Sermon: Two Coins on the Pledge Card

November 11, 2018
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 12:38-44

It’s curious.

Back to back here, we find Jesus saying startling things. First, he criticizes the scribes. We’ve gotten used, over the last few centuries, to reading about Jesus saying harsh things about the religious leadership of his day. I’m sure others said similar things in Jesus’ day – in fact, we know that John the Baptist did, for one.

It would still be rather shocking, however, to hear somebody saying, “Beware of the preachers, who like to be greeted with respect in the KTA, and get nice seats at the award dinners, and say long prayers when they’re asked to do an invocation, and put on their long robes for special occasions to show how important they are.”

That’s not to say that my colleagues and I don’t deserve it sometimes. I cringe when I learn the salaries some of the more famous ministers bring home. I gasp when a preacher demands that his congregation fund a private jet – for the fourth time. And I know that Jesus wept, and keeps weeping, because priests who abused children in the archdiocese of Los Angeles were “treated” and then assigned to non-English speaking parishes in immigrant communities.

Jesus, you had – and have – a point there.

Then he turned around and commended this woman for putting an insignificant gift in the donation box. Two small coins – enough to buy, in those days, probably a couple loaves of bread. Two meals, perhaps, or maybe two days of meals if she ate lightly.

Jesus told his disciples something they couldn’t know: unlike those who’d put large sums in the box, she’d given all she had.

Now that’s what I call a major gift.

There are so many things we don’t know. Either Jesus didn’t explain them to his friends, or his friends didn’t remember them, or they didn’t pass them on to someone who told someone who told Mark, or Mark decided they weren’t important and left them out.

We don’t know which box she put the coins into. They had different purposes, both for the ritual expressions of the giver, who might be making an offering as repentance for sin, or to fund the wood, the incense, or other necessities of worship.

I would guess that we don’t know because Jesus didn’t comment on it. That’s remarkable. In contemporary giving in America, we pay a great deal of attention to effectiveness. When we give toward a cause, we want that cause to succeed. We want hungry people to be fed. We want homeless people to be housed. We want illiterate people to learn to read. We want sick people cared for.

We want as little of our gift used for administration as possible. In fact, if it could all be used for direct services, we’d call that a win. Practically speaking, we know that effective use of our gifts requires administrative guidance, but emotionally, we don’t care for it much.

Jesus didn’t even raise the question. She put in all she had.

We also don’t know what happened to this woman. As a widow, she may have had a home to return to, perhaps with a son, but she may have had no house of her own. She might have had a trade of some sort to earn a living, but she may also have had no space in which to do it. She may have gone home and assembled the goods that would buy her next day’s meal – or she may have gone to the city gates to join the others begging for those two small coins’ replacement.

Jesus didn’t tell us about that, either. Just: She put in all she had.

It is well and wise to measure generosity by its impact and its effectiveness. I would prefer to teach someone to fish rather than give them fish for meals each day. I’m also aware that if I try to teach a hungry person to fish while they’re still hungry, I’ll accomplish nothing at all.

It is also well and good to keep our generosity sustainable. I don’t want anyone to go hungry because of what they give. The woman Jesus saw has been in God’s hands for two thousand years or so, and I’m still worrying about what she did after she gave it all.

I’m aware as well today of what we ask of some people in our society. Today marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the Great War, which was great in suffering. Between 15 and 19 million soldiers and civilians died in four years. France and Germany each lost around 4% of their population. The Ottoman Empire – which became modern Turkey after the war – lost between 13% and 15%.

That was a lot of people giving everything they had – whether they wanted to give it or not.

I don’t want anyone to give that much.

With Loyalty Sunday coming up next week, however, I assure you that I want you, and all the members and friends of this church, to give. In budget presentations and meetings, in the letter you received from me recently, we’ve tried to describe our impact, and we work to be efficient and effective.

We do not need a $54 million jet, by the way.

What Jesus saw in this woman is also what he’ll see in you. It’s not just about what you give for, it’s also about what you give from. What are your resources? What are your commitments? What is your comfort? What does your heart demand of you?

How will you know that your pledge next week represents you, the you you wish to be, the best of you, the whole of you? How will you know that this gift to the church is a part of your life of service, service to your family, self-care for yourself, contributions to our community in other ways, and dedication to Jesus? How does it relate to your other giving of time and talent, presented both here and elsewhere?

Part of me wants to invite you to tape two small coins to your pledge cards next week, but please don’t, because the pledge tally-ers will find that really troublesome. And while they should blame me, it’s likely that they’ll blame you, so don’t do it.

But do take time this week, as you consider your gift to the church, to understand how your heart goes into this gift, and how it relates to all the ways you give in each day of your life. Remember that Jesus will see all this and know.

Consider how this gift will be part of your two small coins, offered to God, welcomed by the Spirit, and seen, and approved, by Christ.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon:


The differences could be the result of inspiration, or they could be the result of skipping lines in the text. Or something else entirely.

The image is of the bell of Church of the Holy Cross, which joined Bells for Peace around the world, ringing at 11:00 am in commemoration of the centenary of the end of the First World War on November 11, 1918.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on November 11, 2018

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