…but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on…” Mark 12:44
When we meet Jesus today, it’s Tuesday of Holy Week. On Sunday, he and his disciples were joyously welcomed into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna” and the waving of palm branches, as if a new king had arrived, and he had. On Monday he went to the temple and caused a near riot by overturning the tables of the money changers and throwing the den of robbers out of the house of prayer. Tuesday morning, he and the 12 returned to the temple and entered the Court of the Israelites, off-limits to anyone except Jewish men, where he argued with leaders about religion, sex and politics, subjects no less contentious in his day than in ours. Now it’s late in the afternoon as they walk down the steps to the Court of Women, where 13 containers for offering line the wall. They’re shaped like upside-down funnels, narrow at the top where the coins drop in, wider at the bottom. Jesus and his disciples sit down to watch the people.
Passover pilgrims fill the courtyard, many obviously wealthy as they deposit large sums into the offering containers. Off to the side, there’s a poor looking woman wearing the dark veil and long robe of a widow. Most people don’t even notice her, but Jesus does. She goes over to an offering container and drops in two coins. They’re copper leptons, the smallest coins in circulation, each worth about an eighth of a cent, the minimum contribution permitted according to temple regulations. Then Jesus points her out to his disciples and says, “This poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. They gave what they’ll never miss, while she gave her all.”
The widow’s example of extravagant faithfulness leads to a very personal question for the disciples: “Who are you?” Are you giving what you won’t miss, along for the adventure as long as it doesn’t get too demanding or are you all in? When the going gets tough will you run and hide, or stay and persevere? We know the story and that according to Mark’s Gospel in just two days, one denies, another betrays and all run away in fear. Who are you?
It’s also a very personal question for Jesus. Here he is, the Son of God in the Temple, the holy house of the Most High God, at the center of the universe, and instead of being respected and honored by the religious leaders they’re questioning his authority and plotting against him. All too soon the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son David” will turn to “Crucify him!” Could it be that two days later while praying in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus remembered that widow giving her all? So that when he threw himself on the ground, and prayed, “Abba, Pappa, Daddy, please take this cup away,” he could dare to add, “Not what I want, but what you want.” For Jesus goes all in, too.
And when you think about it, isn’t also a question for God, “Who are you?” or perhaps, “Where are you?” Where are you when eleven faithful ones are killed on a Shabbat morning in Pittsburgh and twelve are gunned down while dancing in Thousand Oaks? Where are you in the 307 mass shootings of four or more people since the beginning of 2018? Yes, we know God, that you were there with your fifth commandment, “You shall not murder.” And God we trust, you are also there with the dying, in the tears of the grieving, there, all in, the suffering, the loss, the despair. You are with us. Help us as Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, “to fear and love you, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors but instead help and support them in all of life’s need.” God be with us, giving us courage to work together, to overcome differences, to find the common good, to repent and change and to know that death does not have the last word, that you do and it is a word of hope, of peace, of resurrection.
Who are you? There are many today who will answer that by saying they are veterans – ones who gave their all to serve our country. It was first called Armistice Day which marked the end of major hostilities of World War I, when at the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month of 1918 –one hundred years ago, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. It was to be the war that ended all wars, but did not. I remember a picture of my grandfather on the upstairs hall wall, dressed in his uniform, wearing a wide brim hat, looking so young. He and his platoon were in a gas attack which compromised his every breathe for the rest of his life. Going all in, that’s what you do – if you are a veteran, please stand. And if you have a husband or wife, a father or mother, a son or daughter, a brother or sister who served or are now serving, please also stand, for your support, love and prayers sustain them and as a military family you are and were called to be “all in” too.
Who are you? A member of our congregation once asked me that – I don’t know why – perhaps I seemed troubled by many things. His question disarmed me and left me feeling vulnerable. I quickly replied, “I’m a pastor.” He said “I know, but who are you?” Now this, was more difficult. I thought for a while and said, “I am a child of God.” And while he smiled at that answer, the question remains and I hope always will. For it’s a question of fundamental identity for me and for you too. “Who are you?” It’s a stewardship question one Mary Oliver asks in her beautiful poem The Summer Day when she wrties, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Who will you be? What will you serve? Will you be all in or merely skating on the surface? Will you be a giver or a consumer? Or someplace in between – for that is a lot of what life is – fulfilling roles, changing diapers, attending meetings, emptying the dishwasher, putting in a day work, grocery shopping, saying prayers. For whose glory will you live – going all in as the widow did with her two leptons for God or a carefully calculating your gift– not too much, not too little, just enough with plenty left over for yourself.
Who are you? It’s a disarming question that leave us vulnerable, and in that vulnerability opens us up for change and transformation. Perhaps for you it’s taking the risk and filling out a commitment card for the very first time – going beyond “will do the best I can” to putting down a specific number in hope and faith. Or it’s increasing your commitment, maybe even doubling it, taking a step towards going all in. Or maybe it’s declaring, “I cannot be who I am without God, without praying every day, without worshiping ever week, without hearing God’s word and tasting the bread of life and drinking from the cup of salvation – so that when I get distracted by many things, I will remember that I am a child of God, beloved beyond measure. Or it could be stepping beyond your comfort zone and doing something new, attending Bible study, signing up for one of the mission trips next summer, or intentionally engaging in ministry and mission right here at home, serving lunch at St. Peter’s, helping with the backpack program, being a Stephen’s Minister, singing in the choir, volunteering at a non-profit, coaching a team, working to end gun violence, in one way or another, it’s all living, growing and sharing in God’s love through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Who are you? It’s a hard question, but a life giving one. On that Tuesday in the temple, a widow shows Jesus and his disciples what it is to go all in. On Friday, Jesus goes all in, crucified on the cross and now nothing can separate him from us and us from him. And on Sunday, the women go to the tomb before dawn, and finding it empty, are sent back into the world for Jesus was risen, risen indeed. God is all in. Where there’s despair, hope endures, where sorrow reign, joy abounds and where death rules, life is reborn, now and forever. Amen.
i Mark J. Wegener, “Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost,” New Proclamation: Year B, 2003, Easter through Pentecost, ed. Harold W. Rast, Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2003, 248.
ii Mary Oliver The Summer Day, https://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/133.html.