Sermon: Giving to God and Responding to the Election – What Really Matters?
Text: John 20:45 – 21:6
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, FL
Date: November 13, 2016
Frankly, I am torn today. I am torn between the feeling I need to address a practical reality and the need for addressing a pressing pastoral issue. On one hand, it is the conclusion of our stewardship campaign. We only have a two-week focus on it and I feel hard-pressed to share the biblical understanding of our giving. On the other hand, our nation is still hungover from what happened at the polls this week. Some of you are thrilled at the outcome while others are wrapped in a mantle of moribund fear. Our nation feels bifurcated into two camps: The Glarers and the Gloaters. The Glarers are glaring at their fellow citizens who voted for the President-Elect while the Gloaters are spitting invectives at the losing party with acerbic, “I told-you-so’s.” Glaring and Gloating is not very helpful at a time such as this.
It is high time we pause and remember the original motto of our nation: E Pluribus Unum which means, “Out the many, one”; in other words, it reminds us that we are a nation made up of many different types of economic, political, religious, ethnic and social representatives. The American dream is not that everyone can own a house; the American Dream is that out of the panoply of our differences we realize and live into the united value of working together for the common good – we work towards being that one nation under God. Sadly, E Pluribus Unum has been usurped by a new motto, not officially adopted by law but adopted by cultural fiat. The motto our nation appears to be living out is Unus Multorum Dispedio: For the one at the expense of the many.
Unus multorum dispedio can be seen living out in board rooms, sports franchises, halls of government, social and civic movements and even in the realms of religion and in faith communities as well. It is a value that is easily expressed in and embodied in both conservative and liberal circles whether politics or religion. The malignant hidden cells coursing through our nation, our churches, synagogues, halls of government are rife with the expressed value that it’s all about me and mine at the expense of the Other whether that other is God, the homeless, the rich, the environment, economic expediency, or another worshipping community.
Our biblical text today says something about the how and the way in which we look at the world and then respond to it. Turn in your Bible to Luke 20:46 and we will read through verse 21.6. We are continuing the Lukan Story with Jesus engaging to the crowds and antagonistic religious leaders in the Temple area the week that he would be crucified. The religious officials have been trying to hammer away at Jesus attempting to get him to show himself as “one of us,” i.e. a good Torah-abiding Jew or as a Zealot trying to cause trouble with the Roman occupiers. Jesus through these last few chapters of Luke consistently says he is neither but is instead trying to unify all people with a radical and simple new vision that calls for a true expression of one’s love for God as that love is expressed outward to “the other” in the world. Listen to the Word of the Lord.
Luke 20:45 – 21.6
20.45 In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, 46“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. 47They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
21.1 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Today’s Story has three parts. First, there is the Story of the religious leaders and Ph.D.’s of the day loving the attention they get with their pretty robes and finery. They love the respect they get from the people and all the “ooohs and ahhhs” as they walk by. They love the best seats at church and at the theater and have somehow managed to convince themselves that because they are well off and hold places of honor, they deserve the adulation they get. They even do this at the expense of the poorest of the poor – the widow.
Second, there is a piece beginning in verse 20.5 that says folks in the crowd began to oooh and ahhh over all the beautiful architecture of the Temple and the finery dedicated to God. Jesus was pointing to the widow and her need and the folks glossed right on over her and went to being impressed by the fancy buildings. I can imagine Jesus taking a deep breath and letting out a loud sigh at this point. His comments on the widow were a total lesson on the disciples completely missing the point. Jesus reminds them all that these material things will soon all disappear, and in fact, in the verses following ours today, Jesus goes on to tell them about all the apocalyptic events that will happen in their own lifetime.
Third, sandwiched between these two Stories about the Scribes’ love of money and stuff at the expense of others and the Story of the coming fall and devastation of Jerusalem, we have the crux of our teaching today about a little insignificant widow. In this particular part of the Story, we see the very purpose of our giving as well as the antidote for the malady of unus multorum dispedio. Let’s zoom in on the widow’s offering.
We encounter a woman who is literally on the bottom rung of the social ladder in ancient Palestine. There is no social security system for folks like her; she struggles for everything she has from the meager clothes on her back to what bare food she can acquire. She is able to survive merely from the expressed kindness of those around her who manage to support her in what small ways they can with a loaf of bread here and a few coins there. She lives by and on the grace expressed to her from others. As it is approaching the Jewish Passover, she makes her way through the crowded streets of Jerusalem and is caught up in the flow of the crowd and is deposited in the outer precincts of the Temple courts. Glistening marble and gold blind her eyes as the Middle Eastern sun beats down. There is pageantry and the noise level is severe with the thousands of religious pilgrims milling about with their bleating animals for sacrifice. She cannot afford an animal to sacrifice so she comes with all that she has to live on to survive. Perhaps a few weeks back someone was kind enough to give her a shekel as she sat by the road to beg but now all that she has left are a few little coins the worth of our penny today.
And Jesus stands and observes. There are those who come who are extremely well-off and as they toss their money in the coffers you can hear the clanging and banging of the coins as they fall through the canister. These people have plenty to give and toss what they can easily afford to give. Their giving is not sacrificial but rather convenient; their gifts to God are a morally required afterthought of what they are supposed to do in order to be a good Jew. While all those making their obligatory gift to God in the Temple area approach the offering box, this widow falls into the queue line totally unnoticed and ignored and is swept up into the flow.
But Jesus sees her. The disheveled, modestly dressed widow stands out brightly to him. In the midst of all the Temple noise, Jesus hears the featherlike weight of her tiny pieces of copper hit the offering plate and his face explodes with a smile; and why does Jesus smile at the nearly silent sound of a few copper pieces? It is because the widow did not give out of convenience, out of her wealth, or out of any obligation; the widow gave all she had, literally giving her life and her heart, to God. She gave it all.
The widow did not give to the building program. She did not give to clothe the extravagantly dressed religious officials and priests. She gave her livelihood – all that she had and all who she was to God. Jesus did not see her gift but rather he saw the size of her heart. Jesus did not hear the money clanging in the coffers but rather he heard the steady beating of her loving sacrificial heart as she passed the gifts back to God, the Source of all good gifts. The widow knew her very life was a gift in and of itself and was able to thereby hold it out openly and freely to God in return.
Beloved, this is the radical and simple new vision Jesus was trying to get his disciples and others to understand. It’s a vision of offering one’s very life and livelihood back to the One who gave life and livelihood to begin with. It’s a vision of sacrifice, not out of any notion of convenience or obligation but a sacrifice born out of the desire to demonstrably show God our love. The widow did not just tithe 10 percent to God; she knew everything is God’s and she threw everything in as her gift.
The widow, my friends, is a mirror reflecting back to you and me what our personal vision of sacrifice means. It’s also a measure for us as a community, dare I say our nation, to use as we navigate these turbulent waters. You see, the widow reflects back to us whether what I give is simply for my benefit or is it for the benefit of others. It demands that we determine if our gift is for our convenience and obligation or is it for the larger expression of our love for God and for our neighbor. Or, like the widow, does the mirror reflect back that we cannot help but give our very best to God and to one another in this community and nation?
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
© 2016 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.