A Sermon on Mark 12.41-13.2 (The Widow's Offering)
The first time I heard your story
they told me to count the number of coins you put in the offering plate.
They told me that two mites equals one penny
and just like that, your story was about numbers and money.
It was about the haves
and the have-nots.
It was a story about the kid in my high school who
collected can goods for the hunger drive
even though he had nothing to eat at home.
Of all the nameless people in the Bible
you're my favorite.
Preachers across the country will tell your story today.
They'll tell congregations to go out and be like you.
To take what very little they have, and to give it generously.
But they're not you.
And I'm not sure that's the lesson you were teaching us.
I see your face every day
when I drive home from work.
I see you in the face of every person
standing on a corner
holding a cardboard sign
displaying their life story for the world to scrutinize
absorbing disapproving glares
like a North Dakota wind they can't turn their back to.
I wonder what your life looks like after the sun goes down.
I'm. So. Sorry.
I'm sorry that with selfish ambition
we created a bottom line made of gold coins,
and left you with nothing
instead of learning to live with less.
We stripped you of your dignity,
of your personhood,
until all that was left was two coins and an obligation
that said they weren't yours to keep.
To say that Jesus was happy with your sacrifice is a farce.
If you had only been there moments before,
you would have heard him say that the greatest commandment
is to love the Lord your God,
by loving your neighbor.
The kind of love that is spelled G-I-V-E.
does this make you angry?
Does it make you bitter?
I'm sorry that after living a life of loss already,
that you had to give what was left
to a system that didn't believe in your worth,
a system that didn't believe you had anything to offer.
We align you with orphans and foreigners
and call you "the most vulnerable."
We name you, "Poor."
We name you, "Unfortunate."
We do not bother to ask you for your name.
And while vulnerability is your reality,
we forgot that it isn't the definition of all that you are.
That while your reality is poverty today,
we toss aside who you once were,
deciding for you that it cannot be a piece of who you are now.
Who were you childhood friends?
Was your wedding day the happiest day of your life?
How many days did you stay at home and cry after your husband died?
We'll never know what your life was made of.
We'll only know what you didn't have.
In case no one else told you,
I'm so sorry for your loss.
I cannot begin to imagine what you thought of the church.
Placing your two coins in the treasury,
you told them that they failed.
Because if you gave all you had to live on,
then you only had two coins to live on.
After proclaiming their call to care for widow and orphan,
they watched as you proved their hypocrisy.
What happens next?
You gave all that you had.
You have nothing else.
Is your faith really that strong?
I want to step into the pages of scripture
and stand with you.
As a church leader
I set aside my alb.
I reject impressive titles and accomplishments.
I reject proclaiming to be church by only outward appearance.
That's where the scribes got it so wrong.
They favored being recognized
instead of recognizing that their titles and rank meant nothing
if you were left standing in the cold.
I stand with you on your side of history
understanding that I cannot go back in time and fix what was done to you.
The first time I heard your story
they told it as though it were a history lesson.
Like a Once upon a time, there was a poor widow.
Like your story fit into a neat and tidy box
topped with a bow of Happily Ever After.
You had no Happily Ever After.
You had poverty and you had death.
They were wrong.
Your existence is neither historical nor fictional
and I'm afraid that every time we use your story to point backwards
we're missing the chance to use your legacy to move forward.
in Saint Paul there sits a Cathedral.
It looks nothing like the temples you are used to,
but it is a thing of dramatic beauty.
One day I saw an old woman sitting on the sidewalk in front of the church
asking for change so she'd have enough to eat.
She stretched out her hands, looking for coins.
She made me think of you, dear Woman.
That there is no better picture to show how far we have yet to go,
than that of you both in front of that beautiful, elaborate, building.
Your story has a knack for calling us out,
for making us face that fact that
what we can afford to give
isn't always what's needed.
We can give you our change,
and we can give you our prayers,
but all the while you might need a hand...
No one was there to listen to your story,
to grasp your hand around your two coins
holding it closed,
and to tell you,
"No. You keep it.
You need it more than we need impressive buildings and banquets.
upon centuries late,
I humbly offer you two things:
First, I offer you my voice,
that your story will be one that I tell
as if it made every morning headline.
A relevant ancient social justice issue.
Second, I offer you the promise that
your story will not be met with complacency.
That I will continue to seek out your face.
That I will see you as a beloved child of God,
and not just the widow who gave her two mites.
Not a story about sacrifice or pennies,
but a story about you,