24th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 11/8/15)
first reading: 1 Kings 17:8-16
second reading: Hebrews 9:24-28
gospel reading: Mark 12:38-44
Our readings for this morning set us up for a classic stewardship sermon. Many congregations use a day like today to talk about stewardship in the life of the Church.
The standard definition of stewardship is this: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment and nature, economics, health, property, information, theology, etc…
In our first and gospel readings for today we’re given the stories of two widows, and what they did with what they had. Surrounding these stories are proclamations of God’s power, love and sacrifice, perhaps to remind us of the “worthiness” of the widows’ actions.
Because their actions make little sense if we have ourselves in a secular mindset. But what the secular world often misses is what the Church considers the very FOUNDATION of stewardship, the part of the definitions that says, “entrusted to one’s care.”
Our faith in Jesus tell us the stuff we have is not our own – as we pray in our communion service in our offertory prayer: “Merciful Father, we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us – our selves, our time and our possessions, signs of your gracious love…”
All our “stuff,” indeed all we ARE, comes from God. Period. We are not the creators of our lives, of the people we are, of the talents and gifts we have, or of the possessions we hold.
The widows knew this, and they were content to give the very last parts of “all of it” back to God from whom it came in the first place.
Stewardship, for us who are disciples of Jesus Christ, is about how we use what GOD HAS GIVEN US as individuals – our SELVES, our time and our possessions.
The first widow had some scraps of food and the talent to cook – so she fed God’s prophet. The second widow had some money – not a lot, in fact quite a little, but gave all she had for the running of the Temple. They gave what God had given them, what God had entrusted to their care.
These passages challenge us in two ways. First of all they challenge us to take a look at our lives – to reflect on WHAT has been entrusted to our care. What has God given to us? It’s unique to each individual – there are no blanket answers except that which we find in our offertory prayer – our selves, our time and our possessions.
Since I hate to point fingers and talk about “you,” I’ll use first person pronouns… Who am I? (First of all a child of God – but after that…)
What kind of person am I? What drives me in life? What gives it meaning? What brings me joy? What has brought me sorrow? What are my struggles and my successes? This is my SELF.
Then, what do I do with my SELF? How do I act in the world? How do I treat those around me? What talents do I bring to the table in any given situation? How do I use those talents to serve my self or to serve others?
And what do I do with the stuff I’ve accumulated – my money I’ve earned and the things I’ve bought with it? Am I generous or stingy? Does my stuff really make me happy, or am I accumulating stuff just to keep up with the neighbors, or to try to fill some deep-seeded sense of emptiness? Do I control my stuff, or does my stuff and the desire for stuff control me?
Heavy questions. Questions that require us to take a deep look at ourselves and how we live our lives. And the answers will change as we go through life, because we are ever-changing creatures.
If the first challenge presented to us in these readings is reflection, the second challenge we’re given is action.
We know how the widows acted. The widow of Zarapheth was convinced she and her son were dying of hunger and thirst – she told Elijah she was going to prepare a “last supper” if you will, for her and her son. Her words sting: “As the Lord your God lives” I’m going home to prepare the last food I have “for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” Elijah asked her to have a little faith and share her last food with him, which she did, and it became FAR from her last supper.
The widow of the Temple obviously had a tough life if all she had left was two coins. But she took what she had, and gave it to God, or back to God – and Jesus remarks that her monetarily small gift was worth much more than all the others.
After our reflection, what will be our action?
Once we answer the question, “Who am I?” the next question is, “What will I DO?”
What will I do with me? What will I do with all the gifts, talents, personality and stuff that I have been entrusted with by God? As with the answers to the first set of questions, the answers to these will also change throughout our lives.
Of all that God has given me, of all that has been entrusted to me – what will I give back?
Of course we can never REPAY God for all the gifts we have been given. I mean, how could we repay God for giving us our very lives, now and forever? We can’t.
Our offering, our stewardship, is merely our way of saying THANK YOU to God for everything we are.
So, I guess this sermon is really presenting us with homework – to reflect on who we are, and to decide how we are going to act out our “thank you” to God FOR who we are.
May God be with each one of us in this life-long process of discipleship – and stewardship – of all that has been entrusted to us.