What you give
There is a series of commercials on television recently by an aggressive auto insurance company asking the viewer to consider certain scenarios that happen to us when we have an insurance claim. In one of the commercials, a woman is talking about how her old insurance company only would pay for three-quarters of the replacement cost of her car after it was totaled in an accident. She asks rhetorically, “What am I supposed to do, drive around on three wheels?” I was thinking about this commercial when reading the passage about the widow who offers her last two coins to the synagogue treasury. We read it today in Mark 12.38-44. We get a view from Jesus’s perspective, as he sits in the temple one particular sabbath, and watches as the line of people make their way to the collection box. A bit like our offering plates… And the rich folks make a big show of the large sums of money they place in the offering box. And then we see a widow come forward with two small copper coins worth about a penny. She plunks them humbly in the box. Jesus leans over to his disciples and says beginning in Verse 43: “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. “All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she, from her hopeless poverty, has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.” I just spoke a couple of days ago in The Gathering that widows in Jesus’s day were forced to the very bottom rung of the societal ladder. They were often taken advantage of, and without a male son or husband to provide, it was as good as a death sentence. But what does Jesus see here? We’re fresh off the former verses in which Jesus warns the disciples to be careful of the legal experts — these would be the scribes in other translations. They are knowledgeable in the Law — the Law given by God to Moses to give to the people. And they were quite often scoundrels — They like to show off, Jesus warns them. And they like to “cheat the widows out of their homes” and they pretend to be holy by saying “long prayers,” Jesus adds. Then he says: “They will be judged most harshly” in verse 40. The legal experts today I want us to consider for a moment what it means to be like these legal experts, these scribes… Who are they in our society today? Well, let’s think about it: They like to be somebodies — people of prominence. They need to be noticed, validated and recognized for what they do for others. People greet them in public and give them honor. They always have not just a seat at the table, but a position of honor and authority. They show off with long, eloquent prayers, as if to say, “My prayers are worth more than yours…” or so that we say, “He’s such a good liturgist” or “she’s such a good prayer…” And they cheat people out of their homes. We might say, “Well, there are certainly some bad people in the world… …and just like these guys Jesus is talking about, they should be judged most harshly!” But, you know, we have to be really honest with ourselves, don’t we? We have to, because what is Jesus really criticizing here? Well, look: Don’t we like to be recognized for when we do good things? Even if we don’t necessarily want a brass plaque attached to something we gave to the church, we still like how it feels when we someone — anyone — notices that act of generosity or kindness that we’ve done. I’m going to tell a little secret here, and maybe a little confession. In the church, in the world today, October was Pastor Appreciation Month. We get a whole month for the church to celebrate us. To send us gifts acknowledging the sacrifices we make and the work we do in our callings. I received a couple of gift cards and a wonderful appreciation card with encouraging words in them. And honestly, they felt wonderful. It’s been a tough year, and I’ve confided in a more than a few people how hard these last few months have been and are going to be as we head into Advent and Christmas. It’s good to be encouraged. But it’s also very dangerous, too. Because validation can be a toxic, addictive and destructive drug in our lives, and our society today is plagued with this disease. Validation: The need to be told and shown that you’re all good, you’re OK, you’re accepted. Television and social media are rife with people spending countless dollars and time trying to look like some standard of beauty, or power, of success, of youthfulness that doesn’t even exist… …except in the airbrushed photos and one- dimensional profiles of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. They’re not real. And although we strive to become like them and quickly discover it’s just a lie, we find ourselves in need of acceptance and validation for what we do. As if to perpetuate the lie. It’s brilliant. And not to give Satan more credit than is due, it’s a brilliantly destructive game that we simply love to become addicted to. Let me ask you: Do you really think it was any different in Jesus’s day? Because here come the Pharisees and Sadducees and Legal Experts and all their entourage in tow — those who aspire to be just like them, those who aspire to be in that inner circle created to leave others out. And Jesus says, “You wanna play that game, do you? You will be judged most harshly.” A long comes the widow… And then along comes the widow… Absolutely marginalized. No hope of ever approaching that inner circle. Maybe only a hope of not getting caught in their crosshairs… Becoming a target and being taken advantage of. Clearly, we can see the marginalized being represented by this widow in Jesus’s account. But is it enough for Jesus to say: Don’t be like those who boast and have to be validated in the world; and Don’t take advantage of those on the margins by gaining from their suffering; but Jesus adds this, and it’s a big one: 3. The poor widow who gives everything of what she has for God is giving exponentially more than the little that the rich folks are giving. Even though the amount of money the rich are giving, the widow is giving more because she’s giving EVERYTHING she has. Giving it all The picture that Jesus is drawing for us is a metaphor: When we give ourselves to Christ, we give ALL of ourselves. Just like Christ gave all of himself to us. When the rich people give, they might be giving a lot, but they are not giving all of themselves. We have to be careful of this too. We’re not talking about money in an offering plate anymore; we’re talking about giving of ourselves to Christ. All that we have, and all that we are is because of God who created us. We are to give of ourselves fully — everything that we have. The more we have, the harder it is to give sometimes, isn’t it? But if we reframe that and say “The more we are blessed with, the more we are to bless others with,” then it becomes easier. Why? Because we’re recognizing the Source of the gifts. We didn’t do it; God did. And if we ever forget that, well, that’s exactly what it looks like when we start seeking validation. See, what we’re doing there is asking for honor for that which we have. Because we think we did it all on our own. We DESERVE that honor. See, that’s the sickness. And that’s why Jesus says be careful: “They will be judged the most harshly.” Giving all to the body In a few minutes, we will actually be reminded of how we’re to give our lives fully to Christ when we welcome in a dozen or so new members to this church. Some will be professions or re-affirmations of their faith, others will simply transfer from another church to call Trinity their home and this congregation their family. We, too, will remember and renew the covenant declared at our baptisms and acknowledge our commitment to Christ — that is, how we give ourselves to Christ to become Christ’s body, which is the Church itself. Paul talks often about the different parts that compose the body: The hands and feet, the arms and legs, the heart, the eyes, the ears, the mouth, the head. Each of us is a part, all different with various and dynamic purposes. None can function fully without the other. Forget each Sunday at worship; when we are awake in every waking hour of our life, we represent the full body, and we must give fully — everything we have — for the good of the body. The foot does us know good if the leg is asleep. The hand does no good if the arm is immobilized in a sling. The eyes can’t direct the body if they are shut… ### I told you I was thinking about that insurance commercial when I was reading our text today: What good is even a Ferrari, a Lamborghini or a Mercedes-Benz convertible coupe if only a third of the car is in the driveway? It can’t get you anywhere. It can’t do anything for you. It can’t perform the way it’s supposed to. Sure, we can say, “Hey, look at me. I have a Ferrari.” But it’s empty. Sometimes, this is the trap we fall into in our lives and in our world today. We say, “Sure Jesus, I’m all yours,” then hand him the keys to just three-quarters — or less — of our lives. Jesus’s parking lot is chock-full of three-wheeled Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Mercedes-Benz coupes. They get him no where. They are good for no one. And along comes the poor widow in the rusty 1971 Ford Pinto. it might not be much, but it’s all there. Every part is there. And it can go places. Now that’s something Jesus can use! Fullness When we bless these Christmas gifts to send them halfway around the world, bless them with all that you’ve got. When you pray for someone who is down and out, pray for them with everything you’ve got. When you come here to worship to the One who gave everything to buy you back from death, worship with all your heart. When you wake up each morning and act on the calling God gave you for your life, embrace it with your whole self. And when we affirm our love, service and commitment to Christ’s Church just as we will do this very morning, give all of your love and energy to this body through your words, acts, love, justice and goodness, that we may fulfill God’s will for us in our lives, in this church and in this world. That is what you give.