Today is All Saints Sunday, a time of powerful reflection on what matters most in life. It’s a day when we allow grief and loss to focus our priorities. What’s this life for, anyway? In our search for meaning, we turn to Jesus in Mark 12: 38-44
“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."
What’s this life for, anyway? Jesus makes this much clear: it’s NOT about keeping up appearances. Oh but how we try anyway; at least that’s what advertisements sell us: the idea that gaining things will give us respect in this world- AND publicly making large contributions to causes will too. Be showy, go big, even if it's at the expense of someone else’s wellbeing. Not unlike the Pharisees, yes? So what is it about this woman, this widow, that Jesus lifts to prominence today? What of her story might move you and I to be more mindful of our life’s meaning?
Jesus says she’s put more into the treasury. That her two small copper coins meant more, somehow, than the larger sums of others. Why? We know faith institutions rely on small and large gifts alike to function. So here’s what we need to know about this woman’s situation. She risked all she had to worship. Her two small coins were a mighty declaration of her God-given right to be in that space...to occupy her place at God's holy table.
You see, it's possible she was one of the widow's whose houses were devoured by powerful religious community leaders. A scribe who said long prayers in public and in darkened corners made rules that stripped this widow of her home and dignity-maybe even her ability to attend a place of worship. The most likely historical situation is either a scribe demanding too much of a tithe to enter the temple OR a scribe mismanaging a widow’s assets, because they had that kind of power.
Here’s what we know for sure: Jesus declares the last shall be first and the first shall be made last over and again in the Gospel. Of this we can be sure: Jesus lifted those oppressed by their lot in life and systems that kept them from rising. And this woman is no stranger to risk; as those coins fall into the box, I can almost hear her thoughts: “I deserve to be here too.” She takes a remarkable risk--her whole life-- for the sake of worship, because she knows her worth in the eyes of God. Because she believes.
And here’s what I love most: Jesus notices her. I sense it’s not the coins so much as the statement she makes. The value she places in being a part of a worshipping community; that is why Jesus honors her and not the scribes seeking public attention.
I struggle at times knowing how best to prioritize my energy, my finances, my time, my patience, do you too? It’s tough with a thousand flashing messages daily consuming our attention. And then I hear a story like this, one that’s stood the test of time- and I KNOW deep within my soul, this is the kind of saint I want to learn from. The kind of woman who embodies generosity and fortitude and a belief that being together in worship is what makes us stronger; a woman who takes risks to confront unjust systems around her. She uses her very presence to counter the hypocrisy she sees in the temple she loves. She shows up to say everyone belongs here, even widows like me.
You are in church today, so I’m guessing you know something of this deep need to worship, to feel closer to your God, to belong. On All Saints Sunday, as we lift the names of our beloved who’ve gone before us, let’s never confuse honor and prestige with belonging. A saint is not made saintly by good works- but by God’s grace alone. And lest we be tempted to pursue honor or prestige like the scribes, we have this saintly widow to guide our way. To remind us our lives were created to worship the one who counts each hair on our head.
Of course we have plenty of saints guiding us. Who’s yours? The person whose life spoke deep and worshipful purpose into your life? I have a suggestion- you can take it or leave it. I would like to receive a letter from you (an email is fine too) sometime this week, about a saint whose life influences your own. I’d love to learn from them too. And I’d love to hear what it is about their being that leads you closer to God’s grace. That kind of living, purposeful reflection and giving of oneself is how our church thrives. It was in the days of Jesus and the widow, and it remains true for me, for you.
Friends, I’m excited about what God is doing among us. Like, really excited. Each year, All Saints Sunday leads us into Stewardship season, when we get to refocus our priorities, to ask the question, “what’s this life for, anyway?” If you find the widow’s answer of worship true for you as well, won’t you look for information in the mail this week about our pledge drive? Won’t you discern with me what of your energy, finances, time, and patience you might like to invest in our worshipping body in 2022?
And as we all consider what we might offer this church’s future vitality, we recall this saint of a widow and her story. It’s not the dollar amount that matters to God, it never is- it's the heart of generosity and risk for the sake of something greater than our own ambition. So this November, let’s set our priorities with generous spirits, giving out of hearts of worship. Amen!
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.