Sermons That Work

The Widow’s Gift to Us, Proper 27 (B) – 2000

November 12, 2000

She in her poverty, who needs so much,
has given away everything,
her whole living.

Whenever I read this Gospel, I remember the following story about the Rev. Gordon Cosby, founder and pastor of the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. The incident occurred when Cosby was a young man, minister of a small Baptist congregation in a railroad town just outside of Lynchburg, Virginia. As Cosby tells it:

My deacon sent for me one day and told me that he wanted my help. “We have in our congregation,” he said, “a widow with six children. I have looked at the records and discovered that she is putting into the treasury of the church each month $4.00 – a tithe of her income. Of course, she is unable to do this. We want you to go and talk to her and let her know that she needs to feel no obligation whatsoever, and free her from the responsibility.”

I am not wise now [writes Gordon]; I was less wise then. I went and told her of the concern of the deacons. I told her as graciously and as supportively as I know how that she was relieved of the responsibility of giving. As I talked with her the tears came into her eyes. “I want to tell you,” she said, “that you are taking away the last thing that gives my life dignity and meaning.”

“I tried to retrieve the situation. I was unable to do it. I went home and pondered the story of Jesus in the temple watching the people put their offerings in the collection plate. Jesus’ attitude amazed me. He had the audacity to watch what people were putting in the collection plate. Not only did he have the audacity to watch, he had the audacity to comment. Of the rich who put in large sums he said, “They put in what they can easily afford.” Of the poor widow who dropped in two coins, he said, “She in her poverty, who needs so much, has given away everything, her whole living.” I knew I would have said to her, “Let us take this to the council. We have a sensible council that always makes exceptions and I know that they will relieve you of your discipline of giving.”
-from Letters To Scattered Pilgrims, by Elizabeth O’Conner

Someone has said, “you cannot read the Word of God.” The key to the word of God is in the Book, but the Word of God itself is in life. You have got to know the Word of God, and “know” in the language of the Bible means to love and enter into. So it is only when we love and enter into a life of giving, a disciplined life of giving, that the Word of God can come alive in us.

Jesus says elsewhere, “the poor we will always have with us.”

Another of God’s gifts. Like the widows in these two stories. They bring us closer to the Word of God through the witness of their discipline of giving. They show us a way to be free from the bondage and idolatry of money. They show us a path, a way into a life lived with the Word of God.

Notice that Jesus watches, not in judgement. He merely observes and reports what he observes. He wants us to live a faithful life of dignity and meaning. And he says that the widow shows us one important dimension of such a faithful life. He is calling those who are better off to a life of equal commitment.

Equal commitment, not equal gifts.

In such a life, miracles occur. Jesus knows all about such miracles. Right before his eyes in the Temple treasury, he could see one taking place.

The two copper coins. Once they entered the collection to be used for the ministry and mission of God’s people, those two tiny copper coins took on the proportion of the entire Temple treasury. They became a part of a much larger sum and could do such work as they could never have accomplished by themselves.

Those two coins represented, we are told, the whole proportion of what the widow had at that time and place, and she placed them before God to do whatever work needed to be done in God’s name then and there. Then they took on the whole proportion of the entire Temple treasury.

Jesus asks all disciples everywhere, in every age, to remember her gift. And to remember her faithful exercise of one of the gifts of God’s Spirit: the discipline of giving.

Jesus comments so that we will never forget that we can know the Word of God the same way the widow knew the Word of God. We can live into the joy and dignity and meaning she derived from living into the Word of God.

Like both widows, the widow in Cosby’s story and the widow in the Gospel, we need so much. But we need nothing more desperately than to experience the freedom and dignity these widows knew from living with the Word of God through the discipline of giving. Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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