This is supposed to be Stewardship Sunday, for us it was a reminder of Mission Fest to come, a commendation for actions yesterday and some stories around the following scriptures: Mark 12:38-44, Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17 and Hebrews 9:24-28.Though that last one was not part of the service until the final song when we sang, “Coming Again.” Earlier we crooned to “All for Jesus” and “Give of Your Best to the Master.” The title was Widow’s Gift.
What a beautiful day we had yesterday. I am not sure how many of you went to the cemetery, but nature seemed to have its own version of service waiting there. When we got out of the vehicles, James and I watched to the west and there was a flock of Canadian geese all in a line circling to land on one of the lakes. You could also see pelicans already floating on the shore, and later, I think during the military part of the service, during a lull, you could hear cranes going high overhead, making that purring sort of call they have. It was really nice.
Later when James and I were home we did our last garden detail and dug the carrots. We ended up pulling out the last of the flower vines and dumping a few of the pots and you know that sort of clean up that goes on in a yard. As we were working, Paulina noticed the black birds behind the dike settling on the trees and the grass. James and I had seen a flock earlier in the morning and didn’t think much of it. She grabbed her camera and headed for the train bridge for a better shot. She took some pictures and even some videos. They have been coming ever since the soybean field on the east side of the creek was harvested. I suppose they are picking up the “gleanings” of the field. There has to be something there for them to show up in those numbers.
Our story this morning in the book of Ruth leaves out the part about gathering the gleanings. Ruth has been going out into the fields with other women of her helpless status and gathering the gleanings after the harvest. She began by going to the fields of Boaz and he was good to her. He not only welcomed her, he protected her from being taken advantage of by the men working there and he even gave orders that she was to be given a little extra, some intentionally dropped gleanings because he saw how she had been faithful to her mother-in-law, and Boaz wanted to help her in some way, not a total handout, but more of an extra hand-up.
As much as Ruth was doing pretty well in what she was gathering, Naomi knew that this would not be enough to sustain them for a long period of time, and she knew something would have to change in order for Ruth to have security, in order for both of them to have security. She understands that she and Ruth cannot expect to survive year in and year out on the gleanings that can be found on the fields after harvest. Naomi also knows that Boaz is a wealthy man and as a close relative, he might be persuaded to marry Ruth under the “next of kin” tradition.
Naomi even figures out what Ruth needs to do to capture the attention of Boaz enough to convince him to marry her. It is a risk what Naomi suggests, but she is concerned that Ruth needs a husband and so she tells her what to do, and it works. Ruth and Boaz are married and have a son. Naomi becomes the nurse to the son, and from this boy eventually comes King David. God rewards Ruth for her faithfulness to her mother-in-law, Naomi. These women were faithful to each other, and to their God and God rewarded them.
Our gospel passage today is also about risk. Jesus knows that he has entered Jerusalem for the last week of his life and that everything he is doing is under scrutiny by the leaders hoping to find a way or a reason to arrest him and have him eliminated. Jesus on that last week spent several days in a row in the temple. If you back up from where we read for today, you will find that he started that week by tipping over a few tables and telling them that they were turning the temple into a den of thieves. He also had some unkind things to say about many of the leaders in the temple as the days went on, and as he did so, they became angrier and angrier with him.
The verses we read in Mark today start out with him calling out the scribes. The Scribes were the experts on the scriptures. They were the academic scholars. They wore long robes and liked to have the best seats at important events. This description makes me think of judges or college professors or politicians even. At the least Jesus is calling out the people who have this air of self-importance about them.
The final verses of the passage are the central part of our message. It is the story of the gift that a poor widow came to give at the temple. Jesus had been sitting and watching what people were putting into the collection jars. He notes that many rich people came and put in large sums. He didn’t elaborate if their large sums were major parts of their holdings or just a small portion of what they could offer. He didn’t say anything negative against them, but it is in the story perhaps as a contrast to the widow’s mite/to the widow’s gift.
The kick comes when he sees the widow come and drop in two copper coins (each a mite). These two coins are the smallest denomination of money in existence at the time. In the end, in the grand scheme of things, those two coins won’t mean much in the temple coffers. They likely won’t be able to cover any of the bills on their own. But Jesus notes what those coins meant to the woman, not what the coins meant to the temple. Jesus notes that although those who were well off gave very substantial gifts that would do much to sustain the temple and its rulers, what the widow gave was worth much more in the eyes of God because it was everything that she had.
As this happened, Jesus called his disciples together for a teachable moment. He tried to explain to them that she had given far more than those who had put large sums into the coffers. I wonder if they understood. I wonder if it took until he had been betrayed and crucified before they realized the magnitude of what he was trying to teach them. The widow’s mite was greater in Jesus’ eyes than all those riches.
It was greater for two reasons. Well factually, it is greater for one reason, because what she gave was all she had. But I like to think that the other reason that counted was because she took a risk, took a leap of faith that if she gave her all, God would see her gift and reward her. We have no information on who the widow was, where she lived or what happened to her after the story.
In literature, you are taught that when no name is given it is an indication that it could be anyone, anywhere at any point in history. I don’t like those sort of stories, and I don’t think they have made much sense to me before, but I see why that anonymity is important. This woman is anyone, anywhere at any time. What is that adage, “but for the grace of God there go I.”? We probably don’t have that sort of concern among ourselves today, but some of us have likely faced some hard times stating out, or in lean years.
According to the information on our calendar in the office, this Sunday is Stewardship Sunday. I don’t ever remember celebrating or participating in a Stewardship Sunday in this church, and I will admit that I didn’t do my homework very well about it. The church in Jamestown tried hard to get something going in regards to it when we were members there, but it was never a real successful endeavor. Sadly, I don’t think it is a really successful campaign for many churches unless you are talking about a building issue. For some reason, those projects are a little easier to get funded, money for the building, adding on, fixing up—it must be our mentality.
So, I am not about to announce that we are working on a Stewardship program or a campaign fund drive of any kind, but we are just two weeks away from our Mission Fest, and it might be a good idea for us to begin considering our plans for what we want to contribute on that day, and perhaps even further down the road, what we are willing to consider for the future. I understand that this is not a comfortable topic, and I will confess to being the worst of all at this sort of thing. But I know that planning out your giving and giving intentionally is something that should be done.
I have thought about it, considered it, even talked out loud about it (once) to James, but well, there are other things to do, like clean up the last of the garden, or do the laundry, or run to an event, or …. Well, there are all sorts of things that push themselves into the way of sitting down and figuring out what resources I have that could be offered, so others might have better opportunities. Giving is one of the things that I realized several years ago I need to work on more. But it is not something I do enough because frankly I see it sometimes as a risk.
Today we read stories of risk; we also read stories of reward. We saw what happened for Ruth because she was willing to risk. Jesus tells us that the widow, who risked it all, was seen with great favor by God. We need to decide what level of risk we are willing to offer. But as we do, we should remember that the other word for the offerings might be talent. We offer not just our resources, but our talents, our abilities, our time.
I saw how we shared those talents yesterday in tribute to a fellow church member and friend. I saw all of the things that were done here as a community of believers. It was in everything from simply being here in support of each other all the way to helping with the food to the clean up to the music to the ushering and greeting to the technology in sound and moving people on the elevator to setting up and taking down here on the altar, to keeping me in line about following the order of service. This is a community of giving let’s keep that in mind as we prepare ourselves for an attitude of gratitude during Mission Fest in two weeks. Amen!