A Reading from the Book of 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.
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.
A Reading from the Letter to the 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 Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to 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
With the temperatures this past week climbing into the low 70s, it certainly didn’t feel like November. And even now that the weather has cooled down, it’s still hard to realize that Thanksgiving is just two and one-half weeks away. Yet autumn is quickly passing by, the time of harvest has come, and we Americans, at least in theory, are preparing to give thanks for the many blessings that we enjoy.
Many people, at least for a brief time on this particular holiday, pause to reflect on the many ways that they have been blessed and to express their gratitude. But genuine thanksgiving takes us far beyond that. Genuine thanksgiving necessarily leads to action: to action on behalf of those who do not share the many blessings that we tend to take for granted.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Lutheran pastor and theologian who was killed by the Nazis shortly before the end of World War II, insisted: “Let none say, ‘God has blessed us with money and possessions,’ and then live as if they and their God were alone in the world. Possessions are not God’s blessing and goodness, but the opportunities for service which God entrusts to us.” The gifts with which God has blessed us — our time and whatever abilities we have, as well as our money – have been entrusted to us so that we can use them as opportunities to serve others. That is why, in the form of the Eucharistic Prayer or “Great Thanksgiving” that we use today, we pray that, in response to God’s many blessings, we might “worthily serve the world in [Christ’s] name.” That is why God has entrusted us with whatever we have. Genuine thanksgiving necessarily leads us to take action on behalf of those in need.
But there is another aspect of our thanksgiving and of our use of God’s gifts that likewise, and all too often, gets pushed aside. It is one that Jesus highlights in today’s gospel reading.
In that account, many rich people are coming to the temple and contributing large amounts to the treasury. But then a woman, identified as “a poor widow,” comes and puts in a few cents’ worth. Yet Jesus holds her up as a model. “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.” They were apparently giving out of what was left over after everything else had been taken care of: out of their surplus; but she was exercising what is often called “sacrificial giving”: an approach that puts giving to those in need first, at the top of our priority list.
While stewardship drives, that take place in just about every church this time of year, tend to focus on our monetary contributions to the work of God, genuine stewardship includes also whatever time and abilities God has entrusted to us. And sometimes, we find it easier to give money than to give time and effort.
And even when we do, we tend to make our gift of time an afterthought. Like the rich people in today’s gospel story who contributed to the temple from their surplus, we tend to offer to the work of God whatever time we happen to have left over. In order to justify ourselves, we look only at the time that we have to spend at our jobs or on caring for our families, and we claim that this doesn’t allow us to do much of anything for anybody else. For some people, that may be the case. But all too often, we choose to ignore what tends to be a significant amount of time that we spend doing whatever we choose to do: time engaged in a hobby, time watching TV or surfing the Internet, or simply time engaged in doing whatever, often self-centered, activities we have made part of our daily routines. Some of our busy-ness is a factor of life in our contemporary society; but often, it comes as a result of our own choices.
We carefully select how we are going to spend what we consider to be “our time” instead of recognizing that it is, in reality, God’s time, entrusted to us to do God’s work in the world. We try not to think about that, because admitting it means that the time that we allocate toward caring for others and toward making the world a better place for others to live becomes something that may well take priority over what we prefer to do and choose to do. And it may well take away some of the time that we spend doing the things that we want to do. Giving up that time is just as much a part of “sacrificial giving” as the gift of our money: gifts not from what is left over, but gifts that are given up-front, just as they were with the widow in the gospel story.
Many years ago, when I was in the seminary, I had a professor who loved a play on words. And he announced one day that, after thinking about it for a long time, he had finally settled on an epitaph for himself. He announced that, when he died, he wanted his tombstone to read simply, “Thank you, God, for giving me the time of my life.”
God has given us all the time of our lives, as well as everything else that we possess. And God has entrusted that time to us as a gift. But, to borrow Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words about our possessions, that time is not just God’s blessing and goodness to us, but the opportunity for service that God entrusts to us. And it is in using that time faithfully and generously that our gratitude becomes more than just a matter of words and that we respond to God’s infinite blessings with genuine thankfulness: thankfulness in action.