by Rev. Dr. Louise Westfall
Text | Luke 21:1-4
With a reluctant sigh, I packed away my baseball gear: the Rockies shirt and Carlos Santana bobblehead, the new Cleveland Indians jersey, and my glove, which I wear at all games whether I’m there in person or watching on TV. I’m not saying baseball is life, but I do love the way America’s greatest baseball writer Roger Angell points out the similarities: ….with its beguiling April optimism, the cheerful roughhouse of June, the grinding, serious, unending (surely!) business of midsummer; the September settling of accounts, when hopes must be traded in for philosophies or brave smiles, and then the abrupt running-down of autumn when we wish for a prolonged and glittering final adventure before the curtain. [from Roger Angell Season Ticket: A Baseball Companion] We were treated to a grand finale for sure, but I resonate with the feeling of a pastor colleague who told me about 2007 when the Rockies went to the World Series and were swept in four games by Boston. When he went to tuck his young daughter into bed after that final defeat, he found her in tears. She explained she wasn’t crying because of the loss but for the fact the season was over. “Dad,” she wailed, “There is no baseball tomorrow.”
This week will bring us to the end of a prolonged and glittering spectacle when the United States elects a new president and other leaders. I don’t know anyone who isn’t happy to see the finale of this bitter, hateful season, yet when the outcome is known a significant part of the nation will be deeply disappointed. Will we accept defeat with grace and resolve to work with the new leaders for the common good? Will we accept victory with humility and attend to the unfinished business requiring the cooperation of every last one of us? No, baseball is not life, and this election is not a game. Its consequences reach into every corner of our lives and the life not only of our nation but of the whole world.
The Biblical text to which we turn for guidance is a popular one with only two groups I know: pastors and stewardship campaign chairs. As soon as you hear it you’ll understand why. Picture the scene: the congregation on a Sabbath morning, gathering to worship. Back then, the offering wasn’t taken up by cheerful ushers or received through automatic withdrawal. Instead, worshipers made their way to a central area and dropped their offering—all the currency was coinage— into a wooden or metal box. A reading from Luke, in the 21st chapter at the first verse. Hear God’s word to us this day for this week and beyond. [Luke 21:1-4]
All she had. The widow’s gift surpassed those of the rich because it showed great sacrifice and utter commitment. Can’t you just hear a preacher exhorting, “Don’t hold back. Give till it hurts”?! I’ve preached that sermon. But maybe I’m getting jaded in my old age because part of me finds this text extremely irritating. It’s all well and good for Jesus to give a shout out to a poor woman for her two cents worth, but Jesus didn’t have to run a church: support an expanding mission, keep a building safe and effective, and compensate outstanding staff. And if that lady really did give all she had to live on, then how was she going to eat the next day? At the church’s soup kitchen? Through safety net programs funded from taxes paid by the rest of us??!
As practical guidance for prayerfully considering your financial commitment to the church this text seems woefully inadequate. And I think there’s something else going on—something better. Jesus isn’t declaring a new law: give all you have to the church. Instead, Jesus is calling us to a different way of
deciding how to use all we have to live well. By contrasting the widow’s gift with those of the wealthy contributors, Jesus clearly said it’s not the amount of your pledge that counts, but the spirit in which you give it. And he suggested that the poor woman knew something the others did not.
What was it that allowed her to give “all she had?” My guess is that she had learned to live without fear.
Recently a journalist who writes about money management for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times invited readers to send him the best question about money they had ever been asked. One went like this: In 2001, Daniel Anderson and his family were living in Reno, Nevada, and enjoying the low cost of living, easy access to outdoor pursuits, and good schools. But he found himself becoming increasingly bored with his real estate job, and started to look around. He posted his resume on line and soon had a promising job offer in Houston. He also sought advice from his old mentor who offered him a different job in San Francisco, and then put the question to him: What would you do if you weren’t afraid? The Houston company had a reputation as a terrific place to work. There were many more uncertainties about the San Francisco position. Mr. Anderson says that the question made him re-examine his situation to make sure he wasn’t deciding solely on the basis of comfort and familiarity. He recalled his mother’s stories about retired friends who talked about their regrets over roads not taken. Which is how he ended up moving to Walnut Creek, California where his family thrived. And how he turned down the attractive offer from a company called Enron. [New York Times, September 3, 2016, B5]
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
The widow in our text seems to have given her sacrificial gift because she had conquered fear with trust. She was not worried about her livelihood because she trusted in God and God’s goodness toward God’s beloved people. She wasn’t living in constant worry about not having enough, so she could make her offering trusting God that there would be enough.
Friends, this trust goes beyond decisions about spending. It forms our worldview, and provides a foundation upon which to build a life of courage and compassion, not constant calculation. How easily does the question “Do I have enough?” become “Am I enough?” – and that is a question God answered once and for all with the Divine proclamation Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. . . . you are precious in my sight. . . and I love you. [from Isaiah 43]
On Wednesday morning I will wake up and choose to live without fear or foreboding, no matter who will sit in the Oval Office and halls of government. God is God, and still at work among us to bring justice, to make peace, to reconcile warring factions, and to build a kingdom where life flourishes for all.
Three weeks from today I will stand here and announce the total amount we all have pledged towards the mission of this Church. I will not be afraid, because I trust God to provide all the financial resources we need to do the work to which God has called us.
Well, okay. Maybe I am a little afraid because I haven’t learned –yet—to live entirely without fear. The far-reaching consequences of this election and the strife and division in our national life get into my head. And even among you, my favorite congregation—I know how busy we get, how easy it is to put aside a pledge card and a tough conversation about money in the pressures of daily life. It takes intention to live without fear, and Church is a great place to practice.
Friends, what would you do if you were not afraid? What would we do together?
Well, it’s kind of like baseball. If it’s only about business then you’ll play moneyball and get the most out of what you can afford. If it’s only about winning then you miss out on the beauty of the game played well and hard. You don’t quite get the thrill of a seven-game series, an extra inning, a one-run difference. Yeah, Chicago gets a party and Cleveland only “wait till next year.” But did you see the unalloyed joy from the players of both teams as they hugged and high-fived and congratulated each other Wednesday night? They had given all they had.
And . . . . pitchers and catchers report for spring training in only 101 days. Thanks be to God!