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Two Coins Worth Only A Few Pennies

Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17; Psalm 42;Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Bigfork Community United Methodist Church

November 11, 2018 –Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost

"Kelly, I do miss all of you and Bigfork and your little church!!!!! I have been gone four years and I think many others are now gone. However, I am safe and well at The Rockwood Retirement Community at Spokane!" Dewey Muhleman

We have been talking about priorities as we have been closing out our Christian year. It has not been about our priority over our neighbor, because love for neighbor has nothing to do with who that neighbor is.

It is not about our race or party over all others because domination by one faction over others is not justice or love, but a willfulness that has led, time and time again, to waywardness.

It has not even been about our country above all. It has been about the power of the ideals of our country, founded in freedom and devoted to liberty.

It has been about the truth of Christ being both more at the core of God’s purposes in the world, and the love of Christ embracing all people everywhere in the world.

We find ourselves meditating on that same question this morning. What is our highest value, who is our deepest love. Is it worthy of the one who died to make all of us free?

A rich proud man and a poor old widow live and breathe in our Gospel lesson while a great king and a poor old widow abide in the last paragraph of our Hebrew Bible reading.

They do not appear in opposition to one another. Instead, one illuminates the power of the other just as the truth illuminates the path to joy and peace.

Those who have worldly power cannot assume they will be remembered through history. They are famous today and forgotten tomorrow.

The meek and lowly should not assume they will pass namelessly into the past. They are forgotten today, but they will be famous tomorrow.

Naomi went back home in our readings last week, to die among her own people. She only reluctantly let Ruth come with her.

She showed Ruth the ways of her people so that they both might live. Out of this humble striving she received a grandchild, Obed. She doted over him so joyfully that he became known as Naomi’s boy.

Obed has a son named Jesse who has twelve sons. Naomi probably never saw any of them. We don’t know. The Book does not say.

Almost certainly, though, she never saw David, the twelfth son of her grandson. But the prophet Samuel saw him and anointed him king.

It was just something Naomi did to get by, to get through, to have another day above the sod, helping her Moabite daughter in law. She humbled herself as she accepted the hardship of her circumstances. Look what came from it.

She had so little to give, but she gave it all. And it turned out well, better than she could have hoped… for herself…for Ruth…for Obed… …for Israel…for all people in all times.

John Stewart is a singer you never heard of, but I got to see him one time and bought an album of his, called Willard. There is a song on that album that comes to mind as we ponder the God inspired strivings of the lowly ones today.

In Back In Pomona, he sings about the years of the Depression as told through the eyes of an old woman, like Naomi. “They was just a bunch of people/Doing the best they could./And they done it/Pretty up and walking good./Yes, they done it/Pretty up and walking good.”

I can see that old woman in those sung out words, and her name is Naomi. Her name is Betty. Her name is Edna. Her name is Eleanor and Gertrude and Mrs. Genrich. Her name is many. While they did not have much to give, they gave it all.

I was asked to speak at the funeral of one of the mothers who lived on the block where I grew up in Shelby. I spoke to the family, my childhood friends, before the service.

We remembered the names of the families who lived in all of the houses on and around that one little block at the southwest edge of town, where you could walk up to the end of the block and see the East Front of the Rocky Mountains, and the wind could blow 40 miles an hour for weeks on end, and we counted 50 kids who lived on that square in the grid.

We concluded that the mothers who watched over us had devised a system where four or five of them would be watching us while the others could be shopping for groceries or sewing or weeding the garden or having a cup of coffee with the woman next door.

And we concluded that they are the ones who invented the NFL platoon system of special teams. They found an idea because they needed to look for a solution to an overwhelming problem. And they changed the world…not just on their block…but everywhere.

They are like the widow who comes to the Temple in Jesus’ day. She is not seen or heard. She does not come to be seen or heard…as Naomi did not come to be seen or heard…but to live out her life…to give all that she had…that the world might be better some day…if not this day.

It is a grand pavilion in the center of a great capital of the world…or it was a great capital of the world at one time…long, long ago.

The Temple of Solomon was torn down by the Babylonians 500 years ago, but the Second Temple, built after King Cyrus allowed the exiles to return, still stands.

No one sits on the throne of David in these days, but the people of the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob have been promised a savior. He will come one day to rescue them from the oppression of foreign rulers. It is a time of watchful waiting.

There are many men there who have found a way to prosper among the Romans. They put large sums in the offering box. They are celebrated and proud. The old woman quietly drops in two coins worth only a few pennies.

No one sees her. No one appreciates what she has given. It cannot even buy the bread for one of the meals the Temple priests will eat that day.

But Jesus sees her as clearly and as honestly as he sees the pride of powerful men. Like Naomi, whose faith and perseverance made David possible, she has given little in the world’s eyes but everything in the eyes of Christ.

Life is not about quantity. Just ask the mothers on the block I grew up on. Life is about quality. Just ask Naomi…or Samuel…or the itinerant rabbi they called Jesus.

We do what we need to do to make life better, more abundant, for those around us and those who follow us. My parents knew the Depression, World War II, and the postwar economic boom that produced the wealth that grew into what we have today.

They were called the Greatest Generation, but that is because they had to face the greatest economic and military challenge to the world order ever known…up to that time.

It seems like terrible times make for great deeds. Perhaps the reason we are so miserable today is that we have it so good. The worse things get, the better people get, and the better things get, the worse people get. It might appear that we have become the rich people giving much money, but appearances can be deceiving.

Yet…even the privileged can rise to the occasion and do amazing things. We can be self-absorbed, but we can also see how important it is to give all that we have at critical moments.

My parents went to school with a young man from Stanford (Montana) named Wylie Galt. He was a gifted young man from a well-to-do family.

When World War II came along he found himself in the Army in Italy. He was the battalion S-3, the operations officer in Italy in 1944. He was expected to anticipate the situations that might arise during combat and prepare standard operating procedures for handling these conflicts.

He was not expected to take part in operations, and we might think of him as a relatively wealthy man who was expected to do much but not to give all.

On May 29th opposing forces had his battalion in a stalemate and he went forward to see what was happening. The lone remaining tank destroyer refused to go forward and he jumped up on it and commanded it to go forward.

He exposed himself to a hail of sniper and machine gun fire and was instrumental in breaking the enemy line before he was mortally wounded and fell across his machine gun.

He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously. His family cherished his memory. His father became the chairman of the Montana Power Company and his brother married Jeanette Rankin’s sister and became President of the Montana Senate… but his widow never understood why he went where he didn’t have to go and did what he didn’t have to do…and died before he could come back home.

So it can turn out that even those who are in preferred positions have hearts that beat for the greater good. They are just like Naomi and the poor widow…and us.

It also turns out that those who have nothing and are the invisible members of society…like the poor widow…have hearts who beat for the greater good. They, too, are just like us.

And when it comes down to it, the most any of us have in this world is a couple of coins worth a few pennies. We come into the world naked and we will leave it all we ever gather about us.

We might think we are mighty but we are just mortal. We might think we are rich, but what is it that we have?

All the money in the world won’t get you as much as all the faith in the world. It is faith that helps us to see the things that cannot be seen.

Some would say that Wylie Galt was foolish to leave his relatively safe position making plans and overseeing their execution. But he was no pious giver of alms.

He did not ask his troops to do anything he was unwilling to do and he was willing to show them how important he thought their work was. And he probably saved many lives with his willingness to risk his own.

Some of us have more money than others. Some of us have more years than others. Some of us have more talents than others and we all have a different mix of gifts and graces. But each of us has just one life. No one gets more than 24 hours in a day.

And we are all spending the life we have one way or another. Jesus came to give us the more abundant life…to show us the way to eternal life.

Those who have seen the passing nature of their life have much to tell us about how precious our lives are…to God and to each other. Everything happens in an instant and we are here just for the blink of an eye.

Not all of us can be heroes. Even fewer of us will have our acts of simple heroism witnessed by anyone, or known to the world. In this light, Wylie Galt was a lucky person.

And we are lucky people to have heard the testimony of those who witnessed their faith in action. In the end it isn’t the one with the most toys who wins. It’s the one with the truest story, the greatest love.

And we have been given the greatest story ever told to share with anyone who wants to listen. We can see bits of it in the widow who gave all she had, and we can see reflections of it in the service of every veteran who risked…who risks…their lives so others can prosper in freedom.

We are blessed by those who have gone before us, whether they gave us great sums of money, great deeds of valor, or just two coins worth only a few pennies, because they have shown us the truth of the love of God.

Let us give thanks for all they have done…and do.

O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world…through me…this day? Amen.

"Almighty God: Our sons and daughters, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas -- whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them--help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united cause. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.