University Congregational Church
Oct. 13, 2019
Bonnie lives in a very large city, far away from where she grew up. She lives in a residential group home, with several other young men and women, and works at a nearby sheltered workshop. Bonnie is not particularly happy with either situation. But that is where she is for right now.
Bonnie is a big woman, enough that she sways from side to side when she walks. She is probably in her early thirties; flecks of gray in her dark hair have begun to give away her age. She has three great loves: flowers in her hair, frilly white blouses, and a sing-minded love affair with Jesus.
Professionals would say that Bonnie is “trainable mentally impaired”. Bonnie would say, “isn’t everyone a little impaired?” Bonnie believes in God’s loving forgiveness; she has experienced it deep within her being; and she lives her life in a kind of wild abandonment to Christ’s love.
Bonnie tells us her story: “you know how it is when you fall down and hurt yourself and sometimes the skin gets cut and even after it heals you can still see the scar? Well, once, when I was small, my parents told me to go upstairs and get dressed; they were going to take me out for supper to a fancy restaurant. So I went upstairs and put on my best clothes, and we got into the car. Pretty soon we drove up to the state mental institution. I knew this wasn’t a restaurant. They told me if I didn’t act better they were going to bring me here and leave me the next time. That made a big scar; the scar is on the inside, and no one knows it’s there. Sometimes we make other people have scars on the inside, and that kind doesn’t heal very well; the mark is always there.
Last summer Bonnie worked in a bath house at a local beach, giving out towels to the ladies as they dressed after a day of swimming. She was proud of her job, and she learned a lot about people: some were friendly, some were arrogant, and some were just plain rude. But she stuck with it when they called her retarded, stupid and dumb, when they made fun of the plastic flowers in her hair. She proved that she was stronger than any name-calling; that working was an honor; and that it’s important to say “thank you”.
Her first pay check was a big day for Bonnie. Most of us use a first pay check to pay bills or buy something we have wanted for awhile. Not Bonnie. She went to the florist where she picked out a dozen red roses and white carnations. She asked the florist to arrange them in two bunches. Then she took the bus to the church where she put them on either side of the altar. With them, she put this note:
Thank you for getting me this job.
Love, your friend, Bonnie.
Thirty-six dollars she paid for them – her whole paycheck. Red roses because of Jesus’ sacrifice. White roses because of Jesus’ love.
Our text for today is the story commonly called the “Widow’s Mite” from Luke 21:1-4. It is a Jesus story that is often misunderstood…
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
The familiar story of the widow’s mite has been misunderstood as often as it has been told. The simple misunderstanding is that this story is about giving money to the church. The poor widow gave all the money she had, it is true. But the author of the gospel of Luke follows this story immediately with two questions from the disciples:
• Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, Jesus said, “As for these things which you see, the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.” (vs. 5-6)
• Jesus went on to talk about the end days. And he ends the whole section with these words: “Watch, therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (vs. 36)
First, he is telling them that things are not important, including money – “not one stone (bought with church offerings) will be left upon another”. Secondly, he is telling them to be more like the widow. Here is the puzzle: why should they be more like the widow if offerings for the church will only buy things which will be destroyed? The puzzle can only be solved by realizing that Jesus is instructing them to fashion their hearts after the widow’s heart. You see, the blessing Jesus spoke on the widow was not simply about her gift of money. It was about the attitude she exhibited in her giving.
Jesus said of her, “but she, out of her poverty, has put in all the livelihood that she had.” (vs. 4) This blessing is not on her poverty or her financial gift: it is about offering one’s whole life; it is about living with a certain attitude. This is the same attitude that Bonnie had – spending her entire check on flowers in gratitude.
Bonnie is like the widow. You can imagine the widow who makes her way, unnoticed, to the collection area. Gently and with devotion, she places what she has in the box and leaves as quietly as she came.
On our best days, we can take a page from the woman in this story and realize that giving is about something precious – the content of our hearts.
Talk about stewardship sometimes focuses on so many other things. I noticed that again at our recent budget meeting –
• What is needed to pay the bills
• How the budget is put together
• Whether we can afford to give raises
• How much we can give to outreach and mission
• What percentage increase certain line items received
In 35 years of ministry, I have seldom (if ever) heard a discussion at a congregational meeting about the real spirituality of stewardship.
– Friends, I yearn for the day when someone in this (or any) congregation stands up at a congregational budget meeting and offers a prayer or a check in the spirit of Bonnie or the widow – someone who is willing to give sacrificially and without hesitation to make a ministry happen.
– You might be able to knock me over with a feather if someone stood up at a congregational meeting at any church and said something like, “I see we are $25,000 short of meeting this budget. I will start making up the deficit by giving $1000 today. Would anyone else like to match my gift?”
– How would it be if a small group of people who went to a Fellowship Dinner or who sat together in a pew started talking about a need in the church, like some doors that were showing age or some windows that needed to be replaced, and they agreed to split the cost?
– What would it look like if people came to a church event with a “can do” spirit like Bonnie or the widow and piped up with “I noticed a tree outside died recently and I’d like to pay to have it replaced!” You know, I have to celebrate that we did have someone at UCC who did that recently! Hoorah for that wonderful volunteer!
– What would happen if a few people who were dedicated to church growth got excited and all volunteered to work together on a committee and just approached the Sr. Minister about being the 2020 committee? A girl can dream, right???
Bonnie and the widow and the members of UCC together with the Spirit of God have the ability to bring miracles into reality. A mite (m-i-t-e) or a might (m-i-g-h-t) can bring a miracle into reality. All it takes is a willing spirit and a generous giver.
Shalem News Annual Report. September, 1997. “Bonnie’s Story” by Mary Clark. Pg. 3.