Isaiah 6:8

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Some Gave All

My scripture today is Mark 12:38-44 - As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."  On one of my European trips to Italy I was fortunate enough to go to the town of Assisi.  I also got to attend a storytelling session at the main church there.  My most favorite story was this one.  One day while St. Francis of Assisi was working intently in his father’s cloth shop arranging the fabric, a beggar came to the door and asked for alms in God’s name. Francis rudely kicked the man out, but at once he regretted his actions and followed the man to offer his apologies. This event replayed in his mind over and over again.  Later on in his life, during a brief stay in Rome, Francis took out his money, took off his garments, and gave them all to the poor. On another occasion he encountered a leper in Assisi and, instead of fleeing as most villagers did, he went up to him and embraced him. He did all this despite the scorn of his friends and his father’s great disappointment. His steps before him were ordered; that leper represented Christ Himself! So Francis renounced his father’s possessions and went on to work among the poor and leprous people of his time. For Francis, that was life.  But the meaning of life for someone with a secular mentality consists of such things as wealth, prominence and power. The Teachers of the law in today’s gospel story found such meaning in going around with long robes, enjoying the greetings in the market places and the best places in the Synagogues. The teachers in those days received no pay and so they were reputed for devouring widow’s houses and cheating the poor. They learned the art of making long prayers, because longer the prayer, the more they got. We can understand if a guy off the street tried to make a quick buck but it is an abomination for someone who represents God to live a life of double standards.   I am not sure if it is any different today. Among others, we see many TV evangelists today who love to wear long robes, who enjoy status and popularity and who devour and cheat innocent and God fearing people of their money. Except for Billy Graham, it is rare to see any of these people who do not conclude their message by asking for your money. A two dollar book or cassette is priced at 25 or more dollars and they seem to make the point that in spending that money, you are pleasing God! A lot of these men and women are very talented preachers but true followers of Jesus are not distinguished by showy spirituality.  Midway is not a wealthy Church. We manage to pay our bills and do good things with our money.  The one thing I love so much about this church is that we live by faith that the Lord will provide. We do not ask for your money and leave it as a matter between you and God. I have no idea whatsoever who puts what in the plate but from today’s reading, it seems to me that someone is watching. One day, back in the time of Herod’s temple, people lined up to put their offerings in the thirteen large brazen receptacles that resembled trumpets because of their wide mouths. Nine of these vessels were for the temple tax and four were for contributions to purchase things like incense and burnt offerings. Only copper coins were used and so when the wealthy threw in their money it made a lot of noise.  I remember when I was newly married.  I was a stay at home mom and my husband made a whopping 1.90 an hour.  We were barely making ends meet.  To me one of the most embarrassing times sitting in Church was when the offering plate came to us. We tried to give as much as we could but often times it was only a small amount. Sometimes it was just coins and we had to place the coins in the plate so softly so that no one could hear the jingle of the coins. But in Herod’s day, there were no bills. The more the coins, the more the noise and the more people raised their brows!  While all of this was going on, a widow approached the vessels under the observant eye of the Lord. She had lost the support of a husband and her problem was compounded because of her loneliness and poverty. She did not have to be on that line because in a true sense, she had nothing to spare. Her entire earthly possessions were just two pennies. She had no guarantee of the next meal but she took all that she had and cast them into the vessels. The woman found meaning to life when she placed all that she had in the hands of God.  I wonder if we would have the faith and courage to do that? Do we trust God enough that we can place all the things that mean the most to us into his loving hands? God is not impressed with large amounts but by a sacrificial heart. 20 dollars is probably better than 5, but in God’s eyes it might not mean a thing if your giving is not sacrificial.  I remember once visiting a Church in central Florida as a teenager and while the ushers were in the process of taking up the offering, a woman who was seated in the front row  held her arm up with a ten dollar bill and kept waving it to the view of everyone behind her until it was collected! When we do our alms, we are not supposed to do a trumpet sound like the hypocrites did in the synagogues and in the streets so that they would have glory of men....But when we give alms, let not our left hands know what our right hand is doing..Our father which sees in secret will reward us openly"  No one saw what the widow did except the eye of Jesus, so today I want to encourage each of us to serve the Lord with simplicity of our hearts, give him our all and he will take us places we’ve never been before. Amen?

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