a sermon for 24th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27B)
The widow gave her last two pennies to the treasury.
How much does God expect us to give?
How many of you know the story “The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein? It is about an apple tree that loved a little boy very much. In the beginning the little boy spent a lot of time playing in and around the tree. He played on a swing, played hide and seek, built a tree house. As the boy got older he spent less and less time with the tree, but when he did come to visit he talked about the things he wanted.
First the boy wanted money. So he asked the tree to give him its apples so he could sell them. And because the tree loved him very much, it gave him all its apples. Then he wanted to build a house. And because the tree loved the boy so much, it allowed the boy to cut off all of its branches. Then the boy wanted a sailboat. And because the tree loved the boy so much, it allowed the boy to cut down its trunk to build a boat. And the boy sailed away.
Many years passed, and the tree hadn’t seen the boy for quite a long while. It had no fruit, it had no branches, it had no trunk. It was now just an old stump with nothing left to give.
Finally one day, the boy came back. He was old and stooped over, and he was tired. The tree told the boy that he really had nothing left to give him. The old man was tired and asked the tree if it be okay for him to just sit and rest on its stump.
And the tree gave the boy its stump to rest on. And this made the tree was very happy.
Today we heard two stories about widows. The first was from the Old Testament. The land has been parched by a drought for several years. The prophet Elijah comes upon a gentile woman, a widow, who is struggling to survive with her son in the wilderness. In those days, life was incredibly hard for any widow because without a husband she could only beg for food to survive. As Elijah comes along, she is down to her last measure of meal and a small portion of oil. She is gathering wood to make a final meal for herself and her son, after which they will surely die.
Elijah interrupts this final, grim chore and asks the woman for a cup of water, which she provides in spite of the drought. Then, not one to stand in the way of a woman trying to do her chores, Elijah encourages her to please continue building a fire and making a meal cake – oh, and could he please have some of her food, too? And would she mind giving him his portion before she fed her son and herself? And if she did this, God would provide her with more than enough to eat.
The bible doesn’t say exactly what the woman was thinking at the time, but I’m pretty sure she was less than thrilled to have another mouth to feed, especially one as demanding as Elijah. But she understood the ancient customs of hospitality to strangers and so, reluctantly, she agreed. And God did provide enough to eat for her and her son for the remainder of the drought.
The second story is probably more familiar to you. It’s the story of the widow who gives her last two pennies to the treasury. Jesus notices her and recognizes that while the Scribe give out of their abundance, the widow gives all that she has out of her poverty.
Now, a lot of people will tell you that these stories are about Stewardship, about giving to the Church. After all, this is the time of year when we’re supposed to be asking for money, isn’t it? But I don’t think these really are stewardship stories. I don’t think they are about money at all. I think these stories are about discipleship. They describe what it means to live our lives sacrificially for one another.
Both of the widows gave all they had to God who is their only source of sustenance and strength. Instead of looking at how little they had and figuring out how much they could spare, they dedicated themselves 100% to God. They gave all that they were and all that they had – their whole lives. Instead of relying on their own meager self-sufficiency they practiced a faithful reliance on a gracious and loving God.
And as they gave and gave and gave of themselves, they flourished and grew. They became like the giving tree, content in their love for their neighbor and for God.
Does this mean that Jesus wants us to give our last two pennies to the church? Not at all, he wants more than that. He wants us to give our whole lives to God. Or as we say in one of our Eucharistic Prayers, he wants us “to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice” to God.
Two copper coins, a cup of meal, and a jar of oil. These two women gave all that they had – their heart, their soul and their being – to God. And in return God blessed them and honored them above all.
Two copper coins, a cup of meal, and a jar of oil. Not very much compared to the budget of this church, or our national budget. But imagine what God could do if all of us gave as much of ourselves as these widows gave of themselves. Imagine what would the world look like if we all dedicated our whole lives to God.
Thanks be to God.