Sermon – November 13, 2016

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyGifts for the Temple

Rev. Joseph Connolly

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{Jesus said} “‘All of them have contributed out of their abundance, out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty, out of her want, has put in what she could not afford, every penny she had to live on.’ Some disciples were speaking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful, precious stones and gifts dedicated to God, votive offerings.” — Luke 21:4-5.

I should not say we all do this. But certainly most of us do it. Most of us use the drive through window of a bank or credit union. When we do we grab the canister from the receptacle, open it and stuff the intended transaction in it. We stick it back into the tube and press send the button.

Off it goes with a rattle and a great, giant sucking sound through the primitive pneumatic tube system. Perhaps because, from my youth, I remember these systems being used in department stores I think of this as ancient technology.

And in terms of how we think and act today this is ancient technology. Pneumatic tube networks gained acceptance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to transport small, urgent packages— mail, paperwork, money over relatively short distances— within a building or, at most, within a city. Believe it or not, when we landed on the moon NASA Mission Control Center was still using pneumatic tubes.

These systems were operated also by the United States Post Office Department in cities. In New York a system connected Brooklyn and Manhattan. Other Post Office systems were used in Chicago, Boston, St. Louis. The last of these closed in 1953. A major network of tubes was still used in Paris until 1984.

Well, sometimes, as I sit there at the drive through and wait for my transaction to be completed, my mind does wander a little. I wonder where the canister really goes. Will I ever see any kind of result from the personal trust I have expressed by this placing something of monetary value in a canister and watching it disappear?

Of course, I have never failed to get a reassuring receipt back. But I still wonder about it.

Evolutionary biologists tell us we humans all still have a part of the brain which dates back to when reptiles were in charge on our planet. So maybe the real reason for my wonder and fear is that reptilian part of this organ called the brain has kicked into gear rather than any logical, cognitive awareness in my 21st Century mind.

Aside from fear, perhaps I exhibit a lack of trust in the pneumatic tube system because I was once told a story about the use of these systems. You may have noticed all these drive through stations have signs which say ‘please no rolls of coins.’ Well, this story comes from before these signs were there.

The story goes that an older gentleman placed five rolls of coins in the tube and within moments of hearing that great, giant sucking sound the next great sound heard was coins— all kinds of coins— being flung around inside the tube system, probably lodging themselves in the walls and ceiling of the bank.

He was never sure if the bank was able to retrieve all the coins. So perhaps, at least if you have put coins in the tube, there is a good reason not to trust the system. I guess that proves conclusively we can ruin just about any system. (Slight pause.)

These words are in Luke/Acts in the section commonly referred to as Luke. {Jesus said} “‘All of them have contributed out of their abundance, out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty, out of her want, has put in what she could not afford, every penny she had to live on.’ Some disciples were speaking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful, precious stones and gifts dedicated to God, votive offerings.” (Slight pause.)

In this reading we also heard these words (quote:) “Jesus looked and saw people of wealth putting their offerings into the Temple treasury; there also was an impoverished woman, a widow, who put in two small copper coins.” So, what does that mean when it says “the Temple treasury” and why is this woman singled out by Jesus? (Slight pause.)

Well, let’s start at the beginning. This one who puts an offering in the Temple treasury is a woman, a widow and poor. Each of these makes her unacceptable, unclean, an outcast.

Hence, simply because she is a woman— not even taking into account her poverty or her status as a widow— she would have not been allowed beyond an outer wall of the Temple. So where is the money this widow offers being placed when it says the Temple treasury? Is it being tallied and taken in by some treasurer of the Temple at a desk?

No. Actually, the Treasury at the outer wall of the Temple was likely to have been a box, a contraption, some kind of door with a handle on it. Pull down the handle. Drop the money in. Walk away. You’re done.

The Temple gratefully accepts the offering you made. Thank you. No. We will not give you a receipt. Do not even try to prove the Temple has the money. So, to put money— especially (quote:) “every penny she had to live on”— in the box took a great leap of faith.

Next, we need to hear what is said after the comment about the generosity and faith of the widow— that the temple was adorned with beautiful, precious stones. This does make one wonder where the money goes.

One is led to wonder about that because immediately preceding the reading we heard today, Jesus condemns those who (quote:) “devour widow’s houses.” The widow, you see, is the connective tissue between the passage that precedes the one we heard and this passage..

And the Hebrew Scriptures are clear as to where the money should go. The money should go to the widows, the orphans, the outcast.

These are to be first in line when it comes to who the Temple helps. But the reading certainly leaves one with the impression that what is being offered is not going to the widow, the orphan, the outcast. It is, perhaps, going toward precious stones.

That brings me back to this great leap of faith exhibited by the widow. She trusts. She trusts in God, Whose Word clearly delineates who should benefit from giving— outreach as we call it today— giving should go to the widows, the orphans, the outcast. And the widow trusts God, so she puts “every penny she had to live on” in the box. (Slight pause.)

In a couple of moments we will have a ceremony of commitment. As I have often said, in this church we do not have to worry about precious stones.

In this church everything people give goes to outreach. And the records we keep on that are open. We publish them. In this church you do not drop money in a box and wonder where it goes, what happens to it. We tell you what happens to it. And it all goes to outreach. (Slight pause.)

That places an interesting choice before us. We can feel self-satisfied by what we, in this church, do. Or what we already do can prompt we, in this church, to offer even more. (Slight pause.)

Now, I think most if not all of you have received a letter from me about a different approach to stewardship this year. I outlined an effort to do more, to be even more involved with outreach. The more we pledge or even give, the more we will help others through the diaper program run by the First Baptist Church.

And this helping others thing— some call that an act of justice— this helping others thing, an act of justice, is what that stewardship is about. Our gifts are not simply or only gifts to the temple. Our gifts are gifts involved in the work of justice. Our gifts are gifts involved in helping others.

That was what the widow, in an act of faith in God, wanted to do: help others. That is what we want to do. In an act of faith in God we want to help others. And that should be a definition of stewardship for us. In an act of faith in God we do help others. Oh, yeah— where I come from that is called justice. Amen.

11/13/2016
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Here is an interesting quote and I’ll give you two guesses who said it: ‘As humankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.” George Washington said it. Then there is, of course, Saint Augustine: ‘Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.’”

BENEDICTION: A kind and just God sends us out into the world as bearers of truth, a truth which surpasses our understanding, that the love of God knows no bounds or boundaries. Indeed, God watches over those who respond in love. So, let us love God so much that we love nothing else too much. Let us be so in awe of God that we are in awe of noone else and nothing else. Amen.

Author: admin