Humble Gifts

Humble Gifts

Watch our Oldtown Short related to this sermon or read the text below

Jesus Denounces the Scribes
In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

The Widow’s Offering
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

Luke 20:45-21:4 (NRSV)

As we heard this morning, there is a story in the bible about people entering the temple in Jerusalem. As the story goes, Jesus watched as they put their gifts in the treasury or shared their offerings. He saw people from all walks of life putting in all different amounts of money when finally, a poor widow appeared. She reached into her pocket and pulled out two small copper coins. Jesus watched as she dropped them into the offering. Then he said, “Truly I tell you; this poor widow has given more than anyone else. For others give from their abundance, while she has given all that she has.”

Friends, I know that many of you are probably thinking, “Oh no. This is the talk about ‘Money Sunday’ when they tell us that we never give enough.” The truth is, I hear people say all the time, “That’s the problem with churches today. All they want is our money.” Well, let me assure you, my friends, it’s just the opposite for me. Because it is far more important to me that you come to church or you watch our Oldtown shorts online than putting money in the plate. I always laugh inside when I hear people say that they wish that churches today would be “more like they used to be,” giving to the community and serving the people instead of always asking for money. And I laugh because the church is not a building or a corporation; the church IS the people.

Actually, on this All Saints Sunday, we are not focusing on money. We are focusing on members and friends of our Oldtown family that have passed away in the last two years and the humble gifts that they shared with us. Two weeks ago, Rev. Marty Singley–who served our church back in the 1970s and 80s–came to worship with us. And he made the comment that there is no other place quite like Oldtown. And I agree with him because we are not a church with big endowments and multiple staff. We don’t have fancy candelabras and shiny communion ware and if we’re going to be really honest, we struggle every year just to make our budget. But we don’t worry about that because the more important thing is that we have people that love and care for our church, for our community, and for one another with all of their hearts.

We often say, in Oldtown, that our balconies are filled with the Oldtown saints who have gone before. Those who sang in the choir and worked on suppers and fairs. Those who served on committees and built floats for town parades. Those who served communion and coffee and visited elderly shut-ins. Those who plowed the parking lot and shoveled the front step. Those who planted flowers and folded bulletins and made casseroles for potluck suppers. And those who were teachers and carpenters, accountants and grandparents. They are all saints who shared the humble gifts that they had–gifts of time, talent, and treasure–to make the Oldtown church what it is today.

Friends, I am sure that the very pew that you are sitting in today was once sat in by another, one who was filled with the same feelings that you are feeling today, whether that be feelings of joy or fear, frustration or anger, grief, or a sense of inner peace and calm. But no matter what they felt, they continued to stand firm in their faith, sharing what they had, and doing their best to look forward with hope, while trusting that God would guide them, as God continues to guide us today. Friends, a lot has changed over the years, in the world, in our church, and in our church family. And a lot has changed in the way that people understand the idea of church. But the way that we worship and live out our faith has changed too, and that is okay.

Since the pandemic began, back in March of 2020, many of us have lost friends and loved ones. And here in Oldtown, we lost six individuals that had close connections to the worship and work of our church. Because our church building was closed from March 19, 2020, to August 15, 2021, we were unable to gather together here in the church to remember and give thanks for who they were and the humble gifts that they so generously shared with our church family.

So today, on this All-Saints Sunday, we are going to take a moment to remember them and to give thanks. Now they were not all members of the church, but their membership status does not matter. Each of them shared humble gifts with our church family in their own way. And since reopening our doors, their empty pews have left spaces of sorrow in many of our hearts, and their presence, their personalities, and their kindness have been missed.

On April 23, 2020, Dorothy Sutherland passed away. Dot was a long-time member of the Oldtown church and raised her children here. She served as a trustee for years, and later on the auditing committee, helping to take care of our church finances. Dot always worked on the knitted goods table at our fair. After all, she loved to knit and crochet. She made prayer shawls for those in need, of course, knitted goods for our church fair, and afghans and blankets not only for family and friends but also for newlyweds and new babies. Dot was also a Big Red Sox fan and always talked about the games during coffee hour. She also told stories about the running battles she had with the chipmunks out in her yard. She loved to do puzzles at our coffee connections. And she loved her sweets, even though she was diabetic and she wasn’t supposed to have them. Dot would come in on Thursdays to help me in the church office, and she took her work at the church very seriously! She did not like when others tried to step in and take her job, even if they were just trying to help. She was the one to fold the bulletins. She was the one to change the numbers on the hymn boards, and she was the one to set the tables for our church suppers, because there was a certain way to do each of those jobs, and it had to be done right. After putting the hymn numbers on the hymn boards, she would also go to her pew and mark the pages of her Bible and hymnal and of her pew mate’s Bible and hymnal. She and her pew mate were very good friends, and they always checked in on each other, especially if one of them didn’t make it to church. Now her pew mate could be a little ornery sometimes, but I can say that because Dot’s pew mate was my dad.

The next day, on April 24, 2020, Richard Teter passed away. Dick used to come to worship with his girlfriend and sit in the back corner. Now Dick did not have an easy life. He grew up in an orphanage in Pennsylvania until he was seventeen, and in the past ten years, we buried his wife and two of his daughters, but Dick always had a smile on his face and a hug to share. And boy did he love church music. He would light up at the announcement of every hymn, and he brought joy to all.

On September 19, 2020, June Clavette passed away. June was a long-time part of our Oldtown family, and like Dot, she raised her children here in Oldtown. Over the years, with her husband Ed, June worked on yard sales, church suppers, coffeehouses, and pet clinics, along with taking care of the grounds, playing the chimes, and singing in our Oldtown choir. During coffee hour, June would tell us stories about growing up on a farm, and her favorite donkey. And she would always carry on the tradition of making Dottie Greene’s cinnamon twists. Though June sometimes appeared cranky, deep down inside, she had a heart of gold. And she loved other people, even when they drove her crazy.

On January 11, 2021, David Kingman passed away. Dave was another longtime member who raised his children here in Oldtown. To say that the church was important to Dave is an understatement. The Oldtown Church was his life. He was the moderator for many years, and as a local contractor, he was a part of many of the construction projects in Oldtown. From additions and maintenance of the old parsonage to the church addition in 1990, and from the sanctuary ceiling project and steeple renovation, to roofing and flooring and renovation projects in and around the church and schoolhouse. Dave also built birdhouses and furniture for our church fairs, and with his wife Ellen, he used to bake all of the baked beans for the ham and bean suppers back in the day. Though he was a big guy and could be ornery at times, he would always sit in his pew, with his pew mate Dot, with a big smile on his face, encouraging the children and making sure that everyone knew that no matter who they were, they were welcome here in Oldtown!

On February 27, 2021, Peter Santsaver Jr. passed away. Peter spent his life in and around the Oldtown Church, where he was raised as a child. He was married in Oldtown in 1948, and for a time raised his seven children here. Peter was a teacher at heart and loved to enlighten others with his learnings. He served for many years as a Sunday School teacher in Oldtown as well as serving on the finance committee. Peter was always at our Oldtown fairs and every year, he would put in a special order for a gallon of Elsie’s salad dressing.

And finally, on April 17, 2021, James Hall passed away. Jim was raised here in Oldtown, sharing his gift of music with the church from a very young age. Though we didn’t see him every week, generations of families grew to treasure the tradition of Jim sitting up in the balcony during the Candlelight Christmas Eve Service and playing his guitar, singing “O Holy Night.”

Friends, what humble gifts these six individuals shared with us over the years. And what an inspiration to future generations to use the gifts you’ve got to make a difference in your community and in the world. Though many of us are still grieving over the loss of loved ones, one of the best things that we can do to hold on to our memories of them and to truly live lives of faith, is to BE the things that we loved the most about the people who are gone, sharing with the world the humble gifts that they so generously shared with us.

So my friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!

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