Date: November 1, 2015
Title: “Giving Your All”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
I’ve often wondered – what did she see? The widow at the Temple – what did she see – on that day when she gave to the Temple treasury all that she had to live on? With everyone else, the widow saw the rich. She saw their grand clothing, their large gifts, their proud arrogance. She saw their contempt for her poverty, their pity for her vulnerability, their irritation with her presence. How dare she spoilt he moment, how dare she make them feel uncomfortable, how dare she move them out of the spotlight?
As her two small, insignificant copper coins roll down the trumpet-shaped offering jar, they hard make any sound at all. Yet even from this distance, we can hear them. Even in this moment, we can see them. Even in this space we can recognize what it means to “give your all” and to live as thank-full people.
“Giving your all” in relation to God means, first of all, being authentically who you are. To be authentic is to be real, to put away the masks we so often wear and to give up the frenetic, exhausting energy of impression management. Brene Brown suggests that:
Authenticity is a collection of choices we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.
On this All Saints’ Day, being real – being authentic – is essential for those of us who want to be people of faith. Consider, if you will, one such authentic role model, the Rev. Thomas Ken. Thomas Ken was born in 1637 and ordained in 1661. He became a bishop in the Church of England, was a prolific author and hymn writer (he is the one who gave us the Doxology, Praise God from whom all blessings flow). Ken was even the royal chaplain to the king, Charles II at one point in his career. Thomas Ken was a famous preacher who drew great crowds, in part because he simply was who he was. With Ken, what you saw was what you got.
Perhaps no story sums up his authenticity more than this one. It seems that King Charles II asked his chaplain for a favor one day. It seemed like a small favor to the king, who asked “Would it be alright for my mistress to stay in the chaplain’s home, and thereby cover up my indiscretions? No one would ever know the difference…” Ken reportedly refused the king’s request, saying, “I do not find it suitable for the Royal Chaplain to double as the Royal Pimp!” A pretty gutsy response for Ken, who was staying true to his own identity, hanging onto his ethics at the risk of losing his head!
Think of the people in our common life – and in each of your own – who you know are simply authentic. I think first of Dr. Raymond Balcomb, senior pastor of this church for 19 years, District Superintendent of this district for six years, and authentically Ray for his entire life. If you knew him, you will remember how Dr. Balcomb was not a man to pull any punches. If he had an opinion on something, and if you asked him about it, he was going to give it to you. It didn’t matter if the opinion was politically correct, or popular, or even well received. You knew, however, that it would be the truth as Ray saw it, and it would be given to you directly and clearly. Ray had an amazing ability to be just who he was, without apology or subterfuge, while also letting you be just who you are! Because Dr. Balcomb made the choice to show up and be real, he helped us all to do the same.
And then, I remember Betty Hager. Forty-four years a member here, Betty was known for her hugs, her compassion, her sense of humor, and her ability to “tell it like it is.” She became the honorary hostess for the Shovel and Rake Gang, and for many years encouraged their good works with her own. Now Betty didn’t have much use for wasted time or for wasted whining, as she chose to let her own true self be seen. And Betty trusted that you would do the same.
I remember well the night I learned a great lesson about authenticity. I had called home in tears, to tell my parents that I thought I was going to quit seminary. You see, I had just discovered (to my surprise and horror) that not everyone thought that women should be in ministry, and that some were adamantly opposed to women pastors. I don’t know why it came as such a shock, but it was hard for me to understand and harder still to respond to this fact of life. It was my dad who taught me the lesson – my dad, who was a “CEO” Christians (you know, Christmas and Easter Only) – when he told me, “Donna, if you want to quit because you don’t feel called into ministry, that’s fine. I’ll support that decision. But if you want to quit because somebody else doesn’t think you are called, and you are letting somebody else tell you who you are… well then, you might as well hang up now and don’t bother to call back.” It was a great lesson in authenticity, being who you are and who you are called to become.
“Giving your all” to God means first of all being who you are, and then, it means being able to see beyond yourself. The widow in the temple that day looked beyond the limitations of her own poverty, beyond her own insecurities and fears. As did Teresa of Avila. Born in 1515 to a wealthy Spanish family, Teresa gave her all to God as a writer and reformer of the Spanish Carmelite order. Teresa was able to see beyond herself all the way to ecstatic visions and mystical experiences, which led her to insist upon humility, service and devotion for all the sisters and brothers in her community.
Who do you know who consistently sees beyond themselves? I think of Olive Pomeroy. A member here for 23 years, Olive consistently saw beyond herself in ways that moved her to compassion, that required her to care for those less fortunate. Olive was an early advocate for the homeless in Portland, because it seemed to her totally untenable that there should be families without shelter, especially in the cold and rainy months of winter. One story has it that Olive went to the Board of Trustees here and refused to leave their meeting until they agreed to consider turning our basement into shelter space for families. When asked later why she did that, she replied, “Well, it just had to be done.”
So many of you keep looking beyond yourselves as you volunteer for the very same Goose Hollow Shelter, still operating here some 20 years later! “Giving your all” to God means seeing beyond yourself. And it means giving yourself away.
Karen Armstrong suggests:
When Jesus asks us to “believe”, it is not belief in some list of doctrines that he demands. Instead, the root of the word “belief” used in the Gospels means “commitment.” Jesus wants disciples who will engage with his mission, who will give to the poor, feed the hungry, refuse to be hampered by family ties. Jesus wants disciples who will abandon their pride, lay aside their self-importance and sense of entitlement, disciples who will live like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
Jesus wants disciples who will trust in God and give themselves away.
Mary Oliver, in her poem, “In Blackwater Woods” puts it this way:
To live in this world you must be able to do three things:
To love what is mortal
To hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it
And, when the time comes, to let it go, to let it go.
When you get right down to it, the story of the widow’s mite, this beloved stewardship story, is not at all about money! It is a story about clinging and about letting go. It is a story about trusting. It is a story about thankfulness, and it is a story of surrender.
This is why Barbara Brown Taylor calls Mark’s story of the widow’s mite “a theological photo op”, as the widow gives herself away. The Greek words about her gift, translated as “all she had to live on” can also mean “life itself”. The double meaning is intentional. When the widow lets go of those two copper coins, she is also letting go of herself. She is letting go of her anxiety about the future, letting go of her need for control. She is letting go of her fear. She is letting go of anything and everything that keeps her from trusting God and living a life of gratitude. And it is in the letting go – the giving her all – that the widow is finally freed.
So shall it be for us. As we give our all, we shall indeed become “thankfull.” Thanks be to God! Amen.