Community 25 Pentecost B November 11, 2018 Mark 12:38-44 Rev. Paul Opsahl
It’s a privilege. It’s a joy. What more can I say than thanks, Pastor Joe, for the invitation to be in the pulpit today. And thanks to you and Annabelle for the wonderful ministries you carry out here in this beloved congregation.
In looking over today’s story from Mark’s Gospel, which deals really, with small things – very small things – I was reminded of something our granddaughter said to me about ten years ago. I came up from the basement, where I had been huffing and puffing on the treadmill, and she said in her cheery voice, “Nampa, why do you exercise so much? You know, you don’t have much time left!” (Aren’t kids wonderful?!) Well, the “not much” time for me has by now stretched into about a decade, and by the grace of God I’m still counting!
These are days that bring to mind some of the world’s enormously important events. It has been 80 years since Kristallnacht, the Night of Breaking Glass, when Nazis unleashed the full fury of the anti-semitism that became the Holocaust. Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I. November 11th was earlier known as Armistice Day, commemorating the signing of the agreement that ended that war at 11:00 a.m. on November 11th, 1918. Then, in 1954, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day to honor all the men and women who served in our armed forces to secure our freedoms. Yes, these are big, meaningful events. But this morning we pause also to recognize the worth of some of the small things in life. Small, maybe, but things that have their own way of leaving lasting impressions. It was Mother Theresa who said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
We can learn that from today’s Gospel. The heroine of the story is one who would probably be voted by her class as the least likely to succeed. She wasn’t famous. She would never possess wealth. She was just a lonely figure that happened one day to fall into the stream of people moving through the temple grounds at busy Passover time. Picture Jesus sitting along with some temple leaders opposite the place where the offerings were being placed. They didn’t have paper money in those days, so all of the offerings made noise as they rolled down a long horn shaped receptacle and dropped to the bottom. (Maybe, Joe, that’s where you got the idea for CLC’s “noisy offering” that kids of every age enjoy each Sunday! I suppose, though that with the paper money we have now, and checks and all, we’ll probably also need to continue with the more silent “regular” offering, too!) Now back to the Temple in Jerusalem, and their noisy offering. This unnamed woman is holding two thin copper coins. There, in the palm of her hand, is everything she can call her own – her security, her future, her self. These little coins certainly won’t make much noise as they drop into the treasury. Taken together, their sum will register next to nothing on the temple books. You can almost see the leaders roll their eyes. Perhaps they’re hoping that the next person who walks by will bring the per person average offering amount back up again. And so her quiet journey continues – she thinks nobody’s noticed. But Jesus calls his disciples over and says to them, “Believe it or not, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than anyone else. You want to see a model for the legacy I want to leave in this world? You’ve just witnessed it.”
To the religious leaders, this woman was a waste of their time. To Jesus, she possessed the quality he valued most. She had opened heart and hand – for the poor. A quality Jesus still looks for in people.
The rap musical “Hamilton” has become one of the greatest Broadway hits ever. As it moves along, we meet the three Skylar sisters – Angelica, Peggy, and Eliza. It’s Eliza who will become the wife of that figure out of our history, Alexander Hamilton. If for no other reason, we remember this person from American history because his face is on our $10 dollar bills! There comes a moment in the play when all three Skylar sisters go to New York City. There they find and feel the growing excitement about the Revolution that’s in the wind. And Angelica, Peggy and Eliza sing, “Look around, look around, the Revolution is happening in New York – in the greatest city in the world. Look around, look around. How lucky we are to be alive right now!”
Today, we find Jesus driving home his revolutionary lesson in servanthood. It was as if he is saying to Peter and James and John and the rest of his disciples, “In all that you do, look around. Don’t surround yourself only with the beautiful, the powerful, the talented, those who are great in the eyes of others. Because it’s not all about you. It’s about others. It’s not all about us even. It’s about them. So, look around. Look around.
A visit to the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC brings you up short with the frightening power that evil can have in this world. But as heart-wrenching as a visit there is, if you listen carefully, you pick up the glimmer of a hope that never dies, even in those who had everything human, everything decent, everything good taken away from them. Let me offer a story that is told at the Holocaust Museum. It’s about an ever so small kind of gesture. But one that restored faith and hope to another human being.
It is the story of Gerda. Gerda Weissman Klein. In the spring of 1945, Gerda and her barrack mates were captives in one of the terrible Nazi concentration camps. They felt they were in their final days. One night after the last roll call, they were herded back to the barracks. Then they heard tremendous hammering. In horror they realized the Nazi guards were nailing shut the doors of their barracks. Then, through the slits of the windows, they saw trucks arriving, filled with canisters. The guards began to pour something along the footings of the barracks. The prisoners smelled gasoline. Their buildings were about to become giant infernos.
But then, miraculously – and no other word than ‘miracle’ seems to work, the storyteller says – miraculously, just as the guards were going to light the gasoline, the heavens suddenly opened up and it began to rain — a thunderstorm of biblical proportions. In the morning when they looked out there was nothing. Just eerie silence. At midday they heard the rumble of trucks approaching. When they looked outside through those tiny slits in the windows, there were soldiers again all right, but these were wearing different uniforms from those of their Nazi guards. They were being liberated! The women inside pounded on the door, trying to tell people that they were still inside and still alive. Soon, a young soldier pried open the door. Gerda was literally shoved out the door to find out who these soldiers were and what would happen to them next.
And these are Gerda Klein’s own words: “I walked over to a young officer who seemed to be in charge. He questioned if I was alone. I said No and pointed to the barracks. He asked me to take him inside and show him who was there. We walked side by side back to the barracks. As we approached the doorway, the officer stepped to the side and went around me. He reached out in front of me and grabbed hold of the door, and opened it for me so I could walk through first. And with that simple gesture of courtesy, that first act of human kindness we had known in a long, long time,” says Gerda, “my humanity and my life were restored.” Then she adds a final postscript: “That young officer was an American soldier from Buffalo, New York, by the name of Kurt Klein. Today he is the father of our children and my husband to all eternity!”
I believe Jesus is saying to us right now in our own times: Look around. Look around to see how servanthood can capture you. Look around, and discover who needs me, Jesus says, and therefore who needs what you – and sometimes only you – can provide that person in my name. Even though the gesture you make might seem small and insignificant, look around and you’ll find children separated from their parents. Crying. You’ll find the hurting, the poor, the weak. Look further and you’ll find homeless, and refugees, and desperate people, and immigrants, and prisoners, and the hungry, and sick, and migrants, and people recovering from hurricanes in Florida and fires in California that have consumed their communities. Look around and you’ll find those who are grieving from the American curse of gun violence. Look around and you’ll find someone who is down and out in spirit and body and mind.
Look around. And then think back to this woman who had nothing left to give except from her poverty. What was it Mother Theresa said? “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” So, look around. Look around. Amen.
And the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus, to life everlasting. Amen.