“Giving”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

November 8, 2015 – The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 12:38-44

 

So much depends on context. So much depends on subtleties and nuances. So much depends on facial expression and bodily posture and tone of voice.

Today’s scripture reading doesn’t let us in on any of those details. The author of Mark’s gospel does not recount the subtleties and nuances of this scene. The tone of voice and bodily posture and facial expression employed by Jesus are not recorded in the Biblical witness—and so, as with so many details in our scriptures, they are left to our imagination.

How do you hear this story? What do you imagine was in Jesus’ mind and heart as he watched that poor widow drop her last two coins into the temple treasury? What do you think he wanted his disciples to see when he beckoned them over and pointed out the widow’s actions?

When Jesus spoke those words, was there pride and admiration in his voice? “All of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Was he holding her up as an example? Was he lifting up her sacrificial giving as the epitome of faithfulness? Was he belittling the contributions of the wealthy, who gave large sums but hardly felt the impact of their giving because the reserves they had left were still so vast? Was he saying that giving only counts when it is costly to the giver—a sort of “no pain, no gain” model of generosity? Was he calling for whole-hearted, whole-lived, complete self-offering? Was he asking his disciples to give everything they had, all they had to live on, for the sake of the movement and for the sake of God?

Or, when Jesus spoke those words, was there disbelief, lamentation, even anger in his voice? “All of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Was he continuing his critique of the scribes, the religious and legal authorities of the day, who padded their own pockets from the sacrificial giving of their poorest constituents? Was he questioning the ethics and morality of a society that pressured its most vulnerable members to pay far more than they could afford, to sacrifice their own well-being in order to sustain a corrupt institution? Was he telling a tragic tale of selfish leadership and exploited citizenry? Was he issuing a prophetic warning to those who profited off such an arrangement?

Or, when Jesus spoke those words, was there compassion and simple acknowledgement in his voice? “All of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Was he just pointing out the experience of one who would otherwise have gone unnoticed? Was he naming her need in order to inspire someone to fulfil it? Was he expressing his care for a person who did not have many people to care for her? Was he invoking God’s concern for the lost and the last and the least? Was he reminding everyone within earshot that God takes heed of our struggles and comes quickly to our aid?

Or, when Jesus spoke those words, was there sober recognition in his voice? “All of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Did he see in the widow’s self-offering a foreshadowing of his own path to the cross? Did he find in her actions inspiration for his own? Did he see her as a kindred spirit, a sister in suffering?

 

So much depends on context. So much depends on subtleties and nuances. So much depends on facial expression and bodily posture and tone of voice. Today’s scripture reading doesn’t let us in on any of those details. The tone of voice and bodily posture and facial expression employed by Jesus are not recorded in the Biblical witness but left to our imagination. There are many ways we can imagine this scene—and I think there’s truth in all of them.

It is true that the widow is a model of whole-hearted, whole-lived giving. It is true that we are called to commit ourselves fully to God—not just to dip our toes in, but to dive headfirst into God’s work, God’s will, God’s world.

It is true that the world the widow inhabited was not just, was not fair—and neither is ours. It is true that there is a serious ethical problem whenever the most vulnerable are made to bear the burden so that the powerful might live in the lap of luxury.

It is true that God cares in a special and powerful way for the ones who live on the margins, who often go unnoticed. It is true that God notices us—always, and especially when we are struggling.

And it is true that there was in the widow’s offering a sacrifice that echoes the self-giving of Jesus himself. Because here’s the thing about Jesus. He could have summoned the power of angels and archangels to defend him against the might of the Roman Empire. He could have protected himself from the fate that awaited him. But instead, he faced it head on. He took on the worst of the very worst that the world could do, and he showed that even that could not put a stop to the power of love.

Here’s the thing about God. God could have held on to the armor of immortality, the mantle of omnipotence. God could have remained lofty and transcendent. But instead, God sent God’s heart, wrapped in flesh, into the world. In Jesus, God came to live a mortal, vulnerable, fallible human life because God couldn’t bear to be separated from God’s beloved creatures, which is to say, us.

If there is one thing that is true about God, it is this: over and over and over again, God has given of Godself for the good of the world. God has poured Godself out in mercy and forgiveness and tenderness and care. God has given everything God had, and God will give it again and again and again, as many times as needed, until this world finds its fulfillment.

As people of God, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to this work of self-giving, too, and the story of the widow’s mite reminds us how and why. We are called to pour ourselves out, to make choices that are beneficial to our neighbors, even when they are costly to us. We are called to give wholeheartedly, to dedicate all our resources—our time, our talents, our abilities, our passions, our money, our material possessions, our very lives—for the good of the world. We are called to be a community where sharing by all means scarcity for none—where those who have more than enough give out of their abundance and those who have far too little receive what they truly need. We are called to be a community that is true to the gospel, true to the high calling of our faith—to be a city on a hill, a light on a lampstand, a beacon of hope for a world that sorely needs it.

There are so many ways in which each one of you individually, and all of you collectively, live out that high calling. And today, on this Stewardship Sunday, we celebrate one of those ways: the giving of our financial pledges to support the ongoing life and ministry of this congregation. Thank you to each and every one of you for the generosity you have already extended, and thank you for the generosity you will continue to extend as we grow together into God’s future while grounded in our past.

In just a moment, when the music begins, I invite you to come forward with your pledge card and place it in the basket here on the table. If you forgot your pledge card or did not receive one, there are extra copies tucked into the pew racks, and some in the Narthex as well. If you don’t see one in your pew, ask a neighbor in an adjacent row to pass one along. If you have already submitted your pledge card, it is here in the basket already and will be blessed along with all the others. If coming forward is a challenge for you, you’re welcome to give your card to a neighbor and ask them to bring it forward on your behalf.

Please come by way of the side aisles and return to your seats via the center aisle. As you come, we will sing the hymn, so you might bring your bulletin with you as well so you’ll have the words.

Friends, as you come, know this: whether your pledge is two copper coins or a much vaster sum, your giving is noticed and appreciated by this community and by God. Your giving is what makes possible all the ministries of worship and learning and service and care and hospitality that this congregation carries out. Your giving is what helps to transform our world into the world of mercy and justice and beauty and wholeness and joy for which God longs. And you just might find that your giving transforms your own life, too.

 


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