Summary: Pursuing God’s will for our lives requires personal sacrifice.
I’m sure that some of you are a little nervous right now that I’m going to talk to you about money and about how you all need to give more to God and to the church. I certainly could do that; the story of the widow’s offering lends itself well to a sermon about tithing and giving to the church. But I want to go a little broader than that today. I want us to think about personal sacrifice, and God’s call upon us to offer all of ourselves in service to Christ.
Last week we took time to remember and celebrate the lives of the saints who have gone before us. Both those who guided the way for us long ago, and those who have held our hands and walked with us more recently. As I mentioned last week, in my mind a saint is someone who devotes her entire life to following and serving Christ and who inspires others to do the same. God wants all of us to be saints; God wants all of us to be people who commit our lives in service to Jesus and lead others to do the same. One of the most significant aspects of being a believer and a Christ follower is being willing to make sacrifices. The widow made a great sacrifice of her resources when she put the two copper coins into the Temple treasury. But a great part of serving Christ also requires a sacrifice of our time, our desires; really our whole lives.
God requires much of us who claim the Christian faith. God wants more from us than simply warming seats in a church on Sunday mornings. God wants a priesthood of all believers. God wants every member in ministry. God expects that we will take the Kingdom that began with Jesus Christ and we will do everything we can to help that Kingdom spread and grow. But if we are going to be faithful in the work that God has called us to, then we have to be willing to push aside some of the things in our lives that are ultimately unnecessary. In other words, we have to be willing to make some sacrifices; and when it comes to being followers of Christ, sacrifice takes on many different forms.
The most powerful definition of sacrifice I have ever heard came from Kendall Soulen, one of my seminary professors. In my Systematic Theology class, Kendall offered this description, “Sacrifice is costly self-giving.” Costly self-giving.
What does costly self-giving look like? I believe the widow of today’s gospel lesson gives us a perfect picture of costly self-giving. In Jesus’ time, widows were the epitome of the poor and helpless. They had no status in society, no resources, and no one to provide or care for them. And so Jesus here lifts up the widow in contrast to the rich people who can give extravagantly to the Temple treasury and make sure others see them doing it. Society tells us that the great people are those with money, power, and prestige. But Christ paints a different picture. Jesus lifts up the widow’s gift as noteworthy because she has given literally her “whole life;” those two seemingly insignificant copper coins, which were actually all she had to live on that day. Greatness is not determined by the size of our gift, but by our willingness to sacrifice extravagantly in God’s name. The widow’s gift was small in comparison to the bags of money being thrown in by the rich, but her sacrifice was total.