The Spirit In Which We Give

The Spirit In Which We Give

Jesus Denounces the Scribes
As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and 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 sat down opposite the treasury and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:38-44 (NRSVUE)

Friends, as children of God, God has placed special gifts within each of us. Now, some of us have already identified what our gifts are, and we share them to build up the body of Christ around us, while others of us are still searching within ourselves to figure out just what it is that God is calling us to do. And that’s okay because life is a journey, and whether we are one or a hundred and one, we are all lifelong learners.

So I wonder if you could BE anything, what would you be? Interestingly enough, I asked our Huddlers this morning what they would be if they could be anything, and not one of them took the time to worry about what degree they would need or how much money they would make. They didn’t even worry about whether it was possible to be that thing they wanted to be. No, they just followed their heart. They were honest and open, and they made their decisions out of a sense of utter joy and excitement. They were all in.

In our scripture reading today, Jesus talks to the disciples and us about two different kinds of people. First, there were the teachers of the law, the scribes, and the Pharisees’ and then there was a widow–a woman whose husband had died. When it came to the teachers of the law, Jesus said: “Watch out for them… They like to walk around in long robes. They like to be greeted with respect in the market. They love to have the most important seats in the synagogues. And the places of honor at dinners. And they say long prayers to show off.”

Now Jesus was not saying that it is bad to be a teacher. No, after all, there are lots of wonderful teachers in the world, some of whom are a part of our congregation here in Oldtown. What Jesus was looking down upon, however, was their behavior and the way that they were acting. Doing things, not because they were the right things to do, but instead doing things to get attention. They were being show-offs and pushing their authority around because they were self-centered and only worried about themselves and their reputations.

Then Jesus turned and reflected on what the widow had done. He explained that though she had only put two copper coins in the offering box and the rich scribes and Pharisees had put much more, she had shown the most dedication because she gave everything she had and that she did it, not out of a sense of what others would think of her, but out of a sense of joy. She was all in. She didn’t do it to show off or impress anyone. She did it out of a sense of love for God.

Now I know that some people get upset with this story because it sounds like Jesus is condemning the scribes and Pharisees because they are rich, but that my friends, is simply not true. Being rich and having money is not the problem. Thinking because you have a lot of money that you deserve to be treated differently and you belong in the seat of honor, and thinking only of yourself and expecting everyone to shower you with praises because you give a lot of money–that is what Jesus was talking about.

Friends, earlier, I commented on the fact that we all have different gifts and abilities, and they are all wonderful in their own way. Next week, on Thanksgiving Sunday, we are going to take some time to reflect on all the blessings in our lives. Here in Oldtown, we will also be celebrating our Pledge/Promise Sunday, when we make promises as to how we can help support our church for the coming year. As many of you know, as a congregational church, we financially support ourselves without income from our denomination or any other outside sources. Our lights and heat are on because of all of you. We have paper to print bulletins and coffee to serve during fellowship time because of all of you. So, I ask you to think about how much you and your family can financially pledge or promise to the church each week for the coming year and what other gifts of time and talent you might be able to share. I ask you to take some time to pray about it and to look at it not as a burden but as a way of sharing your excitement for this community, and the joy that living out your faith brings you.

Friends, we are blessed beyond measure here in Oldtown. Now, we don’t have big endowments. Our pews aren’t always full, and some years, we fall a little behind making our budget, but for 311 years, our church has been filled with passionate, hardworking people who love God and who love this church. Today is actually what we refer to as Founders Day, or the “birthday” of the Oldtown Church. It was on November 12, 1712, that our church began, and over the years, there have been countless families that have shared their time, talents, and treasures to not only keep our doors open but to take on big projects, to do amazing mission work, and to keep the light of Christ shining brightly here in Oldtown.

Because of Founders Day, I have two stories that I want to share with you this morning, both of which I always think of when I hear today’s scripture reading, which is sometimes referred to as “the widow’s mite.”

The first story goes back to 1911 when our church decided that it needed a place beside the sanctuary to gather people. You see, in 1911, there were no doors at the back of the sanctuary. Maxcy Hall was not there, and the room that we refer to as the vestry downstairs, where we hold our church suppers, was only a dream. And just in case you’re wondering about the bathrooms, those were outhouses outside! But, in 1910, Mr. George Fuller had a plan as to how the vestry downstairs could be dug out. It was estimated at the time that it would cost about $650, but after making changes and additions to the plans, the cost rose to $1,000.

Well, the ladies of the church came together and started a group called the Mutual Helpers in 1911, and they began raising as much money as they could. They planned not only for the building but also for furnishing the vestry and the new kitchen that would be attached. They sold cookbooks, postcards, and written histories of the church. They held bake sales, suppers, and fairs. Sound familiar? Each family was asked to donate fifty cents toward buying the dishes we still use today, and a hundred chairs were purchased for sixty-three cents apiece.

A book was published in 1911, titled How the Mutual Helpers Earned their Dollars, which was written by Mary Mathias to report in rhyme about how each of the women raised their money. I’m going to share just the book’s prologue with you this morning, but there are two copies of the book out back in Maxcy Hall if you want to read more about how the ladies raised their money.

On a pleasant day in the early fall,
The sisters Orr gave a friendly call
To the ladies of the parish, to come
And form a society at their home.

The women responded with right good will
And formed one too that fit the bill
With rules so ample and so free
‘twas hard for any to disagree.

The earning of money, twil been a success.
The friendly spirit catching I guess
For name after name has been enrolled
Till now we’re over fifty, I’m told.

Its object as the name implies,
Was to foster and strengthen the social ties.
‘Twas to have a hand in church work too
And decided to work for a vestry new.

Some cautious people thought it quite rash
For how in the world could we raise the cash?
But the fearless ones forged bravely on
And I think, in time, the goal will be won.

‘Twill not be reached in a single day,
But, if unitedly we peg away,
Little by little our heap will grow,
For when women WILL, she wills, you know.

We held a successful Christmas sale.
And altho’ the workers looked worn and pale,
They are planning another for Easter tide,
With a supper and needlework beside.

Then someone proposed each lady should earn
A dollar and give it to the concern,
Reporting how the task had been done,
Thus making a lot of good natured fun.

For the magnificent sum of half a dime,
One member offered to put each to rhyme.
‘Tis her pleasant duty now to recall
How the precious dollar was earned by all.

Well, the story doesn’t end there, because in January 1912, at the beginning of our church’s 200th anniversary, the church received a very generous gift from Mrs. George Fuller of $1,000! It was immediately voted that the church pay all of its debts and have electric lights installed in the new vestry as soon as possible. The people of Oldtown didn’t just stop and sit and bask in the glow of their new vestry hall; they kept on working. They kept raising money, and they kept improving their beloved church building. Now, just as a reminder, in 1912, the sanctuary was still lit by oil lamps and heated by wood stoves. It was not until 1914 that the lamps here in the sanctuary were converted to electric by the Pawtucket Electric Light Company for the cost of $138.

Okay, so that was story number one–how the ladies of Oldtown raised their dollars. Story number two is much shorter, so don’t worry, but it is one that my kids remember quite clearly. Back in 2001, when we had to have our church steeple replaced, the church needed to raise about $80,000. Now, that was almost as much as the church’s yearly budget, so it was going to be a very big undertaking! Everyone got to work and did what they could. Our Sunday School at the time even started a campaign called “Little People For the Steeple,” collecting coins in jars to help the effort. If I remember correctly, I believe the Sunday School raised about $350 to help the project! My kids still very clearly remember doing odd jobs around the house to earn coins for their steeple jars. They also remember the pride that they felt when the steeple project was finally completed because they had worked hard to help.

Friends, here in Oldtown, we are surrounded by amazing, loving, joy-filled people who work hard together to provide a safe and welcoming place where everyone, no matter where they are on life’s journey, can ask questions and learn from one another as we all journey through life together. And there is no other place that I would rather serve as a pastor.

They often say that the mark of an effective church is not how many people come but how many people live differently as a result of having been there. Friends, our congregation is filled with hard-working individuals and families. People who generously share their time working on suppers, fairs, yard sales, and pet clinics. We have people who serve in ministries that keep our church running smoothly, families who generously support our Missions collections, and Household Huddle families who work to learn about and experience faith together. We have crafters and musicians who share their gifts, knitters and crocheters who make prayer shawls, and families who are very generous with financial support so that our doors can stay open.

Our church is made up of many different kinds of people. In our pews, we have Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, old and young, gay and straight, rich and poor, married and single, divorced and widowed. And in the midst of all of the things that make us different, we gather here on Sunday mornings to wonder, to imagine, and to experience the presence of God. We do our best to offer hospitality and an extravagant welcome, where souls are fed, minds are stretched, people are accepted, and joys and challenges are received with love and handled with grace. But the best part of all is that our church family works together, not so that others will praise them or gain high esteem, but because we know that in this world, we are much stronger together than we are alone. And we know the joy that this church family and living out our faith brings to us.

Earlier today, I asked if you could be anything; what would you be? As members and friends of the Oldtown Church, we also need to think about what we want Oldtown to be. Friends, we are blessed to be a part of the Oldtown family which has been here for three hundred and eleven years, but by the grace of God, there will be families here after us. It’s our job to do our part in the here and now and to make our church healthy and happy for the next generation.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, remember that the possibilities are endless when we put our self-centeredness aside and work together for the greater good. As our Pledge and Promise Sunday approaches, I hope that you can spend some time in prayer as you wonder about who God is calling you–and our church–to be. What gifts has God given you to share, and how might you be able to help? Friends, please remember that you are invited to give not out of a sense of obligation, requirement, or guilt but out of a sense of love and joy for the work that the Holy Spirit has done and continues to do among us.

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

All Saints
Thank You


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