Sermons 2003-2004

Jesus and theWidow's Mite
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church
Jesus and the Widow's Mite
Proper 27B 2003 I Kings 17:8-16; Mark 12:38-44

Oseola McCarty is one of the saints of our time. Her story may be familiar. She died four years ago at the age of 91. She was an African-American woman from Mississippi, who earned a living by washing and ironing other people's clothes. McCarty, who never married, was in the 6th grade when she had to leave school and take over her mother's laundry business while she cared for a sick aunt.

"All my classmates had gone off and left me so I didn't go back," she said. "I just washed and ironed." She never had a car. Only in her eighties at the urging of bank personnel, did she buy a window air conditioner for her home. McCarty's arthritis forced her to retire in December of '94 at the age of 86.

McCarty scrimped and saved, however, until she was able to leave $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi to set up scholarships for other needy African Americans. Contributions from more than 600 donors have added some $330,000 to the original scholarship fund of $150,000. After hearing of Miss McCarty's gift, Ted Turner, a multi-billionaire, gave away a billion dollars. He said, 'If that little woman can give away everything she has, then I can give a billion.'

"I want to help somebody's child go to college," Oseola said. "I just want it to go to someone who will appreciate it and learn. I can't do everything, but I can do something to help somebody. I wish I could do more. But what I can do I will do." (from Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary, by Paul Nuechterlein & Friends, at

The two Bible stories we heard today, the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and the story of the widow's mite -- these stories illuminate several things about faithfulness and miracles, and, of course stewardship.

Zarephath was a town belonging to the great pagan city of Sidon, and was in the heart of the land of the worshippers of Baal the fertility idol. The setting of this story is irony in itself -- a killing drought in the land of the fertility idol.

The prophet Elijah finds the widow scrounging the barren earth for enough twigs to prepare the last meal available for her and her son. She will go home, build this fire, bake a small piece of bread, eat it, and die, she and her son. But Elijah tells her to give it to him instead. When she answers him we know that she is aware of the Living God that Elijah serves: "As the Lord your God lives," she says.

Elijah promises that if she does as she says she and her son will not starve to death, that her jar of meal will not run out, and that her jar of cooking oil will not be emptied until the drought is broken.

She believes him and does as he says.

It's a let go of the bush, cut the rope story, isn't it? The mountain climber who falls, clinging to a bush or dangling at the end of his rope, and calling on God to be saved. And God says, "Let go of the bush; cut the rope." And the widow of Zarephath did. She gave Elijah the last of everything she had.

We must be careful of making too much of this story. First Kings is silent about the rest of the people struck down by the drought. It may well be that they were not given meal and oil like the widow of Zarephath; that they starved to death; and that there were widows and children among them.

The story of the widow's mite is, not so oddly, in the lectionary during the period when churches conduct the Every Member Canvass and stewardship campaigns. About the Canvass and Stewardship I need only say this: The standard for giving is the tithe. If we are truly tithing, that is a good thing. If we are not, moving smartly toward tithing is a good thing. We all know what we are supposed to do and it is a good thing to get on with it.

Jesus and his disciples had left the Court of the Gentiles where he had laid down the Great Commandment in his response to a scribes query. In our reading for today, Jesus severely condemns the scribes. Scribes were mid-level community, synagogue, and temple officials. Their duties seem to have been primarily administrative rather than sacramental. They were empowered to teach and interpret the Law. In Mark's Gospel, they seem as a group to have been opposed to Jesus and his teachings. Of course they were; his radical Good News ran contrary to much of what they taught about the Law.

Perhaps tiring of dealing with Scribes, Jesus and his disciples may have moved into the Temple Court of the Women to rest. The trumpet shaped collecting boxes of the Temple treasury were located there. These boxes were of metal and bystanders could judge the size of the donation by the sound the coins made as they tumbled down through the long stemmed funnels. A lot of heavier coins made one loud and longer sort of sound. The two coins of the widow must have made a small insignificant little tinkling sound as they went in and down into the boxes. Sitting where he was, Jesus could tell a lot about the attitude of the person giving. He still can.

At first glance this story seems to be only about giving. Like the widow of Zarephath, this poor widow gave everything she had. Everything. When she left the Temple she had nothing with which to buy oil and meal for her supper. She had given everything. There was no prophet to rescue her. Or was there?

But is it really only about giving? Consider Mother Theresa. Robert Fulghum, who wrote "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," says that he placed by the mirror in his bathroom a picture of a woman who is not his wife.

Every morning as he stood there shaving, he looked at the picture of that woman.

The picture? The picture is of a small humped-over woman wearing sandals and a white sari and headdress with blue stripes. She is surrounded by important-looking people in tuxedos, evening gowns, and the regalia of royalty. It is the picture of Mother Teresa, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize! Surely she deserved it.

Fulghum said he keeps the picture there to remind him that, more than a president of any nation, more than any pope, more than any chief executive officer of a major corporation, that woman has authority because she is a
servant. (in Brett Blair and Staff, eSermons Illustrations for 9 November 2003)

Like the widow with her mite, Mother Theresa gave her all. They both gave because they loved the Lord with all that they had and all that they were. And clearly Mother Theresa, with her work with the wretchedly poor of Calcutta and the rest of the world, with her love for those dying in the city gutters, she loved her neighbor. For these two women it wasn't about money. It was about loving God and following the Great Commandment.

Not that Mother Theresa minded money. She knew that it was essential to the work she had been given to do. There is a story about one of her visits to the Chief Executive Officer of a large American corporation. She was begging money to expand her order into other parts of the world where the need was as great as in Calcutta.

This man received her graciously but he said that his corporation could not give as generously as she asked. Mother Theresa then said, "Let us pray." The man still said no, but very politely. Mother Theresa said, "Let us pray." After about ten repetitions of this the CEO realized that she was NOT going to leave until he did what she asked. And he couldn't throw her out it would be a terrible publicity and public relations disaster.

And so as she said, "Let us pray again," he said, "You know, Mother Theresa, I think you've got a point. I'll do it."

A modern parable: You may have seen it come across the InterNet. It's been around for several years.

A Professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, without saying a word, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with five or six large rocks. He then asked the students if the jar were full. They agreed that it was.

So the Professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook he jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They again agreed that it was.

The Professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar and shook the jar again. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar were full. The students responded with a unanimous "Yes."

The Professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the grains of sand. The students laughed.

"Now", said the Professor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The large rocks are the important things: your faith, the people you love, your children, your health, your friends, your favorite passions - things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full."

"The pebbles are the other things that matter-- like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else - the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first", he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the large rocks no room for the more important things."

"The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you."

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your friends out for dinner or invite them over. Enjoy the glories of the Creation. Help with the work and mission of your faith community. There will always be time to clean the house, cut the grass, and fix the disposal. Take care of the large rocks first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

When he had finished, there was a profound silence. Then one of the students raised her hand and with a puzzled expression, inquired what the beer represented.

The Professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of beers with friends." (from an InterNet email)

When things in life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the parable of the mayonnaise jar. Remember Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. Remember Jesus and the Widow's mite. Remember to love God with all that we have and are. Remember to love our neighbors as ourselves.