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Ain't Worth A Dime

Mark 12:38-44

The Rev. Jon Roberts

8 November

2009

Good Shepherd Episcopal

Venice, FL

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places 39 and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

The Widow’s Offering
41 And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.”

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Julia Chester Emery, photograph, 1916

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore,” said the baseball great, Yogi Berra, when coaching the Yankees.
It’s true, the value of our currency is devalued, just like it had been in his day. Though, instead, we may say, “Fifty dollars ain’t’ worth a hundred anymore.” Four-O’-One-K’s are now One O’-One-K’s; People are living off the interest of pensions; living off Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security; living off coupons and the “Buy one get one free.” Things such as these, have been counted on by many. The future for some is questionable. In this radically changing world we live, people are not just trying to survive; they are trying to find their worth.

What is a person worth these days? In the nineteen eighties, if you visited the little town of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, you may hear a woman, “Out back,” humming a familiar spiritual tune, while scrubbing clothes over a washboard. Each and every day, without any family, without any complaint, she patiently did her chores. Eighty years she did this. She never married, nor had children. Her arthritis would be the only obstacle. Those who saw her come and sit in the Fellowship Baptist Church, enjoyed her company, but didn’t give her any second thought. Those in the town just went on thinking she was the lady who washed clothes. But one day, that all changed. One of the assistant bankers noticed that her account had grown significantly over time. All of those nickels had turned into dimes. Because of her frugality, she now had a quarter of a million dollars in the bank. Because of her wealth, people began to pay her more attention. They gave her advice. Buy an air conditioner for your home. Get cable TV. Pay for someone to wash your clothes for a change.

For Osceola McCarty of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, up until her death, she would have nothing of it. But she did realize the worth of providing opportunities for the under-privileged. She saw the worth of human life. That is why she set up her will in the following way. She met with her trustee and asked him to take out ten dimes. She said, “This one goes to my church. These three go to my family. And these six go to the University. I want others like me, not to feel all they can do is wash clothes.” She understood the importance, the worth of leadership by giving to others.

Another lady, whose name is Julia Chester Emery, is also worth mentioning today. Some of you may remember her. If you were ever in the ECW, you may recall the name. Her legacy was responsible for the United Thank Offering. The UTO is an annual collection by the Episcopal Woman’s Auxiliary of the Board of Missions. She visited every diocese, over the forty years of her stewardship, including the Diocese of Southern Florida, asking them to give to the mission of the Church. With the assistance of funds, she went international, helping people in remote areas of the world in places like China, Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Her ministry in those parts began in 1908, the same year Osceola McCarty was born in Mississippi. The legacy continued on.

In the eyes of God, a person’s worth is based on such a legacy. He sees it all. The Lord loves the righteous and cares for the stranger.[1] He sustains the orphan and the widow. He frustrates the wicked. The widow’s mite, that we hear about today in Mark’s Gospel echoes the worth of mankind.[2] You can see her. Although she is old, and her arthritis has taken the best of her, she still walks gracefully up towards the altar. At the climax of the annual stewardship drive, the temple officials are there to receive. Back then there were no checks and no pledge cards. Those who could brought products of their business. Others gave a percentage of their savings, valued in shekels of gold, silver and copper coins. Everyone watched as the balance was tallied. The excitement grew when the line was formed. Quill and ink were ready to record the weight of each offering. They began with the greatest and moved to the least. A rich merchant brought a gold plate, worth two hundred shekels. Another brought one of silver, worth a hundred. A miller brought two bags of flour, worth fifty shekels, and a candle maker brought a plate of incense, worth ten. From this public offering, everyone saw what everyone else gave. It had become part of their politics. Some used it for advertising. “Look at how successful I have become,” putting it out there for display. By the time the widow came up, at the end, hardly anyone noticed as she dropped in two copper coins.

On this day, we, the people of God, pledge to the operation and continuing mission of the Church. Jesus sees it all and he doesn't care how much money you give, but he does care about how you give. He sees who is out back doing the chores of everyday living, with a glad heart, who gives out of their poverty. He sees who volunteers time and talent when treasure is limited, and he honors those who give financially when they do not have the strength to labor. He enjoys seeing how we use our gold, silver or copper, and how we put it to use, because it is people like Osceola, Janet, the widow, and all of you who are the tokens in His treasury.

People who give for the mission of the Church, out of a thankful heart, do so because they want to be pure before God, and they want to be heirs to eternal life. A nickel may not be worth a dime anymore, but a good steward with a servant’s heart sure is worth their weight in gold.

[1] Ps 146:8-9
[2] Mark 12:38-44

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