The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost: November 8, 2015
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
I speak to you in the Name of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
For those of you who are wondering, the stewardship committee had nothing to do with our lectionary readings today.
Show of hands, how many of you after hearing today’s gospel are thinking, “Yes, right on Jesus. I’m going to post every word of this on Facebook!”
Mark’s gospel unsettles us. I mean, let’s be honest, whenever Jesus talks about money it’s unsettling. But today, after we have just celebrated the gifts and giving here at St. Michael’s, it is especially hard to hear Jesus words:
“for 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.”
I don’t think Jesus is calling us to be the poor widow—to give over everything we have—
our whole livelihood to the church. Jesus is not calling us to a live a life of poverty in the world.
So what spiritual wisdom does the widow offer us? What can her two copper coins convey?
In today’s world of fundraising and giving, we judge the worth of a contribution by the amount. Think about it. If you donate to your alma mater or a charity, the higher the amount you give, the more prestige and honor you receive. Much like the society of Jesus’ time, honor in our world today is marked by the quantity we give—not the quality of giving.
Jesus unsettles us because he turns our value system upside down, by valuing the widow’s gift of two copper coins as greater than all the rest—he upholds her offering as the greatest sacrifice—the most valuable gift. And so, Jesus reveals the truth that scarcity is present in our abundance and that abundance is present in our scarcity.
So how do we integrate the widow’s wisdom into our own lives? How can we experience God’s abundance in the places of poverty and scarcity in our own lives? How can we find the courage to give as like the widow out of our own scarcity?
Oftentimes, we are more comfortable giving and sharing ourselves out of our abundance. We tend to show the world only the best parts of ourselves—I am wealthy,
I am smart, I am hardworking, I am successful, I am able-bodied and athletic.
We tend to show and share our abundance freely, but we hide those parts of ourselves that are lacking. Why? Because we think no one wants to see those poorer parts—
we think the poorer parts will bring us shame not honor. But like the widow’s two copper coins, Jesus reminds us that God values our poor, impoverished, vulnerable, pieces—more so than all the rest. And God recognizes that our greatest sacrifice,
our most valuable gift is sharing the poor, vulnerable pieces of ourselves with others.
Giving out of our poverty does not mean we become poor. Giving out of our poverty means we share both the rich and poor parts of ourselves. Sharing out of our abundance and our scarcity we begin to experience the fullness of God’s presence in our lives.
So how do we find the widow’s strength to share our vulnerable, impoverished selves with others? We find our strength by bringing these poorer parts of ourselves to God in prayer.
So what does this look like?
In seminary, poverty for me was not in terms of money but in terms of time. At Yale, we were given more work than one could ever do. Time for me was a compressed state
where you tried to cram in as much knowledge as possible in as little time as possible.
I often compared it to drinking from a fire hose or sprinting a marathon. And on top of my studies and homework, I had a job or two, plus family obligations. Sound familiar?
Now, in seminary those same professors who were doling out mountains of homework
Gave us the following advice—when you are most busy, most tired, most stressed, most pressed for time, most at your wits end—this is the time when prayer was needed most.
Pray? You gotta be kidding me. There’s a lot to do here. I think the best strategy is keep working, push through, get the job done and pray when it’s all over.
Because stopping to pray, that would just be a waste of time and energy right?
At least that’s what I thought initially.
You see, I’d been going about prayer the wrong way… all those times I went to chapel or worship or prayed on my own in silence I was thinking of prayer as a task just one more item to check off of my to-do list.
It wasn’t until I started giving out of my poverty in prayer bringing the poor, the tired,
the stressed, the hungry parts of myself to prayer that I finally understood what my professors were trying to say.
The more we bring the seemingly insignificant bits and poorer pieces of our lives to God in prayer, the more our thoughts and priorities will become clearer, we will be more organized and efficient, we will feel more energized and enthusiastic about what lies ahead we will be more grounded and at peace; the little things won’t bother us so much anymore and certain people will no longer bug us.
The more bring the seemingly insignificant bits, the poorer pieces of our lives to God in prayer, the easier it becomes to give ourselves wholly and completely to God. And as we bring our full selves to God in prayer, we will move from praying as a separate activity—
just one more item on our to-do list to living a life of prayer where all our to-do’s become a way that connects us and grounds us in God’s presence.
Like the widow’s offering, prayer isn’t about how much time you put in. It’s about how you pray. It’s about giving ourselves wholly to God in prayer–to encounter God’s presence in all we do.
So if you are sometimes like me and thin “I’d love to pray if only I had the time”–
do yourself a favor. Pray for 20 minutes a day; an hour during your most busy times of the year. It can take on any form so long as you bring your full self.
And if 20 minutes is too much to start out—try ten or five or even the widow’s magical number two.
Offering time in our overly scheduled lives for prayer is one way we can give out of our poverty—one way we can connect to the source of abundance that will feed us and strengthen us to do more than we can ever ask or imagine. One way we can experience the time of business or busy-ness as no different from the time of prayer.
But don’t take my word for it. Try it out for yourself. And let me know how it goes.
that we may encounter the presence of God in all that we do. Amen.