New Year’s Eve
December 31, 2017
“The Widow’s Mite”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
This is the time for lists. Who did what? Who has what? Who died? What did they do? Of course, it is the famous and wealthy who get the press. Who, really, would want to know about us?
The stock market was good this year and the rich got richer. The guy that founded Amazon, Jeff Bezos, got $34.2 billion richer in just one year!! He will be worth 100 billion dollars within a few seconds. Poor Bill Gates is only worth $91.3 billion. We like big!!
In Thursday’s Post the figures for how many people come in and out of DIA (Denver International Airport) were given. A record 60 million people have gone through the airport this year. Every month it breaks records. I guess putting the airport in Kansas wasn’t a bad idea after all!!
The lists of important people who have died in 2017 have been reported. How many Oscars did they win? How many Grammies? Do they find their name on some Walk of Fame?
We’re into big. How tall is that basketball star? How large is that football player? How much did that baseball star just sign for?
We’re into big. But God is into small. From Luke 21: “As He looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ He said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Verses 1-4)
That wasn’t the first time that the small and insignificant were noticed by Jesus. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and become a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32) In the very next verse He stays with the whole thought of tiny and little, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33)
The mite, the mustard seed, the yeast – all small, barely noticeable, but they do great things. God seems to be very concerned about the little things.
In 2018 you are going to have the opportunity to do some great things. Maybe you have already made some ambitious plans. I want us to do some little things that will make a great impression. At the year-end I am asked to provide some reports to the Council, the Elders and the Voting Assembly about 2017. Numbers, figures, activities. I will need to provide such things also to the District and the Synod. One of the things that will find a way into the reports is the money that we gave away to Disaster Relief following the floods and storms in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. The Council came to the Voter’s and said, “We’re got lots of money, let’s send $20,000 of it to them.” The vote was taken and everyone said “yes”. In a handwritten receipt for the $22,000 that was sent (after individual’s gifts were added), the President of the Synod wrote, “Amazing!!” It was.
Let me tell you about a smaller gift that is just as amazing. Bill and Vicki Redden’s 7 year-old, Gracie, gave me an envelope and she wrote on it, “For the poor people”. That envelope had $1.83 in it. All coins. Her money. I wonder if that was her allowance for a week or two, or more. But she gave it away. I gave it to a homeless man named Ed, who showed up a few weeks ago cold and hungry. I told him about you, Gracie, and how you wanted him to have it. It was a huge gift to a person with a true need. It was a little thing that was a big thing.
We’re into big. God is into small. “If anyone gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42) Or how about this, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) Small – a cup of water, faith like a little mustard seed. And God does something big with it. You want to do something that will change the world this year, you want to do something among your family and friends or among some strangers? Then do something small. Small is the new big.
The Bible recognizes how something even very small can be quite destructive and divisive. In James 3 the example of something small that is powerful is made. “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts…the tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell…no man came tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:2,5a,6,8) It’s so small but it can do amazing things – both evil and good.
In the fourth grade at Meadowview Elementary School in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, my Art Teacher, Miss Wolf, said to me, “John, you have amazing eyebrows.” Yeah, you never noticed them, did you? “Amazing eyebrows.” I still remember it. I bet Miss Wolf doesn’t still remember saying that, but I remember hearing it. I was a fourth-grader, maybe a little insecure about my appearance and finding my place in the world – but now I knew my eyebrows were a little better than anyone else in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. It was just five words, something little, that has always been big to me.
God is interested in little because little also means personal. He cares for the whole world but He cares for the world once person at a time. In the midst of all those people in the Temple in Jerusalem He pointed out the widow who gave the two pennies that day. God cares about each person, the big things in life, and the little. He has counted all the hairs on your head – little stuff, and He has fought the enemies that would take over your life and soul and has been victorious – that’s big stuff – and He has had you in mind the whole time!!
Didn’t God use some of the most simple, smallest things to bring us faith and cleansing and eternal hope? Let’s see – He started with a little water in Baptism and said, “I have called you by name, you are Mine.” (Isaiah 43:1b) Then He speaks just a little word like “Go in peace, your sins have been forgiven” (Portions of Luke 7:48,50) in absolution. Or, how about the simplicity of receiving the bread and wine in Holy Communion? Simple elements of which Jesus says, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” (John 6:51b)
It is little things, personal things that are the greatest and biggest things. These little things given to us by a humble man named Jesus give us all we need to have eternal salvation and the hope of everlasting life. The little things do the big things.
And what can you do this year? Concentrate on those little things. That word, that gift, that time, that attention, though small, proves to be big, even eternal. The world loves big, God loves small. He loves us. Love others by even the smallest of words and actions. Amen!!