Freeport & Merrick
There’s a story of a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country to show him how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm. On their return, the father asked his son, “Did you see how poor people live? What did you learn from the trip?” The son answered: “I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.” The boy’s father was speechless. Then his son added, “Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are.”
Riches are in the eyes of the beholder. Wealth might ease some problems in a consumer-driven society like ours, but they certainly do not guarantee happiness or contentment. As people of faith we have to strike an uneasy balance. The book of Timothy declares that “the love of money is a root of all evil’ (1 Tim 6:10.). Yet we live in a culture where money is worshiped. Money is necessary to survive, and to get by. We need money to buy our groceries, to pay rent or a mortgage, to purchase medicines, furnishings for our homes, gas for our cars and tickets to get on the train or bus; to pay for our cell phones and ipads and laptops.
Remember six years ago when Hurricane Sandy hit – for months, years, we are cleaning, repairing, helping our neighbors, advocating and raising relief money. No doubt we were moved to reflect on the deeper questions of life that the storm has stirred up in us. How quickly life can change for us. How interdependent we are – on people and systems we never see. What do we learn to value the most, when comforts are taken away? How have our values changed as a result of our individual and collective hardship? Is money so important after all?
It is appropriate -- that all these post-post-Sandy thoughts -- post-election thoughts, as we wonder about the future of our nation, when we confront the next mass shooting -- and sadly it doesn’t surprise us any longer – how all this all dovetails with a time that is traditionally considered “stewardship season” in the church. Stewardship is a key time when we are encouraged to reflect on our values -- and how well our beliefs are put into action in the time we volunteer, how and where we share our talents, and how we are challenged to give of our financial resources.
We have more resources than we know. But fear drives us to think otherwise. We hold back. After all, there are so many competing claims on our time, our talents, our money. We receive more solicitations over the mail and telephone than we know what to do with. So, what are the right choices? What’s right for you, might not work for me. What I need to do may be very different from someone on a fixed income, or someone blessed with enormous wealth or a high income. Yet, no matter our standing, stewardship challenges us to see ourselves as a gifted people living in a time of uncertainty. To give what is ours boldly in faith so to conquer our fear of giving. To give – because we are made in the image of a God who gives – a God who gave us Jesus, Jesus who gave his live for us. So, giving is a sign of spiritual strength and maturity. In giving, we become alive.
Today we have read two interesting texts about giving: the story from Mark that we normally call the widow’s mite, and the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, from the Gospel of John. Both stories take place in the context of Jesus’ last days before his death. Jesus is aware his time is short. He needs to focus—he needs to get his message across as succinctly as he can -- as powerfully as he can. This is his last chance to give and make a long-lasting impact.
So, in our reading today – Jesus is once more in the temple. Jesus decides to spend some of his precious remaining time observing how people were giving to the temple. Rich people came and threw in a lot of money in the temple giving boxes. Sometimes they would even blow horns to highlight their amazing gifts. But then a poor widow, shunned, puts in the littlest amount. Two coins, worth next to nothing. This impacts Jesus’s heart. Jesus declares this widow gave more than all the rich people. She gave from all she had to live on – the others gave from their abundance. The rich gave and didn’t miss the money. It had no impact on their lives. The widow gave all she had, confident in the faith of God’s future goodness and care for her.
Jesus tells us that God doesn’t look at our bottom line giving. God knows our situations are different. It’s not about a cookie-cutter approach to giving. Many people can give amazing amounts. George Lucas, of Star Wars fame, has a charitable foundation of over 1 billion. However, he is worth 5.7 billion. This is an amazing gift, a blessing, but he still remains rich. I compare that to Rose, a former parishioner, a widow twice over, who lived in an upper east side tenement all her life, volunteered daily well into her 90s, and out of her modest social security, made out her envelopes to the church faithfully every week. Even after she could no longer climb the stairs to the church, I would visit her and she would faithfully hand me an envelope that contained may be two dollars. Rose lived on a fixed income, so those few dollars she gave mattered. In God’s eyes, Rose’s few dollars were like Lucas’s $5.7 billion. Our two cents, whatever that means to you or me, means a lot to God. It makes a difference, in God’s economy of Grace. Our acts to help, to love, to care, to stretch ourselves in sharing are what God is after, not some rigid figure.
Jesus, on the night before his death, did one thing. He gave his two cents. He got on his knees, with a basin and towel, and washed his disciples’ feet. It is something just about anyone could do, but perhaps one of the hardest acts we can summon ourselves to. To come in contact with and meet a day-to-day, ordinary needs – cleaning dirty feet. To be a servant to each other. To embrace humility of caring. Interesting, of the number of churches I have served, it is rare to find a community that wants to literally wash each other’s feet, although this is what Jesus did. It is just too intimate and vulnerable. Yet Jesus gave himself totally to his disciples, as he would give to the world on the cross the day of his death. That was Jesus’s two cents.
In this season of stewardship, we have the opportunity to reevaluate our values, what does it mean to be rich or poor. No matter where we fall on the spectrum of financial health, we each of us has our 2 cents to give. I invite you to look at the index card in your bulletin. Imagine that here represent your 2 cents. What is God calling you to give – of your time, your talents, your treasure? Is it some more money you can give? That cost of that second latte from Starbucks? Is it your time you can volunteer? Do you have talents of leadership, teaching, baking, visiting shut-ins, writing, or praying? I invite you to write out a few lines quickly on the index card. Put in your gift, your two cents, whatever it stands for, in the collection plate when it comes around. This is between you and God. But we will celebrate the gifts that are named, because these gifts, your gifts, will help the church to grow, to reach out to one another, into the community and care. The important thing is that everyone gives. Everyone gives because everyone has something to offer. Let’s make 100 percent giving, whatever amount, for this congregation, for this year, for this stewardship campaign.
In the midst of our challenges, our hopes and dreams, as we prayer for the future of our church, our families, our nation, may we experience the sacredness of giving – and be known as a people that kneels in service, and loves as a widow, giving her two cents. Amen.