(1 Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:24-28)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/MULyeyULxtM)
38As 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, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then 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. 44For 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.”
As I was preparing for this week’s message, I came across a story that gets to the heart of our readings assigned for this week. It goes as such: Once upon a time there was a place where animals were suffering greatly from drought and hunger. A very poor bunny was walking sadly through the fields when, all of a sudden, a wizard appeared in front of him. The wizard offered the bunny a bag filled with little bouquets of flowers. “They are magical, and they’re even more magical if you know how to use them properly”, said the wizard. The bunny was dying of hunger, but he decided not to eat the bouquets. He wanted to put them to good use.
On his way home, the bunny met a very old and very poor sheep who could hardly walk any more. “Can you spare me something?” asked the sheep. The bunny had nothing except his bouquets, and since they were magical, he was reluctant to give them to the sheep. But he remembered how his parents had always taught him to share everything; so he pulled a bouquet out of the bag and gave it to the sheep. As soon as he did this, the bunch shone with a thousand colors. Magic was at work.
The bunny continued on his way, feeling both happy and a bit annoyed. He had given away one of the bouquets, but at the same time it was obvious that the sheep needed it more than he did. As he continued his journey, the very same thing happened to the bunny when he met a blind duck and then a lame cockerel. When the bunny arrived home, he had only one magical bouquet left. He told his parents all about what had happened with the wizard, and his parents were very proud of the bunny’s behavior. He was about to pull out the final bouquet, when his little brother arrived home, crying with hunger. The bunny gave his brother the magical bouquet.
At that moment, with a great rumble of thunder, the wizard appeared again. He asked the bunny “Where are the magical bouquets I gave you? What have you done with them?” The bunny was frightened and he started to apologize. But the wizard interrupted, saying “Didn’t I tell you that if you used them well they’d be even more magical? Well, go outside and see what you’ve done!”
The bunny went out, shaking. And what he saw was that, thanks to the way he had used his magical bouquets, for as far as the eye could see the whole countryside had turned into wonderful, green farmland. Farmland with enough water and food to feed all the animals! And the bunny felt very happy that he had acted as he had, and that the magic of his generosity would bring happiness to everyone.
That poor, little bunny couldn’t have imagined the fruits of his generosity. He was just as destitute as all the other animals of the land. He was searching for the same scarce water and food. Suddenly, out of nowhere, food was thrust upon him. He could have easily satisfied his own hunger with the food but chose to heed the magician’s words of caution, if only out of sheer curiosity. Who wouldn’t be curious to know what magic could be unleashed if only used properly?! Even so, the bunny was never instructed on how best to put the bouquets to use to yield the greatest magic. He just happened upon others in greater need than he and relied on his parental teaching about sharing. As it turned out, his generosity was exactly what was needed to trigger the full magic of the bouquets.
But it wasn’t just a willingness to share that triggered the magic. It was the sacrificial generosity that triggered the magic. The bunny was struggling himself. The bunny could have eased his own suffering but instead chose to ease the suffering of others. The bunny used what little he had for the benefit of others rather than himself. It was his sacrificial generosity that created even greater rewards both for himself and all those around him.
Our readings assigned for this week also give witness to this same sacrificial generosity. In our readings from 1 Kings, we heard the story of Elijah’s encounter with a poor widow in Zarephath. He asks her to gather some water for him and then asks for some food. The water is no inconvenience but the request for food proves to be one: “As the Lord God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Like the poor bunny stumbling through the land plagued with draught and hunger, the poor widow had come to the end of her desperation and was resolved to simply eat and die. Elijah convinces her to do as he requested and she rewarded unexpectedly: “she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke to Elijah.” Her time of hunger and draught came to an abrupt and sudden end. She and all those around her were greatly rewarded for her sacrificial generosity…not just her generosity but her sacrificial generosity.
In our psalm for today, we also heard of the joy that is felt by those who place complete trust in God to meet their needs and give to those in need. David sang, “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.” David sang of the great joy that can be found in giving to those in need, especially the oppressed and hungry. God sees such generosity, particularly sacrificial generosity, and rewards accordingly. After all, we heard David sing, “The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.”
Again, in our passage from Mark, we heard of Jesus’ encounter poor widow who gave all she had to the church’s treasury. It wasn’t much but it was all she had and Jesus praised her generosity, her sacrificial generosity. In comparing her contribution to that of the rich donators, Jesus proclaimed, “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.” Again, like the bunny who could have eased his own suffering, the poor widow chose to ease the suffering of others by giving all she had to the church treasury. And God noticed it no doubt rewarded her accordingly. We, of course, don’t get to know how God rewards her but we can safely assume it was kindly. This is because we’ve heard God’s history of greatly rewarding such sacrificial generosity. God wants us to give back to Him and to each other. In our giving, we enter into relationship with God and each other and place strong value on these relationships. It is hard to value relationships that you give nothing into. The act of giving en-values relationships. Sacrificial giving places an even higher value on the relationship. To withhold personal gain for the sake of a relationship places great value on the relationship.
Mother Teresa, one of the great saints of the 20th century, is quoted as saying, “if you give what you do not need, it isn’t giving.” Jesus saw those who gave out of their abundance and condemned them for it. He, like Mother Teresa, didn’t consider their giving to be giving. Jesus was all about sacrificial giving as we see by what he gave on the cross. As faithful Christians, we are called to give as Christ gave and continues to give: sacrificially. We are called to ignore our own personal gains and seek to help others in need with what little we are given in this life. Sure, some of us will be given more than others but in comparison to all that God gives it is a small amount. Let us strive to give more than just of our abundances. Let us strive to give out of poverty. As Martin Luther famously declared on his deathbed, we are beggars this is true. Let us give as God so graciously gives to us each and every day of our lives. In reflecting on sacrificial giving this Sunday, may…you give all you have to give.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.