“Watching the Treasury”

8 November 2015

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 12:38-44

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Prayer.

The way one reacts to, and is influenced by, our gospel

depends upon which of the characters you identify yourself with.

Are you the widow?

the scribe?

or the disciples?

 

Let’s face it,

the majority of us associate ourselves

with the poor widow placing her poor penny in the coffer,

which, when one considers all the married men here today,

completely mystifies me,

why any of us men would identify ourselves with a widow.

I can understand women,

Especially widowed women,

Identifying themselves with the widow in the Gospel;

But men?

Married men?

 

When we identify ourselves with the widow,

we like to have our thoughts take us away

and open up our delusional daydreams

about how we’ve made such grand and glorious financial contributions to the church down through the years:

“If it wasn’t for me, and all my sacrificial giving” we think to ourselves,

“just where would the church be?

The church would be broke.”

To be honest,

There are days I climb on my high horse

and associate myself with the widow.

 

A few of us might identify ourselves with the scribes.

We like to come to church in our Sunday finest,

to be greeted with respect out in public,

to have our favorite seat here at church.

With the sole exception of those who “devour widows’ houses,”

which I don’t believe any of us here are engaged in this type of despicable activity,

some of us might begrudgingly admit,

“yes, sometimes I do act like the scribes in today’s gospel.”

I know I do.

Let us remind one another that it was the scribes

who in their day

engaged in organized crime at its greatest efficiency:

the administration of the Temple treasury.

 

It was truly amazing to visit

the Vatican five years ago;

the size, the beauty, the grander,

all created to make a statement about the God whom we worship.

Noble, yes, but there is more to the story.

Our guide explained to us that during the period of its construction,

for over 120 years,

the building of the new basilica essentially impoverished all of Europe.

Three generations suffered and starved during this period of economic night.

120 years of economic impoverishment contributed mightily

To what we know today as the dark ages.

I ran the numbers:

it cost an equivalent of $5,756,406,396 ($5.7b) US dollars (2009)

to build St. Peter’s basilica.

(Based on 46,800,052 ducats, as found at Wikipedia,

and using the precious metal converter at dendritics.com)

 

And that’s before the interior decoration began.

The church was required to sell indulgences to increase income,

which, of course, led to the schism known as the Reformation.

Building the basilica drained Europe dry.

Today,

St. Peter’s basilica alone represents one percent of the global economy.

The art collection is priceless.

Perhaps a new wind is blowing in Rome.

Imagine what an art sale would do to address global poverty!

 

In a similar vein,

Think back 1600 years before St. Peter’s basilica

And make the comparison

with the Jerusalem Temple.

The economics break down, of course, but the scenarios might be the same:

One of the priests at St. Peter’s looking with disdain to a widow placing a penny into the offering plate at the Vatican

Would have been similar to

One of the scribes looking with disdain to a widow placing a penny into the Temple coffers while Jesus quietly looks on.

 

Look at the grander of the Temple!

This mountain we call Zion

Was leveled to build the courtyard and foundation.

It took more than 85 years to build,

and it cost the people economic hardship to construct and maintain.

A whole economy was created to maximize revenue for organized Judaism,

·       selling sacrificial animals,

·       paying for ceremonial baths,

·       requiring regular pilgrimages to pay the Temple tax.

It was all a monopoly;

A license to print money.

 

And here comes a lowly widow.

Nearly everything she had was now in the Temple’s treasury.

She probably had just made a decision that will sign over the deed to her house,

Because, most often,

A widows home would have fallen into foreclosure

by Temple backed lien-holders.

She had given nearly her all

Before she even approached the treasury box this morning,

Being observed by Jesus and his disciples.

Here she gives her last and final penny to God.

 

She’s got nothing;

Nothing!

Except her complete faith

That God will take care and support her,

Working through the faith community,

For the rest of her life.

If this doesn’t make you gasp with an “Oh, my goodness!”

you must not have a pulse.

 

Many preachers this Sunday

will draw a mistaken conclusion from our gospel

and use this text to support the fall stewardship appeal

to raise next year’s budget.

Their wayward conclusion will be to ask us to give like the widow:

Give as much as you can,

all that you can,

even give everything to support the mission and ministry of our wonderful church.

 

I would suggest that these interpreters of the Word have it backwards.

“The story of the widow’s offering suggests that faithful giving

and faithful living is not for the sake of the recipient,”

namely, the church,

“but rather for the sake of the life of the giver.

If the ends are assured in the economy of God,

then only the means remain.”

(With thanks for this original thought and quotation

from Henry Langknecht,

Associate Professor of Homiletics at Trinity Lutheran Seminary,

Columbus, Ohio,

as found at workingpreacher.org)

 

When we place ourselves in the footsteps of the disciples

learning at the feet of Jesus,

we observe in today’s gospel that we give to God

for what it does for us,

not for what it does for God.

 

God doesn’t need your money.

Everything is God’s to begin with!

However, we need to give it.

We need to give.

 

Do any of you remember

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs?

It is one of the psychological theories taught in Psychology 101.

He taught that physiological needs are foundational and must be met first:

Air, water, food, clothing and shelter.

Makes sense.

When a person’s physical needs are satisfied,

Then one needs to be safe.

Once one feels safe,

Then one needs love and belonging, followed by esteem, and self-actualization.

The one physiological foundation Abraham Maslow left off

In his hierarchy of human needs

is the need to give.

It is just as important as food, water, and shelter.

To give,

to contribute in a meaningful way,

of time, talent, property, money,

is to sacrifice of ourselves for the benefit of another.

It creates the conduit for human relationships to be built and nurtured.

It creates the connection between ourselves and our God.

There is no greater gift than to give your life for another.

This is the Good news about giving:

Usually it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.

Jesus correctly understands the faith building value

… the relationship building value …

of each person making a personal contribution

for the benefit of ourselves, our community, and our God.

And so should we.

 

John Wesley,

The 18th century British Episcopal priest

Responsible for the start of the Methodist movement,

Was known for saying,

“Earn all that you can.

Save all that you can.

And give all that you can.”

When we give, it makes us stronger.

When we give, it benefits our community.

When we give, it pleases our God.

That’s what puts us at the feet of Jesus this morning.

 

The way we respond to our gospel

Depends on who we identify ourselves with.

Are you the widow? too easy of an answer.

Are you the scribe? bolder, but don’t take the martyr’s way out.

Are you the disciple? ah, now you’re talking. 

Be the disciple

Experience the joy of giving.

Ask yourself: are you and I the disciples learning at Jesus’ feet?

Amen.