When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
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.
The poor widow gingerly placed her very last coins, her change scraped from the sofa cushions, into the synagogue treasury. Jesus had been watching, doing one of his divine sociological studies. “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.’”
I love widows and hate honey. I cherish the people lumped with the metaphorical widows in scripture. The widows are associated with orphans and strangers, with society’s outcasts and weak. Speaking of orphans, did you know that 5100 children have been pushed into our country’s foster care systems – forced to become orphans? Their parents were either detained or deported lacking legal immigration status. Did you know that too many elderly still fall prey to predatory lending – particularly ill-advised reverse mortgages?
How can this still be? The three Abrahamic faiths assert that God wills we love and care for the least among us. God commands we change society to protect them. It’s good for us too for all of us will some day be orphans or widows or powerless strangers in strange places. We will want to be loved.
I hate the bee’s honey. I grew up as an asthmatic child. My mother made me consume a tablespoon of locally produced honey morning and night. The honey helped overcome allergies to local pollens. But there was too much of it, every morning and night - no baklava for me.
While widows represent the beloved children of God who need assistance, honey in scripture represents hale fruitfulness. Honey represents God’s bountiful grace and benevolence. Honey represents God’s blessings in our life. Friends we all have some God’s honey, some blessings we can share.
Jack Benny told a joke about a thief who accosted him demanding, “You’re money or your life!” Benny paused pondering. The impatient thief pushed for a response, Benny blurted, “I’m thinking! I’m thinking!”
Your money or your life? With regard to Christian Stewardship, it’s both. Every aspect of Christian life is stewardship. Worship is our response to God’s grace, the stewardship of grateful relationships with God; the giving of ourselves through praise, prayer, and promise. Evangelism is our stewardship of the gospel; the giving of God’s grace-filled truth to the world. Mission is our stewardship of life; the giving of our hearts and hands in the world. We advocate for justice, walk for the homeless, build for the cold, feed the hungry, cherish the environment, care for those we love, provide hospitality to strangers. Too often stewardship gets distilled to money alone, but we know it includes portions of all the blessings in our lives, a bit of our God’s honey.
I heard a story where someone called the Butterball Turkey Company’s customer service number. She asked, “I was cleaning out my freezer, and discovered that I’ve had a turkey in there for decades. Can it still be eaten?” The Butterball employee said, “Well, if the turkey’s been frozen, and never defrosted, it should be safe to eat. But lady, honestly, the quality of the meat won’t be too good.” The person calling responded, “Great, that’s what I thought. I will give it to the Church’s Thanksgiving food drive.”
Remember the first passage Jean read about how the faithful were to be grateful givers. When the freed slaves got to lands of milk and honey, they were to gather some, not all, but some of the first fruits of their fields. Gather the best. If you have raised strawberries, or gone to Homestead Farms and picked a first fresh strawberry, you will know what it is to taste a first fruit. You know to pull off a vine ripened summer tomato and to taste its beauty. God’s stewardship is giving from the honey pot, giving some of the best we have. I have been amazed over the years as I go through food items given to food banks with the numerous items whose expirations had expired. God asks that we give our best – give the Neuhas Chocolate, not the Hersheys. Give the fresh fruit, not the Del Monte.
God told them to take some, not all, but some of their best, first crops and go to Temple, declare how blessed there are. Give it to the priest who would offer the good gifts to God as a thank you. Then recite their story of deliverance, share how God helped them to recovery, how God rescued them. Recite who they were; they were the children who were freed from Egypt’s tyranny. They were the ones who had been pushed to the side, exploited, and bullied. They were the ones without milk, honey or money. That was who they were, until God helped them. They were the strangers, and the widows and the orphans until God helped them through others. Stewardship is when we give gratefully appreciating that we have been freed and accepted, rescued and renewed.
And what was supposed to happen with all the good gifts that were given by the grateful people? Deuteronomy 26 verse 12 says, “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year…, giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the [needy], in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me…” The gifts of thanksgiving became food for those who had too little, God’s gift passed on to others in need. Think about it. It’s a beautiful cycle of grace.
So why is Christian stewardship’s poster child the poor widow? Again and again she’s dropped her last two pennies into velvet pouches, into wicker baskets, into wooden boxes and brass plates. During Stewardship season preachers celebrate her generosity ad nauseam. They commend her ultimate gift, declaring her the model of giving.
Her generosity reminds me of the tree in Shel Silverstein’s children story, The Giving Tree. A young boy grows up friends with a generous tree. The tree shares her branches and shade that he might have fun and be comfortable. She gives her apples that he might eat. She gives her trunk allowing herself to be cut down so he could build a boat and sail away on adventure. As an old man he returned and she offered her last, her stump so he could sit. The poor widow gave all she had left; the poor tree gave it all too. I loathe the little boy’s selfishness. I fear for any faith community who can take a poor grieving woman’s last dollar.
There is a gospel message in Jesus’ sociological observation. There’s a stewardship message in Jesus’ comment on the widow’s gift. But it is not give as she gives. It’s more like, “Don’t dare take her last dollar. Don’t in the name of God impoverish further the weak.” It is a call to order our lives in faithful ways preventing abuse and exploitation. It is a call to order our lives that we might together breed justice and love.
Put the widow’s story into its biblical context. Jesus is not complementing her sacrificial gift. He is criticizing the faith community. Immediately before her story, Jesus warned, “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…” “They devour widows’ houses.” The power mongers worked against God’s will. Rather than lift up the widows, orphans and strangers, they for the sake of glamor and wealth, sacrificed their lives.
Preacher Barbara Brown Taylor wrote, “Are we really supposed to admire a poor woman who gave her last cent to a morally bankrupt religious institution? Was it right for her to surrender her living to those who lived better than she? What if she were someone you knew, someone of limited means who decided to send her last dollar to the 700 Club? Would that be admirable, or scandalous? Would it be a good deed or a crying shame?” To pay for pomp, they consumed the widow. It was a crying shame; not only that, it was a violation of God’s will. They were supposed to give the widow good, healthy, loving food from the thanksgiving offering.
Stewardship is a beautiful cycle of grateful giving and grateful receiving. With thanksgiving to God we give. We give so others will receive. We give because we have received. We give so that we can be a part of transforming the world, so that orphans are not created by fearful immigration policies and the elderly not impoverished by predatory lending. We give so that we can protect our mothers and fathers and children. We give because we too have been strangers, we too will be widows, we too have been loved.
Reflect on your stories, those times when you were renewed by God. Reflect on your story, remember when you were bullied, or pushed to the side. Remember when you were afraid you might not have enough. Like the Israelites, we thankfully recite our stories of rescue, recovery and renewal.
In stewardship to God, Rockville United is called to promise, that we will never take the last coins of a neighbor in need, instead we will fight to ensure they have enough to begin with. We have brothers and sisters here today who are need renewal, who come as the widow. We don’t demand your last coins whether they are financial, emotional, or physical. Help us help you receive some first fruit. Help us help you pray for deliverance. Our testimonies of God’s grace we give to you.
Friends, pledge with a honey attitude of gratitude. Don’t give until it hurts, but give so that RUC grows witnessing God’s dreams for the world. Give that we grow as God’s children who care. Give that we deepen our faithfulness to Christ’s Way: the way - protecting each other when we are down, the way - pulling close those who hurt, the way - teaching our culture to stop pushing people down. And receive love, receive hope, receive peace. Always give and receive keeping God’s beautiful cycle of grace a-whirling. Amen.
 Qu’ran 4.36: Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.
 My biblical interpretation is informed by the paper, “Widow’s Mite or Widow’s Plight: On Exegetical Abuse, Textual Harassment and Learning Prophetic Exegesis” by Andre Resner. Review and Expositor, 107, Fall 2010.
 Barbara Brown Taylor. The Preaching Life. p130.