The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
The Reverend George Pejakovich
Mark 12:38-44



A PREACHER’S SON TELLS THE FOLLOWING STORY:

My father’s church was in terrible shape. The paint was peeling; the lawn was bad—there wasn’t enough money to plant grass seed. The hymn books were torn and tattered. Plaster had fallen from the ceiling. So my father called a meeting to raise money to do something about it and he invited, among others, the richest man in town.
He worked on the rich man and others too, but couldn’t get any response. Finally he said, “Let us pray.” And my father fervently prayed to God to give them a sign that would melt the hearts of these stony people, especially the rich man. Well, the Lord accommodated him. Just then an enormous piece of plaster fell off the wall directly onto the head of the wealthy man. He leapt to his feet and said, “I’ll give $2000.” My father said, “Hit him again, Lord, hit him again!”

I WOULD GUESS THAT MOST PEOPLE IN THE PEWS THIS TIME OF YEAR FEEL AS IF THEY ARE BEING BEATEN ON THE HEAD ABOUT MONEY, SINCE ALMOST EVERY CONGREGATION BEGINS THE STEWARDSHIP CAMPAIGN IN NOVEMBER. WELL, YOU CAN RELAX AND UNCOVER YOUR HEADS, AT LEAST FOR A WHILE, BECAUSE MY CHARGE IS NOT TO ASK YOU FOR MONEY BUT TO SIMPLY TELL YOU WHAT THE GOSPEL TEXT IS ALL ABOUT.

THIS GOSPEL PASSAGE IS ONE OF THE MOST WELL KNOWN, AND YOU KNOW WHERE IT IS GOING AS SOON AS YOU HEAR THE OPENING WORDS. IT HAS BEEN LONG ASSOCIATED WITH STEWARDSHIP CAMPAIGNS TO SUPPORT THE CONCEPT OF PROPORTIONAL GIVING, WHICH IT DOES QUITE NICELY, THAT THE DEEPER MEANING OF THE GOSPEL IS OFTEN OVERLOOKED. TO UNDERSTAND THE DEEPER MEANING, SOME CONTEXT IS REQUIRED. THIS EVENT TAKES PLACE ON HOLY TUESDAY, THREE DAYS BEFORE THE CRUCIFIXION OF OUR LORD, WHEN JESUS WAS IN THE TEMPLE COURTYARD GIVING HIS LAST TEACHINGS TO HIS DISCIPLES; AND THAT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER AS WE HEAR THE STORY UNFOLD.

THE SECOND THING TO REMEMBER IS THAT JESUS REALLY DID NOT CARE ABOUT MONEY, OR WHETHER A PERSON WAS RICH OR POOR. WHAT HE CARED ABOUT, AND STILL DOES, IS ABOUT THE HOLD THAT MONEY HAS ON PEOPLE, BE THEY RICH OR POOR. MONEY IS A SYMBOL OF ALL THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD, AND MONEY, IN ITSELF, HAS NO REAL INTRINSIC WORTH. IT HAS ONLY THE WORTH THAT PEOPLE ASSIGN TO IT. IT IS NOT FOUND IN NATURE, BUT WAS DEVISED BY GOVERNMENTS TO ASSIGN WORTH TO THE LABOR INVOLVED IN PRODUCING FOOD, HOUSES, AND OTHER COMMODITIES. IT IS A MEANS OF EXCHANGING THE VALUE OF THE WORK OF A CARPENTER TO THE WORK OF A FARMER. ULTIMATELY ITS MEANING AND VALUE IS SIMPLY WHAT MEANING AND VALUE WE PLACE ON IT.

AS JESUS WAS TEACHING IN THE TEMPLE, HE WAS TEACHING HIS DISCIPLES ABOUT RELIGIOUS HYPOCRACY; ABOUT HOW THOSE WHO WERE SUPPOSED TO BE THE TEACHERS OF THE LAW WERE PUFFED UP WITH THEIR OWN INPORTANCE, AND HOW, INSTEAD OF OBEYING THE VERY LAW THEY TAUGHT, THEY USED THEIR POSITION AND POWER TO OPPRESS THE POOR AND THE WIDOWED. THEN HE SAT DOWN NEAR THE TREASURY, WHICH WAS IN THE COURT OF THE WOMEN. THE TREASURY, WHERE THE CONTRIBUTIONS FOR THE MAINENTANCE OF THE TEMPLE AND ITS ACTIVITIES WERE MADE, CONSISTED OF THIRTEEN LARGE METAL CHESTS WITH BRASS TRUMPET – LIKE RECEPTICALS ON THE TOP. WHEN AN OFFERING WAS MADE, THE COINS WERE POURED INTO THE TRUMPET-LIKE OPENING AND THE AMOUNT OF THE CONTRIBUTION COULD BE GUAGED BY HOW LONG IT TOOK FOR THE COINS TO STOP RATTLING DOWN THE TRUMPET.

AS HE WATCHED THE RICH AND POWERFUL POUR THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS INTO THE TRUMPETS HE HEARD, DESPITE THE CLANGOR OF THE COINS OF THE RICH, THE QUIET SOUND OF TWO SMALL COINS BEING DROPPED INTO THE TREASURY BY A WIDOW. AT THE TIME, A WIDOW WAS THE MOST VULNERABLE OF PEOPLE. UNLESS SHE HAD A FATHER’S HOME TO WHICH SHE COULD RETURN, OR A SON TO SUPPORT HER, SHE WAS A BEGGAR. THE LAW OF GOD DEMANDED SUPPORT FOR THE WIDOW AND THE ORPHAN, AND IT STILL DOES, YET IT WAS NOT OBEYED BY THE VERY ONES CHARGED WITH TEACHING THE LAW. NOW, WE CAN NOTE THE REACTION OF JESUS.

HE CALLED HIS DISCIPLES TOGETHER, AND CONTRASTED THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE WEALTHY TO THAT OF THE WIDOW. THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF ALL THE OTHERS WERE, IN THE EYES OF JESUS, LESS THAN THAT OF THE POOR WIDOW, BECAUSE THEY GAVE OUT OF WHAT THEY HAD LEFT OVER WHILE SHE GAVE ALL THAT SHE HAD. I AM CERTAIN THE DISCIPLES DID NOT QUITE GRASP THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS LITTLE LESSON; BUT FRIDAY WAS STILL THREE DAYS AWAY. TRUE COMMITMENT TO GOD, TRUE FAITH IN GOD, IS NOT BASED ON WHAT WE CAN SPARE, BE IT MONEY, EFFORT, OR TIME; TRUE COMMITMENT TO GOD, TRUE FAITH IN GOD, IS TO GIVE ONE’S ALL, TO SURRENDER ONE’S ALL, TO THE WORK OF GOD’S KINGDOM.

THIS, JESUS WOULD SHOW HIS DISCIPLES AND US ON THE COMING FRIDAY; THAT TRUE FAITH IS A TOTAL TRUST IN THE LORD GOD, AND THAT TRUST REQUIRES A SURRENDER OF ALL THINGS THAT WE HAVE AND ALL THAT WE ARE TO HIM AS OUR ONLY ACCEPTABLE OFFERING. THIS IS WHAT WE MEAN, AS WE COMMEMORATE HIS SACRIFICE FOR US, WHEN WE SAY THE WORDS, “WHEREBY WE OFFER AND PRESENT UNTO THREE, O LORD, OUR SELVES, OUR SOULS AND BODIES;” OR WHEN WE SAY, “SANCTIFY US ALSO, THAT . . . WE MAY SERVE YOU IN UNITY, CONSTANCY AND PEACE.” TRUE FAITH IS NOT THE HYPOCRACY OF OFFERING TO GOD WHAT WE HAVE LEFT OVER AND WE DON’T NEED; TRUE FAITH IS OFFERING UP OUR SELVES AND ALL THAT WE HAVE AND ARE TO THE WORK OF GOD’S KINGDOM.

IN 1970 THE BBC SENT MALCOLM MUGGERIDE TO INDIA TO DO A DOCUMENTARY ON A RELATIVELY UNKNOWN NUN. HE TRACKED HER DOWN AND FOUND HER IN THE FILTH AND DISEASE OF THE STREETS CARING FOR THE POOREST OF THE POOR WHO WERE DYING. WHAT STRCK HIM WAS THE WARM GLOW ON HER FACE AND THE COMPASSION IN HER EYES. “DO YOU DO THIS EVERY DAY?” HE ASKED. “O, YES” SHE REPLIED, “IT IS MY MISSION. IT IS HOW I LOVE AND SERVE MY LORD.” WHEN HE ASKED HER HOW MANY MONTHS SHE HAD BEEN DOING THIS, SHE TOLD HIM EIGHTEEN YEARS. HE WAS STUNNED, AND ALMOST DID NOT BELIEVE HER. “YES. IT IS MY PRIVILEGE TO BE HERE. THESE ARE MY PEOPLE. THESE ARE THE ONES MY LORD HAS GIVEN ME TO LOVE,” SHE REPLIED WITH JOY. HE THEN ASKED HER IF SHE EVER GOT TIRED, AND WANTED TO QUIT, BECAUSE HE COULD SEE THAT SHE WAS GETTING UP IN YEARS. “OH, NO,” SHE REPLIED, “THIS IS WHERE THE LORD WANTS ME, AND THIS IS WHERE I AM HAPPY TO BE. I FEEL YOUNG WHEN I AM HERE. THE LORD IS SO GOOD TO ME. HOW PRIVILEGED I AM TO SERVE HIM.” MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA SERVED THE POOR FOR OVER 26 YEARS, WALKING THE STREETS TO COMFORT THE DYING, NEVER SEEKING ATTENTION OR FAME; SHE SOUGHT ONLY TO SERVE.

AS THE WIDOW ENTERED THE TEMPLE, SHE DID NOT SEEK TO IMPRESS ANYONE OR DRAW ATTENTION TO HERSELF WHEN SHE PUT HER TWO COINS IN THE TREASURY. SHE WAS FOCUSED SOLELY ON LOVING AND SERVING HER GOD IN WHOM SHE TRUSTED, AND SHE DID SO BY GIVING ALL THAT SHE HAD. THE AMOUNT (THE WORTH) OF HER OFFERING SHOWED THE WATCHING EYES OF HER LORD WHERE HER HEART WAS, BECAUSE, AS SMALL AS IT WAS, IT WAS HER ALL.
AMEN.

Told in a sermon by the Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel

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