Your Money and Your Life

Rev. Sarah Buteux
November 11, 2012
Mark 12:38-44, 13:1-2

You can watch the sermon here or on Youtube

Our stewardship campaign for 2013 is now well under way. For those of you who have pledged before, you can rest assured that even if you haven’t seen it yet, somewhere out there in the wilds of Hadley, a manila envelope containing a pledge card with your name on it is slowly but surely making its way to your home.

For those of you who have recently started coming to First Church, if you would like to contribute to the work of this congregation in the coming year then please do.

I invite you to help yourself to one of the stewardship envelopes at the back of the sanctuary. Take it home, look it over, fill it out if you feel so moved, and bring it back here next week to be counted with the rest. We would be delighted to have your support.

I would like to take a moment to publicly acknowledge our Stewardship Committee (Dave, Kara, Lila and Cheryl) who have done such a wonderful job once again designing and assembling all these materials for your giving pleasure. I want to thank all the volunteers who are hard at work making sure those materials find their way to your door.

In fact things are running so smoothly, that as your pastor, basically, at this point, I just want to make sure I don’t screw all this up. I got the memo.

I know my job at present is really just to keep the ball rolling so to speak, keep the train running, such that you leave here this morning not only feeling good about giving, but good about giving a lot. Yeah, that’s my job.

So you’d think our text this morning would read like a gift from God. Almost as if the monks who designed the lectionary all those years ago knew that harvest season would one day give way to stewardship season in our churches and so chose this story of all stories…this story of the poor widow who gave her all, her last two cents, everything she had to live on, to support God’s holy temple.

I mean, come on, it doesn’t get any clearer than that, right? I should probably just read it again and sit down.

And I would, if it weren’t for the fact that the temple in this story, for all it’s pomp and splendor, doesn’t really come across as all that holy.

I’d totally just read this story again and sit down if it weren’t for the fact that although Jesus points out the sacrifice of this widow, nowhere in this text does he come right out and say that her giving is a good thing.

I’d forgo preaching entirely today, if it weren’t for the fact that this story really doesn’t mean what people so often think its means, at all.

The good news is that this is not some thinly veiled story designed to shame you into giving all your money to the church.

No. No, actually, this is a straight up, in your face, account designed to let you know that your money… your money is just the beginning.

Jesus wants more.

A lot more, not just from you and me, but from the church. Yeah.

Let’s take a second look back at this story and I’ll show you what I mean.

Remember that we are finally in Jerusalem. Although we skip over it at this time of year, Jesus’ triumphal entry with all the palms has just recently taken place. He has already overturned the tables of the money-changers in a rage and he has been making enemies like Vin Diesel in overdrive – I’m talking fast and furious.

Jesus has been returning to the temple everyday to teach and be tested by the chief priests and the scribes, the elders and the Pharisees, and he’s been doing so well that people are starting to congregate around him in the courtyard just to listen, just to see what he does next.

They like watching Jesus spar with the big wigs. They like seeing him stick it to the man. Only Jesus has preformed so well over the past few days that the big guys don’t really want to play anymore. They’ve all gone back to doing whatever it is they normally do.

Unfortunately for them, business as usual is exactly what Jesus has come to disrupt, so he goes on teaching and tells the people gathered on this particular morning to “‘beware of the scribes,” beware of these men to whom you’ve always been taught to defer and respect. 

They might “like to walk around in long robes, and be greeted with respect in the market-places, have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets,” but at what cost? Who do you think pays for all those long robes and fancy dinners?

Look around you, says Jesus. These men “devour widows’ houses,” just to keep themselves and this whole religious industrial complex afloat. They may sound good, but those long prayers are just for show. Look at all this holiness, says Jesus, and see it for what it is, a sham. Remember that looking good is not what makes you righteous, but doing good.

And what is the primary good the God of Israel continually calls his people back to, but the need to care for the poor and the oppressed, the alien and the stranger, the orphan and who? The widow.

As if on cue, who should enter our frame of vision, but a widow so poor that all she has left are two coins that together amount to no more than a penny. Jesus sits down with his disciples across from the treasury and says, “You see her?”  “You see that poor woman over there?

She just put in everything she had. Here she is, surrounded by good religious folk giving out of their abundance to support supposedly holy men like these scribes, but don’t you see? If these guys were as holy as they would like to think they are, she wouldn’t be so poor to begin with.

She wouldn’t be putting her last two coins in the offering because thanks to them and the work of this holy temple, she’d have more than just two coins to live upon.

If the chief priests and the scribes were doing what they were supposed to be doing around here, she’d have more than just two coins to give.

And yet here we are, in the shadow of a temple that gleams with gold, watching all these religious men go about their business, a business that should be helping this woman, but is instead, devouring her – devouring her - before our very eyes.

Friends, with all due respect to this widow, I don’t think Jesus is pleased that she has just given away all she had to live on. I think he is scandalized.

I don’t think the gospel writers included this story simply because they wanted future generations to emulate this widow in devoting all we have to the church. I think they included this story to remind the church of its call to devote all it has to people as poor and vulnerable as that widow.

This is a wake up call for those of us – myself included - who love religion, for those of us who love our holy temples, for those of us who love everything we do here –the worship, the preaching, the congregating - to remember why we do all this in the first place.

This is a wake up call to remind us that church can never be an end in and of itself, and still be church. Not church in the truest sense of the word. Not church as God meant for it to be.

It can look like church and smell like church and sound like church but if all the looking and the smelling and the sounding isn’t helping the people who come here behave like a church, we’re just fooling ourselves.

Friends, we are called to be the body of Christ in this world, called to be his hands and feet, his eyes and ears, giving our all to serve all. That’s what makes us a church.

We are called to defend the widow and the orphan, clothe the naked and feed the hungry, visit the sick and those who languish in prison, and offer hospitality to all who come to our door. That’s what makes us a church.

We are called to make a way for children to come unto Jesus, we are called to be salt and light for the earth, we are called to make disciples of all nations bringing the good news of God’s reconciling love to every person who needs to feel that love in their heart. That’s what makes us a church.

Will that require money? Absolutely. Which is why, even in light of all I’ve just said, that I still encourage you to give if you are able. You see the body can’t care for others unless it first cares for itself. 

The body needs places such as this to call home and the body needs to do what needs to be done in order to care for that home. The body needs to be fed and nurtured, loved and led, encouraged and challenged, which is why the body employs a pastor and a music director, someone to guide the youth and care for the little ones, someone to answer the phone and balance the books.

But the purpose of all that care and love and energy must always and ever be to propel the body of Christ the church out into the world, to encourage the body to make a difference in the lives of others, to bind up the wounded and gather in the lost, to bring hope, and faith and love to those who need it most.

So my friends, if you are in a position to give toward that end than I invite you to do so, only do so remembering that at the end of the day this isn’t just about money.

This is about life.

This is about your life and my life joined together to bring new life to the world. This about creating the sort of community that is willing to come together and give our lives over as utterly and completely as that widow gave her coins, such that no widow need ever give that way again. This is about the church waking up to her true calling to be a blessing to the world.

Friends, this is the good news of the gospel and the challenge of the gospel before this congregation. May we be weighed and not found wanting. May God grant us the grace and generosity of spirit to act in ways both faithful and true. Let us pray:

Come now Lord and stand amongst us. Keep us honest as we recall the past, compassionate as we judge the present, and hopeful as we engage the future. For you, O Lord, have blessed this church and her people with a storied history, with a beautiful meetinghouse that sits in the midst of lands as dark and rich as they are abundant. You have blessed us with your presence and with the fellowship of one another. May we as a people and as your church be mindful, O Lord, of all our blessings; for you have taught us that you will require much from those to whom much is given. Grant that we may extend more abundantly to others what we so richly enjoy here in our fellowship together, that in serving others we may come to know the glory of serving you and become the church you are calling us to be. We pray all this in your name, Amen.