s144g97 Somerton Park 9/11/97 Sunday 32
"A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny ..." Mark 12.42
There are a number of lessons we might draw from the widow's mites. We might focus on a message that God loves those who "give their all" or we might focus on a message that God knows what we contribute to the kingdom and what we don't. I am sure I could give a wonderful sermon on such themes as these and we might indeed have an increase in giving - either through the hope that God will love us a little more if we give more - or through fear that God knows what we give and will love us less if we don't!
It is a fact of life that often those who give - can least afford to do so and those who can indeed afford to - give least. It is the same problem with rules and regulations. The people who try most diligently to follow them are least likely to infringe the rules and regulations, and are caught out if perchance they inadvertently do. Those who ought to take far more notice of the rules and regulations of society, thumb their nose at them and never seem to be brought to account.
However neither of these approaches actually gives us much good news at all. They certainly describe life as we know it, but do nothing to lift from us the despair that afflicts even the conscientious humanist.
I think it is important to recognise that Jesus didn't ask this woman for her mites. Jesus wasn't sitting there busking, hoping that a few small crumbs might fall his way. Again and again I see in the attitude of Jesus, asking nothing for himself or for his cause. If Jesus was aiming to be a great guru, he would have been soliciting funds from all and sundry. As I read the passage from Matthew 12 last Monday morning - the criticism of the disciples eating the ears of grain - I was struck by the fact that Jesus didn't break the law and eat as his disciples did. The times Jesus broke the law was when he wanted to help others, not himself.
Last Sunday night I was interested to see the segment on the "Little Pebble" on "60 Minutes" - the man who has been having visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary ... While I am quite comfortable with the possibility that Jesus expressed himself in an intimate way with other people; I have to say that the heavenly commandment that "Little Pebble" repopulate the earth through his numerous chosen "queens" and "princesses" is an exercise in grand self- and mass- delusion on a breathtaking scale. He has some difficulty in being taken seriously by me when he seems so blatantly to be "helping himself".
The second thing that it is important to recognise is that Jesus commended this woman for her support of the religious institution of his day - the very same institution which was to deny him and have him killed.
In this incident we see God's particular concern for the orphan and widow, demonstrated from one end of the Bible to the other, not because he likes the rich and influential less. God's concern for the orphan and widow shows that God accepts us first and foremost, as we are, not for what we might be able to contribute to his "cause".
Our faith is that God accepts us, but that can be very quickly turned around. People can start to think that God is like the proverbial "Big Brother" ever watching over us all, waiting for us to slip up. I wonder whether George Orwell's description of "Big Brother" is derived from the Cain and Abel story and the question of the guilty Cain "Am I my brother's keeper?" as he tries to wriggle out of responsibility for murdering his brother. I always point out that God doesn't answer this question by saying "Yes!" - as is so often assumed.
No, God accepts as individuals, but not in the attitude of a kindly old grandfather, who might say after a children's birthday party: "A good time was had by all!" He wants us to be happy - though God has a better idea of what will make us happy than we often have. It is not always getting everything we want, any less than a spoiled child ever only wants more of the same.
The scribes described by Jesus, who liked "to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market places ..." were concerned primarily on their appearance; how other people and perhaps even how God thought of them from what they saw. It is the evangelist Matthew who in particular makes much of our "Father who sees in secret" (ch 6). Their primary focus was on self. I was interested to see "Little Pebbles" cupboard of robes. But we might be still rather diffident of such a Father as this, I suspect because we are not quite sure God is not more interested in what were traditionally called "impure thoughts" rather than the good intentions we have, our shyness, the hurts and other experiences which have shaped us as people.
I am sure that it is that which opposes God which constantly tries to deceive us that God is not kindly disposed towards us. I hear these sorts of sentiments as much inside the Church as from outside. I wonder why some Church people have not yet realised that the sacred scripture's description of love does in fact apply to God. If anyone fulfils the requirements for love it must at the very least be God. In fact God must fit the description perfectly. God the Father is therefore perfectly patient and kind. God is not jealous, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable or resentful. God doesn't insist in his own way (to my mind a most remarkable statement). God does not rejoice in the wrong (waiting eagerly for us to something wrong) but rejoices in the right. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13.4-7)
Perhaps to take just one of these - God believes all things. I take that to mean that God believes in each and every one of us! (Nearly) each and every Sunday we recite the Creed (unless we are having our healing service), and we say "We believe in God". While not in the least criticising this, I personally have found it somewhat more important and empowering to realise that God believes in me. In me personally, in what I am trying to do, in the type of life I am trying, perhaps not very successfully, to lead. I should immediately add that here I don't think this has anything to do with me being a clergyperson. If anything I find it more difficult than anyone to live up to the ideals I set for myself, let alone any that God might set for me. God, just as much believes in each one of us here. God's wisdom called me to be a priest precisely because I have more difficult than most living the life I preach. So God believes in you, what you are trying to do, in the type of life you are trying to lead.
The theme of today's readings are the miracles God does with the offerings of people. No matter how small and insignificant we may feel our offering to God is - the handful of flour and the small quantity of oil in a jug of Elijah's widow, the two small copper coins of the poor widow that Jesus noticed - how God blesses it, uses it and multiplies it. God does not ask us to do the miracles, that is his particular specialty, and he will institute a demarcation dispute if we try to do his job! No, God accepts that which we are happy to give and small though that might be, God blesses, multiplies and uses it for the benefit of others.
Indeed God rarely, if ever, asks. God accepts. If God does ask, then we are asked from what we have already been given and therefore from what is within our power to give. Certainly there are challenges in this life, and we all know that sense of satisfaction that comes from meeting and overcoming those challenges. It is often only after we succeed in meeting those challenges and down the track a bit, that we see God behind them, and are able to be grateful rather than resentful.
We are not, in the end to know why the poor widow put in the two small coins. It is our pious hope and it is commonly portrayed that she had realised that God cared for her, cared for her personally and intimately, and she was simply responding to that love of God. But just as likely she may have thought it was something she had to do - and she was one of the widows who house had been devoured by the scribes. Jesus still commends her.
We who have a little more - don't see quite so clearly that God has nothing to gain from our devotion or our offerings. The money and possessions we have, and our desire to keep these material possessions for our private use, blinds us to the fact that God loves us for ourselves alone.
Again, one of the favourite sayings of Jesus is for many "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God." God loves children, not more than adults, but to show adults that they have nothing to fear. By now it should be clear that everything depends on how clearly we perceive the truth of this. Fortunately this perception is far more dependent on the grace of God than the quality of the preacher. No two people can be compared or should be compared. I do not know and I do not wish to know what anyone in this congregation gives - in terms of money.
First and foremost it is our perception that God accepts us as we are that will attract people, young and old, and those who know God accepts them will be happy to give as they are able. Of this I have no doubt whatsoever.
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