A Few Pennies
25th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
When I was a small child, I remember preparing to go to church on Sunday mornings. I would put on my Sunday-morning-go-to-church-clothes, my mother would clip on my tie and she would tie my Buster Brown shoes I had polished the night before.
I had not yet gained the dexterity to tie my laces and sometimes even buttoned up my shirt incorrectly. Nevertheless, I was learning little by little and knew the routine of Sunday mornings.
After getting dressed and combing my hair, my mother would hand me a fresh white handkerchief. I was then instructed to find my father and ask him for my offering. My father would then give me a few pennies from his pocket, which I would wrap up in my handkerchief and put in my pocket.
Just a few pennies… sometimes three or four. I had nothing else to carry in my pockets so I would keep checking to make sure the handkerchief and the pennies stayed in place while climbing in and out of the car or while sitting in the pew.
Now you may think that this is a cute story about my parents teaching their child about tithing, or about teaching a child about responsibility, and you would be correct. Yet it was also teaching me about how God interacts with His children.
Many of us today do not consider the penny as very much money. For some, it is considered as useful as our appendix. Oh sure, it used to be important and had greater value a long time ago, but now, some people will not even save their pennies. Some people will not even pick one up off the sidewalk.
Over the years, the penny has lost its value. It is not even made of the precious metal of copper anymore. Some have even proposed to eliminate the small denomination from our currency, citing it as useless and cumbersome.
However, in my youth, during the 1960’s, a penny had more worth. A loaf of bread was only 20¢. A movie ticket was 50¢, a gallon of gas was 32¢ and a comic book was a nickel – most importantly, candy could be had for a penny! It was the thought of a sugary treat that began my real lesson. But first, we reflect on the words of our Lord.
The scripture reading from the Old Testament this morning speaks to our poverty. It contains a poor widow. It contains the word of our Lord, and a dilemma of faith for the widow.
Some of us may have known poverty, but how many of us have experienced so poor a state that the manner of our next meal was unknown? How many of us have ever lost our homes, our clothing or our means to subsist?
Years ago, when I lived in Seattle, some friends of mine were roommates who were renting a small house to save expenses. One evening, a fire broke out and burned the house down. My friend related how he woke up to smoke and darkness and the next thing he remembered was lying on the front lawn with a fireman sticking an oxygen mask on his face.
This was a frightful experience but that was not the end of the trauma. This was a lesson to me of what it was to be without home or possessions as the house and everything they owned, clothes, wallets, food, was completely gone. They basically had to start their lives over again without even having 2 pennies to rub together.
Imagine the poorest time of your life. Imagine being down to the last bit of food in your house. Would you give your meal to a complete stranger just because he asked? The widow of Zarephath courteously told Elijah, “I have nothing, ask your God to provide for you.”
The handful of flour and the small volume of oil for the widow of Elijah’s time was the end of her food. Like Ole’ Mother Hubbard, her cupboards were bare. She had no family but her young son and she was resolved to eat their last meal and to die.
This is true poverty.
This is the point where God stepped into the life of this woman. Elijah did ask God to provide, not only for him but also for the widow. It cost the woman nothing but to have faith. She did not know that the man standing before her was the prophet who had declared the three and a half years drought by the word of God. She did not know the man before her was the reason her entire village was starving.
She did not know the Lord God would provide, yet she did as Elijah asked. She had nothing, and could not help herself or her child. She could not pick up and move, go out and get a job, or plead with the magistrate for food. She was poor in wealth, poor in social standing and poor in spirit.
You may not have ever experienced such poverty physically, but we all have experienced such poverty spiritually. We have all been born into the poverty of sin. By this sin, we were cast out of the kingdom of heaven. We were separated from our loving Creator. We starve in our sin and we hunger for the life giving bread that is eternal.
We can do nothing to save ourselves and we will surely die. Like the widow of Zarephath, God came to us in our time of need. Our Father in heaven sent Elijah to the widow poor in spirit to feed her the Holy Spirit. Our Father in heaven sent His Son, Jesus Christ to feed us the life saving grace of his body and blood. Jesus tells us:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” [Matthew 5:3]
Through the death of our Lord on the cross, our sins were taken into the grave. By the resurrection of God’s only Son, we were given the never-ending bread of life. Our hunger for righteousness has been sated. We are now heirs to the kingdom of heaven where we will want no more.
God provides for His children as He has always done. Since the foundation of the world, He has known our salvation. As the author of the book of Hebrews put it:
“…he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” [Hebrews 9:26-28]
This is the fulfillment of His promise – ‘once for all he has put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.’ Our sin is dead to God and we are now alive in Jesus Christ. We were poor but now we are rich. As the Apostle Paul told the church in Corinth:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. [2 Corinthians 8:9]
What does this mean for us? Remember those few pennies in the handkerchief? I decided to take one of those pennies in order to buy some candy. ‘No one would ever know.’ I told myself. As you can guess, not only did God know of my sin but also my parents. My mother scolded me. “Those pennies were given to you by your father.” she said. “Without your father’s gift, you would have nothing to give to God.”
How foolish and ashamed I felt. I’m sure I cried and I know I was sorry. Ever since that day, I have never had a problem giving my offering to the Lord. I know that all that I have came from my Father in heaven. I know that without Him, I would have nothing.
Without the gift from Our Father, of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection from the grave, we would die eternally in our sin. God is in our lives and provides for all our needs. Like the poor widow, He comes to us in our poverty of sin to give us our daily bread.
We love God and we love our neighbors because God first loved us. Without His love, we would have no love to give. In order to give to others as God has given to us, we must have faith. It can be very difficult to give up our hard-earned resources to a friend or family member, let alone complete stranger, yet it seems even harder to give our love.
We all know how easy it is to spend someone else’s money, so why is it so difficult to spend the love of Christ? Are we afraid we will lose God’s love if we love others as He loved us?
The economy of this nation may fail. A person may lose job, home or spouse, but the love of Christ never fails. “Therefore,” St. Paul tells us, “be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.” [Ephesians 5:1-2]
We will never be poor in the love of Christ. We give out of the abundance of love from our Father in heaven. His love was given to us so that we may give it to others.
What are our two cents worth? More than all the money in the world because we give out of the poverty of Christ Jesus’ love for his children.