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The Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
November 11, 2012
The Gospel: Mark 12: 38-44
Sermon: "Annual Forecast - 2012"

The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles

Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel

The Gospel:

Teaching in the temple, Jesus said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

Mark 12: 38-44

Annual Forecast - 2012

What is a penny worth? For many of us, pennies are more purse or pocket-clutter than currency. You can't even find 1¢ gumball machines at grocery stores anymore, so what good are they? Recall the adage, "See a penny, pick it up, and all day long you'll have good luck." Well good luck may not be worth the effort of a penny anymore. If you saw one on the sidewalk, would you pick it up? Experiments have been done with this adage in mind. Coins of various values will be left on a sidewalk, and people will pick them up, but leave the pennies. Even when the more valuable coins are mixed in a small heap with the pennies on top, people will sift the pennies aside and take the others. 

Consider then the widow in our lesson from the Gospel according to Mark this morning. A couple of pennies is all that the widow gives when the temple passes the plate. Jesus commends her for giving what most of us would not stoop to pick up off of the sidewalk. Strictly speaking, what she gives are two hay-pennies, half-pennies that add up to a penny. Those coins, Jesus tells us, are all she has for that day. The pint, he’s telling us, is that they represent not just a financial gift; she is giving her whole self. 

In like fashion, Jesus notices the rich giving their huge offerings in the temple. Clearly the right hand knew what the left hand was doing, because Jesus could tell they were giving large amounts, even from across the courtyard. Two coins were nothing compared to the sacks the rich were offering. By the way, our idiom "my 2 cents" draws from this story. We say, "I'll put in my 2 cents, for what it's worth." 

Jewish religious leaders weren't a horridly corrupt lot -- we must be fair. They were religiously zealous in protecting Biblical culture from the encroaching corruption of a pagan Romano/Greek culture. However, they came to enjoy their position of power and privilege to such a degree that they lost their sense of spiritual purpose. Jesus' indictment of them shows that they loved abundant status, abundant comfort and abundant deference from those around them. Such self-serving abundance, Jesus is telling us, corrupts our lives, and leaves us spiritually destitute. But there is a better kind of abundance, an abundance that truly blesses our lives. This story begs us to thoughtfully look for that abundance in our lives. 

Pennies From Heaven is a 1936 film starring Bing Crosby. The film's story, of flawed but well-meaning people trying to do the right thing and stick together amid Depression adversity, has been largely forgotten, but the title song, emblematic of the Depression Era, has endured as a jazz standard; largely due the jazz musician, Louis Armstrong, who also starred in the film and made the song one of his standards. 

The song's lyrics reflect on how the pre-Depression world had forgotten how "the best things in life were absolutely free." Because no one appreciated marvels like the blue sky and the new moon, "it was planned" says the song "that they would vanish now and then."
You had to buy these good things back -- but with what? "Pennies from heaven" is the answer:

That's what storms were made for
And you shouldn't be afraid for
Every time it rains, it rains,
Pennies from heaven.
Don't you know each cloud contains
Pennies from heaven?
You'll find your fortune's falling
All over town.
Be sure that your umbrella is upside down.

In the darkest days of the Depression, it was comforting to think that God might still send the occasional penny our way; a small, but tangible blessing, symbolic of much more significant blessings yet to come. The whole idea is reminiscent of the biblical story of the manna that sustained the Israelites in the wilderness. They couldn't hoard the stuff, because it would spoil. They had to depend on its daily arrival. Obviously, the pennies in the song are metaphorical for the truly richest blessings of this life that no mere money can buy. If God's daily blessings are indeed waiting to be harvested, there's something to be said for "keeping your umbrella upside down;" that is, of allowing ourselves to see the simple wonder of little things in our lives; of looking for and counting the abundantly real blessings that are ours.

We’ve had a scare this year as a church. The very real specter of becoming a mission, instead of a parish, has come into view. Given our financial patterns over the past few years, we discovered that that specter has been glaring at us for awhile. We have had to ask hard questions: “Will we continue to have a full-time priest; How can we grow or continue; What other parts of ministry would we, could we, do without; What will become of us?” All of these questions and more have been asked. 

It’s not that this was a complete surprise, out of the blue. There have been those faithful, insightful voices warning us of this for some time. But this year, it feels, we all really saw it. This year has come to feel like the moment when we will answer those questions. 

Now, for obvious reasons, these questions have been as heavily on my mind as yours. Yet, amazingly, I have found a sense of inner calm in the midst of this storm of thought. The Lord has been pouring down an abundance of blessings upon me and my family, and he has done this in no small part through you and this church. 

You have been here for us as we literally journeyed into the unknown to be with you. You have walked beside us as we have walked the Valley of the Shadow of cancer. You’ve consoled D’aun and me as our nest has emptied. You’ve celebrated with us as certain mile-markers were achieved. Because of you and this place, God has blessed us with a great sense of abundance. 

But, perhaps what has been most heartening has been your response to the questions of the day. So many of you have been sharing with us and with each other about the blessing this faith community is in your life. You’ve been reacting, not out of the fear of scarcity, but out of the joy in abundance.

Yes, financially, things are looking tentatively up. Not all pledges are in yet, but those that are in are mostly up. If all keeps pace we could retire much of our deficit this year, and have a balanced budget for the new year. 

In education, we have a substantial group of young people going through confirmation this year, and the foundation for an active youth group next year. We also have inquiries being made about expanding our Sunday School, because the need to do so is coming. For adults, we still have one of the best Sunday School classes going. 

In mission and outreach, our giving has kept pace, and we have faithfully kept our commitments. Many of you have also pitched in with your time and talents to keep this as a major part of our collective ministry. 

All of these are outward signs of our inner vitality, and our trust in the abundance of God. But there has been something else too. You have shared about the abundance of life you have received from the Lord through each other and this place.
I wish that you could all hear the stories of abundance I hear here all the time. Several of you have shared how, in the darkest moments, this faith community has given you strength, and surprised you, or just reminded you, of the abundance of friendship you have here. 

Others of you speak of how this church has given you a place to belong, to live in community and share your faith journey. Still others have spoken of how this faith community’s caring for the poor and disadvantaged has given you the chance to pool your resources and make a real positive difference in the condition of this world. 

Many of you are often sharing how much the Holy Spirit blesses you in spirit and soul each time you gather here to worship the Living God. Just last Sunday someone said, “It doesn’t matter how gray the day, or hard the week, I always come away feeling blessed.” As another has said, “Surely, God is in this place!” 

This is the abundance that gives life. It is the abundance of the heart, the mind, the spirit, and the soul. God has rained it down upon us; abundantly. That is the true state of this church. That is why we give; we give out of gratitude; we give out of abundant joy. Surely, God is in this place. May his abundance of blessing always continue upon us, and through us to all. And that’s my two cents, for all it’s worth! 

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