OFFERING OURSELVES, OUR SOULS & BODIES
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY NOVEMBER 8th 2009
Mark 12: 44 “She, out of her poverty, has put in everything she had.”
I once heard a story of a priest (who was probably an Australian!) who went to a new parish. on his first Sunday, when the collection came up he looked at it disappointedly, and he whispered to the acolyte: “Is this all they gave?” Then stopping the organist, he announced: “That wasn’t good enough, we’re sending the plates around again”.
Now I have no intention of doing the same today! What I want to do is thank all of you who have brought your pledges to church today on this pledge Sunday. Some of our parishioners are doing it hard, and so I appreciate this commitment that you bring today on those yellow cards.
After the collection of money there will be a second collection of the pledges, which will be brought to the altar where they will be offered to God. Because, of course, they are not just a pledge of your finances, but an offering of yourselves to God himself – and a sign of your commitment to Christ. So we honour that commitment as we offer ourselves to God today.
It will not have gone unnoticed that today’s Gospel is highly appropriate for today. The widow gives just a little amount to the temple – but it far exceeds what everyone else gave, particularly the Scribes and Pharisees, whom Jesus compares her to – because she gave all she had.
You notice in the Gospel that Jesus doesn’t say that she gave all she could spare, or all she could afford. No, she gave all she had – she, who could least afford it. Now I am not going to preach a sermon on stewardship today. That was done very well two weeks ago by Mr. Ochocki. As he has done before, Rick spoke of his own commitment, and of tithing in bad times, even when unemployed – and of the countless blessings such commitment brings from God.
Today this widow preaches to us. A woman so committed to God that she was generous to a fault. It is easy for us to see ourselves in her position. Like her we come this morning to this temple and offer our pledge – a free and committed offering. And we do it for various reasons, don’t we?
Firstly, our parish – this church community we call our spiritual home – has needs, and a budget. Like other churches, the going is tough this year. But we are a generous parish. In Lent you gave over $16,000 for those affected by bushfires in Australia, and that was as well as your regular pledges and giving.
Yes, we give generously and we give when there is a need,. That’s been the pattern as long as I have been your Rector. We know about giving – but we also know our giving is personal. We love this church – we want it to continue, and we want its work to flourish and increase.
Here we come to find peace from God, to receive his grace in Holy Communion Sunday by Sunday, and during the week, to learn about the faith, and to enjoy fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We also depend on the clergy for prayer, ministry and support, when we need it.
And beneath all that is an underlying question: Where would we go to Church if All Saints’ didn’t exist? There is no chance of finding worship and parish life like All Saints’ anywhere else in San Diego. But there’s a bigger reason why we bring our pledges today – and that reason is Jesus.
In today’s Gospel we see a woman contributing to temple finances, because that was part of Jewish religious practice for that woman. In those days you tithed and you gave offerings. It was part of the way you lived your life as a follower of God, and part of the rules.
Similarly, Muslims give alms and offerings because it’s the rule of their religion. Like Christians, Jews and Muslims give offerings because we all believe that God created the world and we owe him something back as a token of our thanks.
Through those rules, they believe they come close to God, are forgiven their sins and gain entry into heaven. Now we Christians are a little different. In fact we are the odd man out! We also believe that God created the world and everything in it, and that our offerings are our response to him for all that He has given us – and who of us has not been blessed?
But we also believe in that funny thing called the Trinity. And in Jesus, whom we call the Son of God. And we believe that it is what he did dying on the Cross and rising from the dead that brings us close to God – that forgives our sins and gets us to heaven.
We may have similar rules to other religions, but it is not what we do that achieves that age-old desire to be one with God. It is what Jesus did that achieves all that. Saint Paul goes into great detail in his Epistles about this. We are saved by grace, not by the law. By faith, not by works.
Christ’s death and resurrection are called in Christian theology the Atonement – a word which means “at one ment“, because what he did makes us at one with God. Today’s Epistle (Hebrews 9: 24-28) explains this in a wonderful way. The writer, comparing what the High Priest did in the temple every year, with what Jesus did on the Cross, draws a parallel.
The High Priest goes into the Holy of Holies in the temple and offers the sacrifice of a lamb for his sins, and the sins of all the people. Jesus, after His resurrection, enters the sanctuary which is in heaven, having offered himself as the sacrifice.
Because Jesus is without sin, He is the perfect High Priest. Aand because He willingly offered himself as the sacrifice, He is the perfect sacrifice. So Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross never needs repeating. It is perfect and forgives our sins once and for all. When we reflect on this we realise that any offering we make does not achieve what Jesus achieved – but is a response to what Jesus has done.
The offering today of our financial commitment, of our work here within the parish, or as Christians in the wider community, our prayers and worship – all our efforts to do this is our response to what our Lord has done. More importantly, by this response it enables us to grow as Christians and be his disciples.
The widow, said Jesus, put in everything she had, her whole living. We too are called to focus our whole living on Christ. That is the ultimate meaning of Pledge Sunday.