Delivered by The Rev. Mary Cat Young
November 8, 2009
The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Before I begin, let me share with you a quick story about how this little item came into my possession. During my seminary days I lived right next to Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One night, while on a walk with a friend we were standing on a street corner talking about NPR’s show Car Talk (Cah Tawlk). A man overheard us and mentioned that the studio they broadcast from was across the hall from his business, along with the law offices of “Dewey, Cheatem and Howe.” My companion and I laughed and accepted his invitation to come up and see the doors to the studio.
As we walked up the stairs he asked us about ourselves. When he heard that I was a seminarian he said, “I’d like to give you something.” The man shared with us that he was Jewish and his business was dealing in rare coins and collectibles. He gave me this little square coin holder which holds a “Widow’s Mite,” a small copper coin dated from the time of Herodias Antipas, and thus the kind of coin like the one’s spoken of in our Gospel story this morning. He wanted me to have it, and though I tried to refuse, his gift of kindness to me was of greater value him than the coin itself. It was a friendly gesture – and one that cost him very little, but showed his genuine desire for the coin to serve a purpose of goodness in my future work. And that is how this widow’s mite came into my possession.
To see it, is to see what nothing looks like. The insignificance of a coin such as the one the widow gave is obvious when you have it in your hand. Less than a penny was the value, and yet to a woman of her time and place, a woman who had no regular means of income, no one’s protection, no one to fend for her in the world, this little nothing was literally everything.
The faith she invested in this coin, and the way that she used it is commendable. She knew that giving to the temple was a means of participating in the relationship she had with God – participating in the ritual, not only with her prayers, but with what little she had in her pockets.
The tragedy here is that as Jesus watched her do this, he lamented that her giving was to a corrupt house that would not return the care to her that she so desperately needed. He saw the giving of her heart, and yet wept at the injustice that she would not properly be cared for in the way she deserved. Jesus pointed to a flawed system that allowed its most vulnerable member give all that she had in the name of God. He knew that she would not reap the benefits of the care that she deserved after literally giving her life away with a contribution that was worth practically nothing. But it was hers to give, and she gave it willingly.
The converse image is shown to us as well; that of the boasting, flashy, prideful giver – a leader in the synagogue, well dressed, well statured, and making it well known that their giving was worthy of notice. And yet, despite the monetary value of the giving of the rich, that which is given out of arrogance is less valuable than the gift of the widow’s mite.
When considering what we have to offer, what we can afford to give, and who we should share our resources and financial gifts with, the question: “How much is enough?” is often posed. We live in tough economic times. Pensions that were invested in the stock-market have been reduced. Job security is questionable on a day-to-day basis in some fields. College educations are to be funded, mortgage payments to be kept up, and health expenses to be paid or prepared for. Everyone is at risk. Everyone is vulnerable. And despite the fine clothing, and the privilege of climate-controlled home environments, we all feel as though we have more in common with the widow than the scribe described in the story. “Enough” is a question that comes out of a place of scarcity, a place of fear. What is the acceptable offering? What can I do to fulfill my obligation and be done with it?
“Enough” does not encompass the abundant gift of giving with love. Truly, the greatest difference between the widow and scribe is the fact that what she gave was not only a monetary gift, but one of faith, a gift of the heart. Her own well-being, her own necessity for simple things were not at stake – because for her, she was giving her love.
The same was true of the man who gave me the gift of the widow’s mite. Surely some monetary value is attached to this tiny little piece of nothing, certainly more now than when it was currency in its own time and place. But the value of sharing a conversation with others on a lonely night, the value of knowing that this would be put to use by someone to whom it did matter, the value of doing a Mitzvah, or a simple act of human kindness was worth more to this man in the simple act of giving it away than any cash value he might receive upon achieving a bill of sale.
As you open yourself to the season of discernment that is inevitable at this time in the church year – the time of contemplating how your gifts, how your time, how your talent might be given to participate in the needs of others, the needs of this community and the needs of the world, I remind you of the importance of allowing your heart to enter the process. What and how you give of yourself does not rely on the question of “how much is enough.” Because when your heart is in it, the abundance and generosity of the spirit within you allows you to do amazing things.
Certainly there are the real life, hard numbers that need to happen in terms of the upkeep and maintenance of the building where we gather – but our life together, our community of care for one another, the sense of commitment to one another that makes us want to give a helping hand in the garden, to volunteer with the youth activities, to host a family of promise dinner, to be in conversation through Sunday school classes, and to face the needs of the poor who are not only just outside our doors, but in our Garth, and in our parish hall, and in the presence of our community, these are the ways that this building calls our hearts and hands and our financial resources in to action – into the business of building the kingdom of God right here, and right now. These things are priceless.
Just as Christ’s giving of himself for us, even to the point of death on the cross… his gift for the world was of a value that meant nothing to him – he was God – he could die a thousand times and it would not mean anything because of the power he possessed to overcome death. And yet, the gift that it was for us, the gift of the promise of eternal life, the gift of redemption from our sins, that no matter who we are or how we struggle with this life, there is a love and forgiveness and resurrection that belongs to us through Jesus Christ, that gift to us is priceless. How much is enough? Is this the community where you choose to invest yourself, where you invest your children and families, where you give your heart away to those who, without you would not be cared for? If you give your whole heart, then you’ve just begun. For “where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” (Matthew 6:21 author paraphrase) Amen.