Proper 27, Year B/ II
Sunday, 11 Nov 18
St Paul’s Brunswick
The offering plate goes around. The child in the front row noisily puts in a handful of pennies, the women in the next pew quietly puts in a check. Does the offering of the woman mean more than the offering of the little child? No, they are both giving from the place where they are. The child sees pennies as wealth and is giving that wealth. The woman gave from where she was. Maybe it was a stretch and she gave it in faith, maybe it was easy. All gifts matter to God.
Rich and poor. Abundance and poverty. Haughty and humble. Everyone has something to offer, and as Jesus watched the people putting money into the box at the temple, he pointed out that some had to have more faith than others to make their offering. We can put this into our context. Big or small. Old or young. Rich or poor. We all have something to offer God. Sometimes it can take more faith to give a little than to give a lot. If you only have a little, if you are giving from a place of poverty, it takes great faith to make any kind of monetary offering. If you are working multiple jobs and have a family, it takes faith to make an offering of your time. The widow in the Gospel today is offering from a place of poverty, but also from a place of faith. She steps out and trusts that she will be taken care of. Others are giving from a place of certainty and abundance. They are certain that they will still be able to buy food for their family. They are certain that even after their giving, they will have enough.
Jesus is not condemning the people who give a lot to the treasury; after all, the temple could not run without their offerings. But he is saying that we cannot ignore or discount the small offerings. The ones that don’t make the news, but took a leap of faith for someone, matter too. He is also giving us a glimpse into how we should be caring for one another. In our Psalm today we heard about justice for the oppressed. We also heard that those who have their help and hope in God are happy. In contrast, in the Gospel, Jesus tells us what is really going on in society. Widows are losing their homes. The rich are flaunting their wealth and affluence. The widow has nothing left, but she is part of the community that has members who are wealthy, so that community shouldbe stepping up and helping her. It’s not about how much we give, it is about how we give and how we help to further the Kingdom of God.
Before talking about money, Jesus talks to the people about prayer. He tells them not to say long prayers for the sake of appearance. Just like Jesus is not condemning large offerings, he is not condemning long prayers. It is a matter of motive. Are we doing the praying for the attention of other people, or are we doing it humbly before God? God wants our offerings. God wants our prayers. Big or small, long or short; God wants you to offer what you have.
Last weekend we had three youth attend the diocesan youth event, Miqra, at the Cathedral in Portland. The youth offered their weekend. Young people offered their prayers for each other and the world. And they offered their time, day and night, so that they could, get this, read the Bible out loud. They were humble, they were real, and they offered themselves to God. On top of all that, they had a great time.
Generosity and the link to Joy. We all want to be happy and have joy in our lives. There are dozens of books dedicated to helping all of us find happiness and joy. Just search Amazon for “happiness” or “joy” and you will get to scroll through dozens of options. One of the many options is The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. Itis the story of the 2015 meeting between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who are long- time friends. In their meeting, they attempt to answer the question, “How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?” The two of them “have survived more than fifty years of exile and the soul-crushing violence of oppression. Despite their hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—they are two of the most joyful people on the planet” [inside cover].
“So,” the Archbishop says with a laugh, “our book says that it is in giving that we receive. So I would hope that people would recognize in themselves that it is when we are closed in on ourselves that we tend to be miserable. It is when we grow in a self-forgetfulness— in a remarkable way I mean we discover that we are filled with joy.
“Ive sometimes joked and said God doesn’t know very much math, because when you give to others, it should be that you are subtracting from yourself. But in this incredible kind of way — I’ve certainly found that to the the case so many times— you gave and it then seems like in fact you are making space for more to be given to you.
“And there is a very physical example. The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. And we are made much that way too. I mean. we receive and we must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful” [The Book of Joy, p. 263-4]
You might be thinking, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what my gifts are. It’s ok! You are sitting in a place that is here to help you figure those things out. No matter your situation, you have something to give. Ask God to open your heart to finding ways you can give back to God. St. Paul’s is a faith community that supports its members and the greater Brunswick community through the generosity and giving of it’s members. Without your help, we would not have the ability to provide space for AA, OA, NA, and play groups, or facilitate knitting groups, Bible studies, prayer groups, church school, outreach, and so much more.
I have an exercise for you from The Book of Joy. No, you won’t break a sweat, but you will have to think. Take a deep breath and slowly release it. As you listen, try to let the words wash over you and flood your heart. “Generosity. Feel the deep generosity that is in your heart. Imagine yourself radiating this generosity of the spirit to all around you. How can you give your gifts? How can you transform your problem into an opportunity to give to others? When we give joy to others, we experience true joy ourselves” [The Book of Joy, p. 345].