There’s a story I read this week about a little boy who had not been buying his milk at school. The father, who found this out eventually, was concerned about bullies, or more, that the boy was squirreling away the money for candy or video games or something. So he confronted the boy about keeping secrets, and sent the boy to his room.
The boy’s teacher called the next day and told the father that she wasn’t sure if he knew, but that his son had been, all week, dropping his milk money in the collection box the school had set up for Hurricane Sandy relief.
We live in a world, and in a time, where it is a good thing to be known for the gifts that you give. Twice a week, while I am at The University of Scranton for school, I go buy coffee and a snack from the DeNaples Student Center. Last week, I went to see a famous comedian at the F.W. Kirby theatre in Wilkes Barre. Some of us will go see Mannheim Steamroller or a Penguins game at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
I’m not so sure that’s a bad idea. It’s good to be known for something. It’s good that we know that Bill and Melinda Gates have given two BILLION or so dollars for poverty relief in Africa. There is no way that we, in this congregation, even if we sold the church building, all of our cars, all of houses, liquidates every last asset and emptied out the kids’ piggy banks, there is now way we could even come within miles of two billion dollars. So for the folks who can, they should, and if they want to honor someone with the gift, like Ross Perot did with his friend Morton H. Myerson in Dallas when they build the new symphony hall there, so be it! It’s fine.
But under no circumstances should we think we can do it all ourselves. Not even Bill and Melinda, for all that money, have made a major dent in poverty in Africa. Two billion dollars is just a rock chip in the windshield of the car that is African poverty. Not even the United Methodist Church has helped to completely eradicate malaria. We’ve contributed to halving new cases of the disease through the Nothing but Nets program, yes, but it isn’t completely gone.
To support a congregation takes the congregation. To support a fire company takes the whole fire company. It is a sign of participation.
And, yes, while that widow has given what she could, the rich folk bring in their large sums, and make their big shows, in this story, what is in common between them is Jesus’ lesson. It’s not about supporting institutions; money spends like money, whether it’s sacrificial giving or a tax write off.
To me, why Jesus points out the woman to the disciples, is that she gives all. She gives her last copper coins. She is serving God out of a perception of abundance, not of scarcity. There are times, in our lives, when we can afford to great and generous spirits. Say your child has left the house; they’ve gone to college or to their own place, and while your disposable income has increased, it is also true that your available time has increased. Say you add to that mix that you have retired. Disposable income, and time on your hands. It is no surprise then, that many people choose this time in their lives that people do mission trips-most of the trips I’ve been on have been populated by people of late middle age, with time and discretionary income. When you get the chance, you will support the things that important to you.
We are called, as followers of Christ, to give. In the United Methodist Church, we try to think in terms of Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service, and Mission.
Serve the church, lift up your church with your prayers.
Give to the church with your presence. Be present. Be active.
Gifts: this can be your talents, yes, but it can also be the things that you are involved in, like donating Avon to a homeless shelter, or making a basket of spa items for a silent auction. We all have many gifts.
Service: when the church needs help, as an organization, to serve on a committee, this is what they mean. When a friend calls and says she needs help cooking lasagna for the mission down the street, this is what is meant by service; service to Christ, in Christ’s name.
Mission: What is our mission? To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. To show God’s love to a world that is eternally in need of it. To invite them to experience God’s love.
Everybody always wants to make the “Widows’ Mite” scripture one about pledging financial support to the church. It falls at the right time every third year, right about when churches (the ones that do such a thing, anyway) program their stewardship campaigns. But Jesus sees more in the woman than just a poor widow dropping her last bits into the donation box. He sees a generosity of spirit, he sees a spirit of abundance, and he wants the disciples to take note.
This is our lesson. We have nothing to be afraid of. Some people have lost power since the storms last week, there are a few that have not yet gotten it back. But it is a matter of days or weeks, and then we will quickly take it for granted then. Some had their food-and-housing secure lives interrupted for a while, but the status quo for them is that they are secure in where they live, they do know where their next meal is coming from. We DO live in a world of unimaginable abundance. We don’t have to imagine, more than we can even think of is right here.
We have been blessed. And because of whom we have been blessed by, because we have everything we need and more, that “More” is to be used for others who are in need. Whatever we define as more; financial, material, spiritual; however we are led by the spirit, we should keep in mind that that excess, that surplus, is meant for the world. It can be something as simple as energy. As complex as managing a portfolio or providing psychological counseling in a free clinic on our free days; and yes, it can be money, too.
But because we have been given our lives, because we have been given reassurance that when we are gone from this earth, that is not the end. The things of this earth are given to us to support ourselves and others.
This should be our whole spirit, not just our checkbooks. The widow, according to Jesus, understood this, and was able to give all: Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service, and Mission.
What are your gifts, and where will you direct them?