HEBREW BIBLE LESSON I Kings 17:8-16
GOSPEL LESSON Mark 12:38-44
SERMON: “The Widow’s Might”
There’s a story that has gone around the clergy magazines about one pastor who spoke to the church organist before worship and said, “When I finish my sermon I’ll ask for all those in the congregation who will increase their pledge by one percent to stand up. In the meantime, you can provide appropriate music.”
“Any suggestions?” the organist asked.
“You might try ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,” the pastor replied.
Art Linkletter had it right when he said, “People are funny.” And the longer I live, the more I realize that one of the things people are most funny about is money. Remember Jack Benny? Although he was in truth quit generous, in his comedy he was famous for being excessively stingy. One of his skits illustrated how money can become more important to us than anything else. Jack is walking along, when suddenly an armed robber approaches him and orders, “Your money or your life!” There is a long pause, and Jack does nothing. Finally, the robber impatiently asks, “Well?” And then Jack replies, “Don’t rush me, I’m thinking about it.”
People do strange things where money is concerned. Mark’s gospel tells us about the Pharisees and the teachers of the law questioning Jesus, and trying to trip him up with questions. And then Mark describes how Jesus observed some very rich people putting large amounts of money into the collection plate. Then a very poor woman came in and put in two small coins. The natural reaction is that what the poor woman put in was hardly of consequence, but Jesus, who has a way of turning things upside down said that her tiny gift was more than all the others, because it was all she had. She gave everything she had to live on.
There is nothing wrong with having money. I Timothy 6:10 warns against the love of money. Lots of people have misquoted Timothy and said the “money is the root of all evil.” What the scripture actually says is that the love of money is the root of all evil. There is nothing wrong with having money. Money isn’t just important, it is essential. We need money to provide shelter, clothing, food and medical care. We need money if we are going to get braces for our kids, have a dependable car to drive, get a good education, pay for doctors and medicine, and so on. Most of the last election cycle has been about money, who has it and who doesn’t. Who should give more, and what’s going to make our economy work so that we are all better off financially.
One of the things the church I served first after seminary wrote into their mission study was that they were looking for a pastor who would teach them about “stewardship” -- which is a Presbyterian euphemism for “how we handle money.” Within days of my settling in, several people -- trying to be helpful, I’m sure -- said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t preach about money.” Of course, as luck would have it, the day when I gave my first real stewardship sermon, that was also the day we had visitors. I was anxious that the visitors not judge the congregation or my preaching by that one sermon. I didn’t want them to think that all we did was talk about money, when in truth we rarely talked about money at all – at least not from the pulpit.
In the second church I served one of the active members of the congregation stopped in the office one spring morning. He was the man who used to just take care of all kinds of things behind the scenes; nobody knew half of what that gentleman took care of for that church. He wanted me to know that he was going to be out of town and would miss worship the following Sunday. “Oh,” I said half jokingly, “you’ll miss my best sermon – it’s on stewardship.” With all seriousness he responded, “O, we only do that here once a year – in October!”
Every church needs to talk about money. Jesus talked more about money than any other single topic. We need to talk about money in this church too.
Jesus told a parable about a foolish rich man, not because he had money. The rich man was called foolish because of what he did with that money. Money is an important tool for accomplishing our ministry, from worship to pastoral care, from missions to building up-keep. When the rich man in Jesus’ parable suddenly realized how much he had, he asked himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Now that sounds pretty good to many of us. The rich man decided to live the good life, to surround himself with nice things and take life easy.
As we mature in life we learn that true happiness doesn’t come from acquiring things and living high. Genuine happiness comes from relationships.
Jean Paul Getty was one of the richest men in the world. And yet, according to a book by Malcolm Forbes entitled What Happened to Their Kids? Getty was a dreadful father. When one of Getty’s grandsons was kidnapped, Getty refused to pay the ransom to get him back, reasoning that if he paid the kidnappers, then all of his children would get kidnapped for ransom. I can understand that reasoning. But the kidnappers were only asking for $1 million, which sounds like a lot to me, but it was an amount which was pocket change to Jean Paul Getty. Even if all fourteen of his grandchildren were kidnapped and ransomed for the same amount of money, he still could have paid it with ease.
Four months after the first ransom note was sent, the kidnappers cut off the boy’s right ear and mailed it to Getty. Finally, Getty agreed to pay the ransom. Even up to this point, even though I might have made different choices, I can understand his thinking. Where he completely lost me was in having finally paid the ransom, Getty insisted that his son, the boy’s father pay him back -- with interest. Now that was petty!
I sincerely doubt that J. Paul Getty’s money brought him any real lasting happiness. Happiness comes from sharing what you have with others. Genuine happiness comes from relationships. And our relationship with God is not the least of the meaningful relationships in our lives. There are many of you who get real joy out of supporting our church, and I want you to know that your support is sincerely appreciated. Some of you would cut back on your personal expenses before you would cut back on your giving to the church, not because someone is holding a gun to your head, but because you get real satisfaction out of taking part of God’s work in the world. Some of you are satisfied to know that you are in obedience to God’s Word through tithing – a church-ese word for giving in direct response to what you have received.
We can’t deny that money is important. Eventually we learn that it isn’t money, but what we do with it that makes us happy. The last thing Jesus wants is for us to allow it to become our god.
Henry Ford once asked an associate about his life goals. The man replied that his goal was to make a million dollars. A few days later Ford gave the man a pair of glasses in which he had replaced the lenses with silver dollars. Ford told the man to put the glasses on and then asked what he could see. “Nothing,” the man said. “The dollars are in the way.” Ford told the man that he wanted to teach him a lesson: If his only goal was dollars, he would miss a host of greater opportunities. He should invest himself in serving others -- not simply in making money. It is foolish to let money become a god.
But what happens if we get the dollar signs out from in front of our eyes? What happens if we use a set of standards not based on monetary values or worldly success ratings to view this text about a widow putting in all that she had.
-- We see a devoted woman not afraid to give all she has to God.
-- We hear Jesus proclaim that this widow has made a genuine sacrifice, has given her “whole life” because of her faith.
-- We look ahead to a vision of Jesus hanging on a cross -- making the ultimate sacrifice, giving his “whole life” for the sake of yet another bankrupt institution known as the human race.
If you blink hard, you can do it, too. It’s not too hard to understand that the widow’s mite is the might of love.
I’m sure most of Jesus’ audience didn’t like hearing what he said. It’s difficult to move from “my gift is big, and that makes me important” to “my gift is meaningful because it is sacrificial, motivated by my love for the Lord.”
Do I ask that when the time comes for you to fill out a pledge card, to put your two cents into the plate that you jeopardize your mortgage payment or your living expenses. I don’t. I don’t ask you to think about anything I have said this morning. I ask that you think about what Jesus said about the widow’s mite, and consider that her might was simply the might of love for the Lord.