Old Testament: Ruth (3:1-5, 4:13-17)
Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.” So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.
The Response: Psalm 127
1 Unless the Lord builds the house, *
their labor is in vain who build it.
2 Unless the Lord watches over the city, *
in vain the watchman keeps his vigil.
3 It is in vain that you rise so early and go to bed so late; *
vain, too, to eat the bread of toil,
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
4 Children are a heritage from the Lord, *
and the fruit of the womb is a gift.
5 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior *
are the children of one’s youth.
6 Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! *
he shall not be put to shame
when he contends with his enemies in the gate.
The Epistle: Hebrews (9:24-28 )
Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
The Gospel: Mark (12:38-44)
As Jesus 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Two months ago, I mentioned in a sermon that the Gospel According to Mark is a mystery story, told in two parts. Part one asks the question: “Who is this man, this Jesus of Nazareth?” Eventually, Peter solves the mystery: he is the Messiah, the Christ. But that’s just the beginning. From that point on, the mystery deepens as the author probes the answer to the question “What kind of Messiah is he?” The immediate answer is that he is a suffering Messiah. Three times, Jesus predicts his coming suffering and death.
Today we come to the very last story in Jesus public ministry. The only parts of the gospel left are Jesus’ words about the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem and, eventually, the end of all things — we’ll hear part of that in next Sunday’s gospel reading – and the narrative of Jesus suffering and death. This brief story about the so-called “widow’s mite” can seem minor and of little importance; but Mark gives it prominence of place by making it the final scene in Jesus’ entire public ministry. He does so because, in his narrative, it provides a vivid example for understanding what kind of Messiah Jesus is and will be.
It is an example that we probably wouldn’t have chosen if we were creating this passage from scratch. Jesus is no longer teaching about what he is going to do and what others are going to do to him, much less about the meaning of those events that are soon to come. Instead, Mark briefly turns our attention away from Jesus himself and toward an anonymous, impoverished widow, largely passed-by and ignored by the crowds who have gathered at the temple.
As Jesus and his disciples watch, this woman places into the offering box two small coins. Her contribution might, at face value, seem unimportant and even inconsequential. But, as Jesus points out, she has, in a deeper sense, given more than all the others, because she has given, as our translation puts it, “all she had to live on.” The Greek term used here is even more powerful. It says literally that she gave “her entire ‘bios’: her entire life. Placed as this story is at the conclusion of Jesus’ public ministry, it presents a powerful image of what Jesus is about to do in giving his entire life and of what Jesus calls his followers to do as well.
We, along with just about every other church that I know, are currently bringing this year’s stewardship program to a conclusion. Next Sunday, we’ll be including our pledges for the coming year in our offering. I know that many of you are very generous in your support of this church and its vital ministries in our community.
But as the poor widow in today’s gospel reading understood, God invites us to offer, not only our money, but our entire “bios”: our entire life. To use familiar stewardship terminology, God invites us to give not only our treasure, but our time and talent as well.
Some churches, too many churches, tend to skip that part of their stewardship. There are some larger, more affluent churches that I know, many of whose members seem to take the approach that giving financially is enough. They attempt to take their responsibility to minister to those who are in-need and to the community at-large and to “hire it out.” Their attitude toward direct contact with, and service to, others seems to be “we don’t need to do that ourselves; we have people to do it for us.”
While it would sometimes be very nice if St. Mark’s had their financial resources, it is probably better for us, as we try to live out the gospel, that we don’t have people to do ministry in the community and in the wider world for us. We have to do it ourselves.
Earlier this fall, our Vestry met with our diocesan Canon for Transitions to begin a conversation with him about St. Mark’s transition that is coming over the next couple of years. At one point, he asked how St. Mark’s has changed its focus over the past two+ decades that I have been privileged to be with you in ministry. And one of our longtime members responded that the parish has focused much more than it had in the past on going out into the community and serving a variety of people in-need. That emphasis has always been part of St. Mark’s identity, but it has become much more prominent over the years. And that is a very positive trend.
Yet it is important for the life of the church that we continue to involve more and more members of the parish in direct, hands-on work, both here at our church home and out in the wider community to which God has sent us. And not only is that important for the life of the church, but it is always important for our own lives as well. Because it is an important way that we put into practice the gospel that we profess and exercise fully the stewardship of all the gifts that God has entrusted to us.
Each of us has gifts of time and talent to give. And it often seems that those who have the least give the most – like the widow in the gospel story. It all comes down to a matter of priorities in life. Just as we show our real values in the way that we choose to spend our money, so do we show our real values in the way that we choose to spend the time and the abilities that God has given us.
The second verse of today’s “Gradual” or “Gospel” hymn (#705 in The Hymnal 1982, “As those of old their first fruits brought”), which we just sang, expresses it this way:
A world in need now summons us to labor, love, and give;
to make our life an offering to God that all may live;
the Church of Christ is calling us to make the dream come true:
a world redeemed by Christ-like love;
all life in Christ made new.
Over the next week and one-half, we will be preparing to celebrate our national day of Thanksgiving. This seems like an especially appropriate time for us to commit ourselves to living truly thankful lives by rededicating ourselves to using whatever time and abilities God has given us to serve the needs of those around us. It was in God’s Word-made-flesh, a word who gave his entire life for others, that God began the work of transforming all things. And it is by allowing God’s word to take on flesh today, our flesh, that we do our part to continue God’s work of making all things new.