On Greatest Value
November 13, 2022
Psalm 19: 1-4, 14
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Luke 21: 1-4
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.’
Today’s sermon is titled On Greatest Value and it is a sermon from mid-November of the year 2019.
For the past few months we have had an on-going debate in my household about whether or not to purchase downhill ski passes for the twins this winter. This all started last year when my oldest son worked at Crotchet Mountain as a lift operator. Every once in a while he could get some free passes and so the twins were exposed, for the first time, to the thrill of downhill skiing and snowboarding. Our family has always just skied cross-country, right out our back door or over on the nordic trails at Dublin School. You don’t need a pass for cross-country skiing, you don’t need a chair lift, either; cross-country skiing is free and I have always taken pride in the fact that our family does not participate in the downhill ski industrial complex that uses so much electricity to make snow, run the lifts, and burn the lights.
When my oldest son came home last year around this time and announced that he had a job running the ski lifts, I felt like he had crossed over to the other side, like he had quit our team and joined another team and that other team did not share our same values. He didn’t even know how to downhill ski, for crying out loud! But at least he had a job. He quickly learned to ski and found he really liked the work, and at least the downhill ski industrial complex was paying him. Buying ski passes, to me, means I would be buying into practices that I am not in favor of. As you can see, this is a dilemma that is requiring us to examine our standards and principles as we consider the value of having ski passes for the winter months.
Determining the value of something is a process we are engaged in almost all the time. Think how often we make decisions about the worth of an object, like while shopping for food, for instance. But we also deliberate about the worth of people, of relationships, of jobs, of chores, of obligations. “Is it worth it?” we often ask. This is a healthy question we must ask ourselves at times in order to avoid overspending, overdoing, or overcompensating for someone else.
There are times, though, when we don’t have to ask if it’s worth it. There are times when we just know that it feels necessary and right to give of ourselves. Consider the woman in the temple, the woman that Jesus points out to his followers, the woman who appears to have next to nothing and yet she puts two copper coins in the treasury. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, [she] has put in more than all the rest, for all of them have contributed out of their abundance but she, out of her poverty, has put in all she had.” The value of what she was able to give was so much greater than the larger offerings from those who had so much more. And so we, too, are called to give and called to share what is of great value to us. The amount may be small but the value should be great. This, I believe, is the essence of what Jesus is trying to teach us in drawing attention to the woman in the temple.
A similar sentiment is expressed in some of my favorite poetry in the book of Psalms we heard today. The psalmist is praising the wonders of both heaven and earth. “Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” And then the psalmist gathers all this grandeur and turns it into a prayer, a prayer of one single individual, someone like the woman in the temple, someone like us, someone who is aiming to give something of great value, they pray, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you, O Lord.” A small gesture with great value.
Kahlil Gibran, in his book The Prophet, writes one of his longest chapters in response to a man who said, “Speak to us of Giving. And he answered: There are those who give little of the much which they have and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. There are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life, and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty. There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism. And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; they give as the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.”
I know both the pain and the joy of giving; I suspect we all do. I am sorry to say that I also know the self-centered desire for recognition that has, at times, been the impetus for my giving. Gibran says this makes my gifts “unwholesome” because I am not giving from a place of wholeness; I am giving from a place of need, the need to be seen, and the need to be counted among the givers. In the book of Matthew, chapter 6, Jesus has a clear message to remedy this kind of selfish giving. “Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
At the end of his chapter “On Giving,” Kahlil Gibran writes, “In truth, it is life that gives unto life, while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.” Those words carry a powerful message. It feels good to think of ourselves as givers. It feels good to think of the church as a giving community, but we can only give what we have been given. Even someone who may say, “I worked hard for everything I have” must concede that they have been given life and health and, hopefully, love to aid in their accomplishments. Life gives unto life and we are but witnesses.
In closing on this second Sunday in November and as we are gathering funds to support the church for another year, I suggest that we consider how we give and why we give, not just here but everywhere. Take notice of when giving brings us joy and when giving brings us pain. Take notice when giving is like breathing…effortless, like life giving unto life… it is in that way that we are called to give.
In this sacred space, another world begins to unveil itself to us. Distances become irrelevant and the spaces between us are of little consequence. In these moments we are limitless…our capacity to love is infinite, for in these moments we are part of All That Is and our love and concern can reach across impossible distances. For those who are suffering from illness, from lack of necessities, and from lack of love in their lives, we extend our spirits in compassion; may we seize the chances we have to be of some service. For those living with threatening fires we pray for safety and security in body and spirit. In this time of thanksgiving, expand our awareness of all the many ways we are blessed beyond measure. God grant us vision that sees beyond our shortcomings, vision that sees behind the violence of humankind, vision that shapes a path from where we are to where you want us to be. This we ask in Christ’s name. Amen.