(I began by sharing how I came by the title to today's sermon. Some new friends invited Terri and I to play in a Texas Hold 'em tournament. Only the top two chip leaders win the prize. In the last three hands of the tournament, even if you are not one of the chip leaders, you can make an "All In" bet, and, if you are successful, able to finish in the top two places. Going "All In" can change the whole dynamic of the game. This I believe is very true in our life of faith as well.)
We are coming to the close of Ordinary time: the "Green" season. The goal of this season is to learn and incarnate in our own lives the whole purpose of God the Father sending his Son among us- Jesus' teaching and example. So these last few weeks take on an added importance as we try to live out our baptism and the promises we renewed last week on All Saints.
One of the key concepts of all scripture is the role of prophet. We're not talking here about the kind of prophet that looks into a crystal ball and tells the future, but instead someone in the here and now living in such a way that points to God's presence and a sense of God's will. Some people think that God is dead, or, if alive, doesn't give a lick about what goes on in the world. The prophet of God knows that God does exist and does care.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews begins his letter with the following statement:
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he had spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.
There have always been prophets, but the prophetic word has finally become most clear in Jesus Christ, God's Son. Jesus is the Prophet who in his here and now incarnated among us the living God and pointed out God's desire and will for our world.
All prophets are victims and are people of suffering, but they're not spiritual masochists seeking the suffering and disdain they receive. But Jesus as Prophet was willing to undergo suffering as a necessary part of the revelation he sought to bring to the world.
Think about the story of Elijah and the prophets of Ba'al in their contest to see which of their God's was the true God. When Elijah's wood soaked pile of wood ignites at his word, and the when the prophets of Ba'al fire fails to burst into flame, Elijah has the whole lot of them, 600 prophets, summarily executed. This is the usual case, a prophet prophesies and people die. In stark contrast, Jesus the Prophet sheds his own blood and doesn't require the blood of others. Jesus lives the prophetic ideal as the perfect victim. We would say that "He put his money where his mouth is." He was a completely different kind of prophet.
But we might say, many have given their own blood for others, and this is true. The best example coming up is Veteran's Day. On that day we will honor and pray for so many men and women who nobly gave their lives for the our country. Unfortunately, they gave their lives under orders while trying to take as many enemy lives they could. Jesus, who taught the love of enemies, gave his life so that no other lives be lost.
That the Jesus movement seems to be less than successful when the whole global scheme in taken into account- ie., there continue to be "wars and rumors of wars," it doesn't mean that its not taking root at all. The Kingdom of God is making progress all the time, mostly in small ways, especially on the personal level. At just the right time, like our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews says, Christ . . . will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. If everything were perfect in our time, what would we be eagerly waiting for?
The most important thing we can do now is put our heart into our relationships with God and our neighbor. That's why today's Gospel is so helpful: we get an x-ray of people's hearts.
Jesus and his disciples plant themselves across from the Temple treasury. (There was no collection during the Temple liturgy- you paid to get into the Temple!) Jesus observes to his disciples how many rich people put in large amounts as they entered. (And people were sure to notice!) And then comes along this poor widow who puts in her two small coins- everything she had. (The picture here is: "Mr. Money-Bags" reaches in to his heavy purse and pulls out an amount and lets it make quite a noise. After the donation, the bag is still heavy as can be as he swings it back into his pocket. The widow reaches into her bag and pulls out two coins- her now empty bag goes limp.)
Jesus points all this out to his disciples- quite a learning for them if they get the drift of it all and a bit of his disgust along with it.
Now this Gospel story is helpful as it appears around "Stewardship" time each year. Usually the preacher says something like: "The story of the widow's mite is a good example for all of us as we prayerfully consider what our giving to the church and the poor should be during the coming year. The poor widow gave everything she had to live on, while we are asked to set aside for the ministry of the church and the poor in our community only a tithe, or a tenth, of what we live on. So let us be generous as we fill out our pledge cards today."
As I said, this is the usual sermon point made by the stewardship preacher. But I think something else is going on in this Gospel that is more important than the widow's example. Jesus, the Great Observer, is watching how the scribes, teachers of the Law, are entering the Temple precinct. They love the greetings, the best seats, and places of honor. Everybody nods to them. Then Jesus drops a bomb when he says: They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. they will receive the greater condemnation.
I think this is what Jesus is getting at: Those in control of the Temple of God could care less about their relationship with God and they we were quite content to allow the taking of the two last coins of the poor widow (maybe at one time she had a nice house). They benefit from others going "all in" while not doing so themseves. The widow put "in more," she put her whole heart into her relationship with God, everything she had. She entrusted herself completely to God- she surely couldn't rely on the scribes and the "holy ones" to help her.
So the usual stewardship sermon on this Gospel needs to clearly illustrate this point: If you're going to be part of this religious endevour, and I do believe we are called to gather with others to worship in this great act of Thanksgiving (if people only knew!) and then we are sent out into the world to serve our neighbor, what's most important is that we put our heart into it- all the trust and faith we need, all the love we have to give, our resources--everything in God's hands. Doing this, the dynamics of our lives do change: fear of loss and scarcity will be no more, abundance will be evident, and the needs of the church's ministry and the needs of the poor will be addressed and cared for-- all because we took the step and went "all in."