his trial, his crucifixion. The widow gave

all that she had and Jesus is saying, “Pay attention to this. It will

help you to understand what it is that I will do.” What is the value

of one life? He gave all that he had, his whole life, on the cross that

our lives might be of infinite value to God.

That is the best that we have to give. The best that we have.

We are moving toward Consecration Sunday, next week, when we make our

commitments to share our resources with this congregation. You know

that our stewardship program at St. Matthew is not about ‘making the

budget’, as delightful as that is when it happens, but it is about how

important it is to our spiritual maturity to give back some of what God has

given us. It is to recognize the gift that God has placed in our

lives, and to return a portion of that in gratefulness. This is not to buy

our salvation, but to nurture our faith and enhance our spiritual

development as we help to sustain the community through which we express our

faith.

Are we giving, each day, the best of ourselves. Are we as a church

giving the best of ourselves to the community of faith, to the gospel?

Are we as individuals giving a our best to God? That’s the question we

have to address always.

Let’s grant each other a moment of vanity, shall we? Think of

something that you are good at or possess, something that you have that could

further the kingdom of God, that could spread the love of Christ and

the healing power of his word. Think for a moment what you have that you

know is special. You may have a particular talent, or means, or gift

of grace or understanding. Are we giving the best of that to the

kingdom of God, in grateful and humble response to the one who gave all he

had so that our lives would have infinite value. Are we giving the best

out of our means, are we giving the best out of our talents, are we

giving the best out of our love, out of our understanding, out of our

compassion, out of our faithfulness? Are we giving the best out of our

lives to the kingdom of God? Not so that we can be like the scribes

seeking the places of honor for our efforts, but in humble gratefulness for

all that we have been given. How are we doing? How can we do !

better in response to the gift of grace? What can we do to give our

best?

The widow in our story gave all she had because that was all she had to

give. Given willingly, faithfully, relying on God’s graciousness. May

she be our example.

Amen

Copyright (c) 2003 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus