The Widow’s Might
November 8 2015
Did the sermon title grab your attention? Did you think that maybe it was a typographical error? It’s a play on words, of course, but intended to be something more than a play on words. It’s intended as a way of getting you to think about the main point for the sermon this morning morning, that the widow’s “mite”, m – i – t – e – or her poverty, was her “might” m – i – g – h – t, her strength. In other words, by entrusting what little she had to God, the widow came to have something greater than the world could ever offer, the confidence of God’s providence, protection and love.
Friends, whether you have just a little or a whole lot of material wealth, the more you entrust to God, the more you experience life in all its abundance.
A few weeks ago we looked at another Bible story, this one in Mark 10, where a rich young man asked Jesus, what he had to do to inherit eternal life. “You know the commandments” Jesus replied. The man replied: “I have observed all these things from my youth.”, and Jesus replied: “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have, and distribute it to the poor.” As we saw a few weeks ago, this upset the young man. He could not handle the truth that Jesus had told him. Even today, we don’t like the thought of giving up what we have, of losing power and control, of being dependent on someone else.
But this is precisely what gave the widow the advantage in the story today in our Mark 12 passage. She didn’t have much to hold on to. She wasn’t encumbered by worldly possessions. Her only real asset was her faith in God, which, when she put her last two cents in the collection plate, made her net worth equivalent to the sum of God’s mercy. Her “mite”, her willingness to offer God everything she had, became her ‘might”, the source of her strength and self-respect, which the world could never take away.
Gordon Cosby was the founding pastor of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D. C He tells the story of a young woman in his congregation whose husband died, leaving her a single parent with six children. The treasurer noticed that she continued to give to the Church, and , judging from all outward appearances, it represented a sacrifice on her part. The treasurer commented about this to Cosby, and Cosby visited the woman. He said, “I told her as graciously and supportively as I knew how that she was hereby relieved of the responsibility of giving to the Church.” He said he thought this would relieve at least part of her financial burden. But instead of thanking him, she said, “Please, Reverend, this is the one thing that gives my life dignity and meaning.”
Have you ever noticed how those who have so little can be so generous, while those who have so much can be so tight-fisted? Going back to the story of the rich young man, maybe this is why Jesus told his disciples, “it is easier for a camel to enter through a the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of God.” The more you have, the greater your tendency is to hoard and hang on to what you’ve got, while the less you have, the more likely you are to share with those in need.
A friend of mine tells about the Saturday afternoon back in the 60’s when he and his dad went over to see about a man who was sick in bed. He’d been laid up for some time and didn’t have any insurance or sick leave to draw on. He was basically out of work and out of luck. My friend said his father had just cashed his pay for the week and had $150 in his pocket. My friend said they went into the man’s bedroom and asked how he was feeling. They didn’t know much else to say. They stumbled around for a few minutes, the two men and the boy; then, as they got ready to leave, his father put a twenty dollar bill on the dresser and said, “I hope this will help in some way.” My friend said, “If we’d had a lot of money, I wouldn’t have thought much about it, but we lived pretty much from hand to mouth in those days, and twenty dollars seemed like an awful lot to give away.” And it was. Yet, in the story today, the widow only had two copper coins, the value of a penny, and she gave them both as an offering to God.
When you consider the plight of widows back then, that’s remarkable. In biblical days, widows occupied one of the lowest rungs of the social ladder. They lived at the mercy of others. They had no power, no position and no prominence in the community. They depended on others to protect them and provide for their needs. This is why, again and again, we read such admonitions as: “You shall not take advantage of any widow or fatherless child.” (Exodus 22:22-23) or “When you reap your harvest you shall not glean it after yourselves: it shall be for the foreigner, for the fatherless, and for the widow.” (Deuteronomy 24:19-20) In the Bible, God shows particular favor toward widows and orphans. In the Luke 7 Jesus took pity on a widow in the village of Nain. When he saw that her son had died leaving her defenseless and destitute, he raised the boy from the dead and gave him back to his mother. One of my favorite stories is the Parable of the Unrighteous Judge in Luke 18. In it a widow who was denied the settlement of her husband’s estate pleaded with the judge until she finally wore him down, and he gave her what she had coming. Widows were among the least in Jesus’ day, yet, when he saw the widow offering her gift to God Jesus said that she had offered more than anyone else, because she had given all she had.
Her mite – m-i-t-e became her might – m. -i-g-h-t.
Now, to be honest, I don’t know what the widow was thinking when she put in her last two coins, nor do I know how she felt. But I do know, from my own experience, what it’s like to make an offering to God, and I’ve often heard others talk about what it meant to them.
I heard a man say one time ‘You know, I’ve spent a lot of money over the years paying the bills, buying clothes, going out to eat, and, for the most part, I don’t have anything to show for it. A lot of the shirts and pants and suits I’ve bought have long since worn out and been discarded; we’ve traded cars many times. But the money I’ve given, here and there, to further the church’s mission, to help feed someone who’s hungry, for example, or build a modest home for someone in need of shelter, or send a deserving youngster to college, these are the gifts that continually put a smile on my face and bring me some measure of satisfaction.” In the end, the only treasures you get to keep in this life are those you give away. If you’re shrewd, you can amass a fortune in stocks and bonds and real estate and collectibles, but you can’t take it with you. When you’re gone, the government will get its share, and your heirs will split up the rest. Even while you’re living, your riches won’t bring you the lasting happiness you might think they will. But the things you give away, in a sense, are yours to keep forever. The joy of knowing that someone was blessed by your generosity, that others were cooled by the shade of trees you planted, that others were helped by things you did, is a joy you can’t buy any other way.
The widow gave everything she had, and, in doing so, laid claim to everything God had to offer. She became part of something greater than herself. She became part of the mission of God in her community and the world. As such, she walked away with something more than those who still had money in their pockets. Her “mite” m-i-t-e was her “might” m-i-g-h-t. Her devotion to God, the source of her strength and self-respect was her might and her treasure.
Thinking of the story of the widow’s mite reminds me of a story I heard about Mary James. Mary James was anything but a widow. She was a young mother, happily married, with two young children. Her husband worked for a manufacturing plant and she made extra money as a hair dresser. Mary attended and was an active member of a Presbyterian church, and was elected an Elder. She made an excellent Elder. She was sharp as a tack when it came to balancing a budget and making good business decisions and she loved God and serving others. There was a vacant lot across the street from the church that the Session thought the church ought to buy and possibly start an outreach to the poor on that property. The owners were asking a lot of money and the Church did not have a lot. It came up at a Session meeting and, of course, the question was, “How are we going to pay for it?” They decided to ask the members of the congregation to make pledges over and beyond their normal giving, over a three-year period. To get it started, they would make their pledges up front. One of the men passed out little slips of paper and another collected them. Then he proceeded to tally them. There were nine Elders in all, and all but one pledged a hundred dollars a year. Mary’s pledge was different. It didn’t contain a dollar amount; instead, it read, “One haircut per week.” The Elder counting up the pledges wanted to get a firm bottom line, so he asked her, “What do haircuts go for these days, Mary?” She said, “Twenty dollars.” He made a quick mental calculation and wrote down, $1,040. The other Elders looked at each other, but didn’t say a word. Her pledge was much more than theirs. The congregation approved buying the property, and they went on with the pledge campaign, They paid off the note in just over a year, with each Elder giving more than they had originally said they would give and the members giving a great deal also.
Like the widow in our passage, what you give reflects your priorities and your willingness to put God first and trust God to meet your needs. To live the Christian life of trusting in God that God wants you to live, you need the “might” – the m-i-g-h-t of this widow, the willingness to give all to God and to do all you can for God and others, giving all you can for God’s mission in our community and the world.
You know, giving financially, supporting God’s mission financially, is important, but it is also important for your sacrificial giving t to support God’s mission and work through your gifts of sharing your abilities. Your might, your giving, your priorities and willingness to put God and His mission first in your life, needs to involve your financial support and your support of your abilities. Teaching, singing in the choir, being involved in the music program, being involved in the ladies and men’s groups, being involved in Sunday School, Bible Study and other learning opportunities, serving on the Session and other leadership roles, are all important. They are all examples of living a life that is “mighty”, that is filled with a “willingness to give all to God and to do all you can for God and others, giving all you can for God’s mission in our community and the world.
With this Wednesday being Veteran’s Day, when we honor our veterans, and all veterans, for your sacrificial giving so we and all in our country and so many around the world can enjoy freedoms. You have indeed given mightily for the country, and we salute you and give thanks to God for you and your commitment.
So how about it? How “mighty” is your faith in God? How “mighty” is your willingness to give of what you have, your financial and other resources, to God for His mission and His work? The widow’s “might” m-i-g-h-t was her willingness to give to God what He had given her, and trusting God to give her what she needed for her life. How “mighty” is your faith? How “mightily” do you live the Christian life? How “mighty” is your commitment to God and your willingness to use what God has given to you for His mission and work in the world?
By next Sunday you should have the 2016 budget for the Church in your boxes with your pledge cards. You will have a month, until Commitment Sunday on December 6, to prayerfully consider what you can give to help support God’s mission we are doing her at Edgewood. I pray that you will prayerfully consider how “mightily” you live the Christian life, and how willing you are to give all you have, your financial support and your abilities, you are willing to give.
The widow’s “might” m-i-g-h-t was her willingness to give all she had to God and trust God to take care of her needs. That can be your “might” also. The truth is that when you give your whole life to God and trust God with your whole life, you will live a “mighty” life. God will bless you in ways far greater than you can never imagine, and what’s more, you’ll have treasures in heaven. Amen.