5th Sunday after Epiphany
This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen. In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ: how much do you worry? Late fall three men went out to an island to spend some time outdoors. But while they were on this island the temperature dropped incredibly. Finally, their food was about gone and they knew that if they stayed on the island they would die. So they decided to leave the island. It was cold, the wind was freezing. But the water on the lake had frozen. If they didn’t put any faith in the ice they would die on the island. The first man put faith in the ice but was full of worry and said, “I’m not really sure about this ice, there’s maybe one or two inches, but I think it will be strong enough for me to get to the main land.” So, he laid himself down on his stomach on the ice to distribute the weight and slowly, cautiously, carefully inched himself with his fingers and toes the half mile back to main land – he made it to safety. The 2nd man also wasn’t really sure about the ice, but trusted the ice a little more than the first man and decided to walk the half mile in the blustery cold wind- he also made it to safety. The 3rd man looked at the ice and said to himself, “I know this area, I know this lake, I know this ice, there’s at least 2 feet here.” So, what did he do? He went back got his 4 wheel drive pickup truck that was on the island and drove across the lake. All three made it to safety, for all three it wasn’t their faith that saved them, it was the ice, but not all 3 had the same amount of faith in the ice and therefore not all had the same experience. The 3rd man who implicitly trusted the ice had the happiest trip to the main land.
Among Christians it’s absolutely true that faith in Jesus the Savior saves someone no matter how strong or weak it is. But there is a difference in life between a Christian with strong faith and a Christian with weak faith. In the end, faith takes a look at the promises of God and says, “How great is my God? How much can my God do? Though all may look contrary to my eyes, I know my God’s strength, I know my God’s promises, I know my God’s love and I know that He will never leave me nor forsake me and He will guide all things to bring me to my heavenly home.” But the problem is, life is full of things that cause worries, cares, concerns, anxiousness, apprehensions that tempt us to say, “I know Jesus is my Savior, but I’m not so sure about my God! I’m not sure He’ll come through for me! I don’t know or don’t trust His promises.” And full of worries and fears we get down on our hands and knees and inch our way through life with our fingers and our toes like that first man on the island and just try to survive, but we wouldn’t really say we thrive.
Our text this morning is actually very familiar. I’m going to guess that very few of you, if at all, have never heard this account before, often called the “Widow’s Mite.” And while this account is often remembered because of the money it mentions, the account itself really has very little to do with money, but very much to do with faith and trust.
This is holy week, in just a few days Jesus would die on the cross. He was in the temple and had just finished a sharp confrontation with the teachers of the law: Watch out for the teachers of the law, they walk around with their flowing robes, they love to have the most important seats and places of honor, they devour widows’ houses, make showy lengthy prayers, they will be punished most severely. Ouch! And this is Jesus! At one moment righteously angry with the teachers of the law and then pleasantly pleased with what He sees. He goes and sits down and watches people as they stream through the temple courts and in the temple were 13 kind of trumpet shaped receptacles into which people would deposit their offerings for the temple worship. These offerings would provide different things for the temple upkeep, but one of the primary uses of these offerings were so that there could continue to be sacrifices performed at the temple.
You see, throughout the time of the OT God impressed something on His people through these sacrifices. Sin is serious. Sin deserves the punishment of death. People deserve to die eternally for their sins. But, in incredible grace God promised His OT people that He would send a Savior who would pay the price of people’s sins. To picture this to the OT people God established this sacrificial system where every day there would be sacrifices in the temple to remind them that sin deserves death, but as every animal was put to death God reminded his people that they wouldn’t die, he would send a Savior, a substitute to die in their place.
Well, as Jesus watches people brining their offerings many wealthy people come by and give large sums of money. No doubt some, if not many of them, did it for show, to attract attention, to gain admiration from people. But then here comes a poor widow. At this time especially it was a terrible hardship to be a widow because it was the husband’s job to provide for the family, without a husband she had no one to provide for her. A widow often had to fend for herself or be at the mercy of friends or family. And she walked by and put in two small copper coins. Now the NIV says that they were worth “a fraction of a penny,” but that’s not a very good translation. Many people try to compare this amount to today’s money and perhaps the best explanation is that it was worth what today may be 50 cents to a dollar. But did you notice? She put two coins in. Not one. In other words, she easily could have kept one for herself, but didn’t.
Seeing this, Jesus called his disciples together and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything- all she had to live on.” She gave more than all the rest? Really? If you haven’t noticed already, Jesus‘ math is much different than normal math. Normally we would think two small coins wouldn’t go very far, at least not compared with large sums of money! So what’s Jesus’ point? Most gave out of their abundance; they gave what they really didn’t need anyway. But this widow gave out of her poverty, her lack. Clearly, it is NOT the size of the offering that Jesus looks at, but at the heart of the one doing the giving. In fact, this widow gave all she had to live on.
Now can you imagine being her? Can you or I imagine doing this? Can you imagine doing this without wondering where your next meal is going to come from? Without the fear of starving? What she gave was enough to at least buy some bread to eat. But Jesus says, “She gave it all…She had nothing left to live on.” Whether you have a lot or a little I don’t think there’s anyone of us here who knows what this would be like. One thing that is very clear in Scripture is this: there are miserable rich people and miserable poor people; there are joyful rich people and joyful poor people. It has nothing to do with money; it has everything to do with the heart.
This poor widow didn’t give because she knew that she had a nest egg stored up at home that she would be ok if she spared these two small coins. As Jesus said, she gave everything, all she had to live on! Doesn’t this widow – commended by Jesus – put you and I to shame? Not because of her offering so much, but because of her faith. She had an implicit faith in God, trusted God to take care of her no matter what the future would bring. Where did her next meal come from? Did she starve? I don’t think so.
What is clear here is that this lady did not have a “survival” mindset. It’s so easy to fall into a survival mindset in our personal lives. “I need to do this, I need to do that, I need this for me, if I don’t get this, my whole life is going to come unglued!” It can also affect us on a congregational level too. How many council meetings are there where the main topic of discussion is money? “If we’re not careful, everything is going to fall apart, come unglued, God is going to abandon us, make us close the doors, leave us to be begging on the streets!” Really? Is God not faithful? Does God not care for His people?
Where does fear and worry come from? WE bring worry, fear, anxiety, stress, nervousness, apprehension about money, about things, about paying the bills on ourselves. Worry, fear, anxiety, stress, apprehension does NOT come from God. That comes from Satan, from the world, from our own sinful flesh. Understand that. When there’s worry, fear, doubt, stress, anxiety, that’s not coming from God, that’s coming from us. And too often we let that worry, fear, lack of trust, anxiety, and stress dominate our thinking, pollute our decision making, terrify our souls. We get down and “inch” our way through life with our fingers and toes just trying to survive.
So, wait a minute, pastor, does that mean that we can just go out and frivolously spend our money on whatever and trust that God is going to take care of us? God didn’t fill our heads with air, he filled them with brains to think, to plan, to be wise, to make good judgments. But to do so with trusting hearts, hearts of faith that are ready to find in any situation the blessings of God. Maybe my lack of money forces me to open my eyes to the needless and frivolous things that I’ve spent my money on, maybe it leads me to confess my sin of poor stewardship, poor managing of the blessings that God has given to me. Maybe lack of income for a church forces us to re-examine the mission of the church: is everything we are using God’s blessings for serving to GROW in God’s Word and GO with God’s Word to others? Or are we selfishly using it for something else?
So what comes from God? Let’s be clear: stress, worry, fear, anxiety, apprehension does not come from God, that comes from us. What comes from God is trust, reliance, and peace. It’s the same trust, reliance, and peace that this poor widow had in her God and Savior. How could this widow do this? Of course we don’t know, but I imagine this widow walked away with a smile on her face and joy in her heart.
Why? Why could she do that? There can be no other explanation than that she knew who her God was. She knew God’s promises. She knew her sin, but she also knew her loving God who promised to send a Savior from sin, who promised to never leave or forsake her, who promised to one day take her home to heaven. Trusting in God she didn’t have to seek to survive, she trusted God and thrived and she could give her all to God.
The same is true for you and me. We could struggle through life just trying to survive, to get by on our own, but it will always fill us with fear, worry, and stress. Or, we can look at who our God is: A God of love, mercy, compassion, a God of power, might, and strength. A God who has promised to never leave or forsake you, who has promised to be with you always, who has promised to work all things for your good, who has promised to take you to heaven. And how do you know He keeps all His promises? Because He kept His greatest promise. He didn’t just promise to send a Savior from sin, He sent Jesus to live and die for your sins in full. Your sins are forgiven. And since God did that, then all of God’s promises are yes in Christ.
So what does that mean? It means we don’t have to crawl through life just trying to survive, but we can trust God no matter what and like this widow, we can entrust all that we are and all that we have to Him and give Him our all. Amen.