The Widow’s Sacrifice: Offering Selves, Souls and Bodies
Year B: Mark 12:38-44
Sermon to Pohick Episcopal Church November 11, 2018
The Rev. Dr. Lynn Ronaldi
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of New Orleans refugees made their way west to Texas for shelter. The old AstroDome became a shelter for many of them, and Houston made a plea for volunteers of all kinds to come help. We lived in a Houston suburb then, so I decided to offer my chaplain experience.
When I arrived sporting my starched white shirt, crisp khaki pants, and large cross, I looked across the crowded floor of the Astrodome in dismay. Dirty, desperate-looking people huddled together on their self-made islands of cots and blankets, and the smells were overwhelming.
As I signed in, I informed the volunteer coordinator that I was a chaplain. She smirked, handed me a large black plastic bag, and sent me out to collect food containers and dirty diapers. Suddenly my former visions of righteous glory faded. But once I got over myself and plunged in, I was inspired and transformed by the refugees’ stories of loss, poverty, and hope.
At one point, we noticed a commotion on the other side of the Astrodome. It was lights, camera, action! A TV crew was filming a man laying hands on a refugee’s head, belting out a prayer of “healing.” As I moved closer, I recognized the well-known evangelist from a famous Houston mega-church. As soon as he finished, the camera crew packed up and followed him out of the Astrodome. No trash bags for him! Then, about a week later, I saw that’ church’s new TV commercial featuring that very clip.
It’s easy to laugh and wag our heads at “that self-righteous televangelist.” It’s also easy to hear today’s Gospel story and roll our eyes at the empty prayers of those pious religious leaders, or the ostentatious offerings of those rich people. We dismiss them.
At the same time, we are quick to admire the poor widow who offers her last two coins. We place her on a pedestal.
Bottom line, when we hear this passage, we expect to hear a warning against hypocrisy and taking advantage of the poor. We also anticipate being challenged to give selflessly like the widow. And those points are valid.
Jesus certainly makes a stinging indictment on the scribes’ overtly pious, religious hypocrisy. The showy religious leaders pray loudly and rich donors pour large sums into the temple treasury. Meanwhile, the poor widow quietly offers her last two coins. Furthermore, Jesus condemns the temple’s entire stewardship system as corrupt, because it encourages abuse of the poor.
The problem with focusing on their shortcomings is that this rarely leads to our transformation. Instead, we get stuck on demonizing “those self-righteous scribes.” In doing so, we may fall into the same trap by parading our own good works.
Or we idealize the poor widow, placing her on a seemingly unreachable pedestal, along with saints like Mother Teresa. You know, it always seems like sacrifice is better when somebody else is doing it.
I wonder if there’s more to this passage. Maybe Jesus intends for us to shift the focus from those characters, to our own hearts. Perhaps He is wanting us to do more interior work. What if we were to imagine ourselves as the two coins? Can we see ourselves as the offering? What would it look like for us to give all we are and all we have to God?
For just a moment, imagine that the coins represent our faith-filled offering. Think of them as a sacrificial representation of all we area and all we hope to become, for God’s purposes in serving the world.
In the Eucharistic Prayer, we pledge to offer “Our selves, souls and bodies, a living sacrifice.” So ask yourself, what might it look like for you to offer yourself, your soul and body to God?
Several of you come to mind when I think of people who freely offer themselves, who often seem to offer all they are in service of others.
First of all, there our many veterans - past and present. The men and women who have given years, and sometimes their entire lives, to serve their country under God and protect the common good. Veterans and active duty military and their families frequently give out of their poverty and become a living sacrifice.
Others who quietly give their all, day in and day out, include Jackie Wells. A widow herself, Jackie regularly visits the sick at the hospital. She always makes time to be present to others.
Roger Jones has overcome obstacles, and continues to serve in every way he can. Wherever there is work to be done, Roger is quietly and generously working in the midst of it.
Amy Bontrager tirelessly serves the country as a leadership consultant while holding down the fort at home with three beautiful, very active children -- Meanwhile her beloved husband is deployed oversees. In them we see the sacrifices of an entire family.
Ben Charbonneau, a young man who gives his all in a demanding IT job, helps raise two young children, and quietly oversees Pohick’s information technology as well.
Fuzzy Thurston, a veteran himself, serves on the finance team and as behind-the-scenes consultant to our outstanding vestry wardens, Beth and Clint.
Just yesterday, during the dedication of the Washington Family Marker, we celebrated WWII veteran nurse Anne Arnhardt, for her selfless service. The list goes on and on. They witness to us that the opportunities to offer ourselves as living and active sacrifices are endless.
These people, and many others, frequently offer all they are to serve God.
But remember, in order to sacrifice out of poverty instead of ego, it is crucial for us to balance action with prayer. Grounded, humble and dependent on the Lord, we offer our selves as the Holy Spirit equips and inspires us -- instead of serving in order to fulfill our human appetite for affirmation. Kelly, Charlotte, and the Community of Hope witness to balancing action with prayer.
Ask yourself, how will you respond when faced with an opportunity to be a living sacrifice and offer all you are? Think about it, if someone handed you a trash bag today, would you be willing to carry it?
In a sense, Jesus was handed a trash bag. The bag that holds our humanity includes our brokenness, sin, pain and suffering, and even death. Grounded in prayer, Jesus embraced us all, and gave His all. His life for the life of the world. Will we offer ours for Him?
Today when you come up for communion, imagine you are holding out your hands to offer your two coins to God. Out of your poverty, you are offering all you are and all you have the potential to become, to the Lord.
Then, as the bread is placed on your palm, and the wine is poured into your mouth, remember you are receiving Jesus’ own sacrificed body, broken and offered freely for you and all of humanity,
When you receive the Body of Christ, as St. Augustine says, you are becoming what you eat, a living sacrifice. You are offering your selves, souls and bodies to our Lord for the healing of the world. Amen.