Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Rev. Art Ritter
November 11, 2018
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.”
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.”
In December of 2011, the New York football Giants’ record stood at a mediocre 7-7. They had just lost four games in a row. The Giants invited Gian Paul Gonzalez, a social studies teacher and executive director of a New Jersey non-profit to give the talk at their weekly Sunday morning chapel service. Gonzalez had spoken at the chapel services before and was quite a popular speaker. He was a former college basketball player and seemed to understand the professional athletes very well. That morning he urged the players who attended chapel to be “all in.” By this Gonzalez meant that they should focus and offer their best all of their attention and efforts to the responsibilities of life. Gonzalez preached that in whatever they made commitments, they should give all that they had. It was designed to be a spiritual challenge and a challenge for them as sons and husbands and fathers, not a football motivational speech. It was a simple talk, offered to be nothing more than a balm for the spirits of busy and perhaps frustrated athletes. All in.
But something happened in the chapel service that day. The players who heard Gonzalez’ message took it to heart. They quickly told their teammates about it. The New York Giants took the theme “All In” as a rallying cry for their efforts the rest of the season. Soon fans joined in as the slogan grew popular. The Giants won their last two games of the regular season. They barely qualified for the wild card game yet won it. They made their way to the Super Bowl and upset the heavily favored New England Patriots. Gonzalez went on to be a sought after motivational speaker and the name of his company is of course, “All In.”
It is hard to believe that Halloween and Election Day are both in the rear view mirror of the 2018 calendar. This year’s Halloween celebration was much easier than normal for me. Amelia and her friend Ted came from Lansing to hand out goodies to the trick or treaters this enabling me to have the night free. This year Laura purchased Goldfish, Welch’s Fruit Snacks, Skittles, and Starburst to hand out at the door. I don’t know how our trick or treaters felt about those offerings but I probably would have been disappointed, expecting more chocolate.
Usually, in addition to Skittles and Starburst, we will have a couple of bags of snack-size chocolates. Things like Kit Kats, Whoppers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Heath Bars, and assorted Hershey products. Like most people I suppose, we tend to overbuy, not wanting to be caught short and not really minding if there is chocolate left over. I also have a strategy. I give out the candy I like the least first, giving out Skittles and Starburst in generous quantities, saving the candy I like best just in case there will be any left over at the end of the evening. Sometimes I will even go so far as to sort out a few Heath Bars and the Kit Kats and Whoppers, setting them aside for my own enjoyment after trick or treating is over. I know it is terribly dishonest but when passing out Halloween treats it is always important to keep back what I like to protect my own interest and assure my future happiness.
When it comes to Halloween candy, and perhaps quite a few things in life, I am not “all in.” I want to hold back on a few things for myself. I don’t want to give everything away so that I am protected in the future. It is better to be “almost all in.” I don’t want to be like the widow described in our Scripture lesson this morning who emptied her pockets of her meager savings and tossed her last two small coins in the temple treasury. She held back nothing on her commitment and Jesus noticed, even in the midst of all of the pretentious giving going on around her.
The widow’s example stood out that day. It stands out in Mark’s gospel. A few weeks back we heard the story of a rich young man coming to Jesus and asking what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus’ reply was that even though he kept all of the commandments he was not all in. His wealth stood in the way. Jesus said that he should not define his worth by possession. He should sell what he owned and give the money to the poor. The rich young man went away shaking his head. He had to hold something back. He was not all in.
Just a couple weeks ago we contemplated the story of disciples James and John who came to Jesus wanting to know what they could do to ensure a place beside him in the Kingdom of God. They said that they were ready to follow Jesus completely, right up until the part when he began to talk about sacrifice and suffering and being a servant to all. With those requirements, James and John were not quite ready to be all in. They expected something less demanding.
In the scene described by the gospel of Mark today, there is a lot going on in this story. Jesus was sitting in the temple courtyard, watching the crowd which had gathered. He noticed the scribes, walking around in their long robes and greeted with great respect by anyone they encountered. He noticed that they demanded the best seats in the synagogue. He noticed the crowd of worshippers putting money into the treasury box, including the rich who apparently were making a great show of their ability to contribute. And finally Jesus noticed the poor widow who gave up the last resource she had in life, two small coins. She withheld nothing from God. She was all in. Jesus teaches, “The others have contributed out of their abundance. But she, out of her poverty, has put in everything that she has.”
Barbara Brown Taylor writes that Jesus could not have picked out a less likely role model for his disciples. She says, “if Jesus had taken a Polaroid snapshot of the temple that day and handed it to his disciples with one question written underneath, ‘Where is Christ in this picture?’- They would never have guessed the answer. There were major characters in that room…smart people and rich people and people with degrees and people with name and faces. ‘She’s the one,” Jesus tells them. ‘The one without a penny to her name. She’s the one to watch. She’s the one we must imitate.’”
It is interesting to note that from the temple that day, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to teach his disciples more about his impending death and resurrection. Two days later at a home in nearby Bethany his feet were anointed with costly perfume, a symbol of his death and burial. Two days after that he sat at the Upper Room with his disciples, offering them of his body and blood before making his way to pray in Gethsemane. Jesus himself was weighing the cost of what it will mean for him to follow God’s intention. Perhaps on that day while he watched the widow go “all in,” he understood that of all of the people in that crowded temple scene, she was the one he was supposed to resemble. She had given all and he would be called to do likewise. He would be most like her. And so Jesus praised the widow who is all in, who gives her all.
Alyce McKenzie reminds us that in the passage that precedes this story, Jesus spoke with a scribe who, like the rich young ruler, wanted to know which commandment was most important and how he could assure his place with God. Remember, Jesus had denounced the scribes who were all about their own comfort and status and security, giving of what they think they can afford, sacrificing only what is safe and logical. The scribes Jesus warned against were always trying to trump God as the most important voice and figure in the place. They competed for power, for fortune and fame, always seeking to be most important even at the expense of others and especially at the expense of the poor. Jesus asked that scribe what he knew about being one with God and the scribe replied, “One must love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” He was right. But McKenzie says that there are an awful lot of “alls” in that commandment. She adds, “Apparently Jesus believed that all it will take is all that he’s got!”
That kind of teaching ran completely counter to the assumptions and priorities of the scribes. This kind of teaching isn’t something taught by the so-called wise of our world who emphasize goals of wealth and wisdom, security and strength. That kind of teaching worries me as I hang onto my protected share of Whoppers and Heath Bars and Kit Kats just in case I need them later. All in when I want to be just “kind of in.” The good news is that this kind of teaching is the work of God’s people and the work of the church. It is our call. God has hope in each of us. Trusting in God’s love, we can be faithful to God’s call and give of ourselves, laying down that which is important to us, to be a sign of a new reality, a picture of the Christ, healing and reconciling as we are able.