Readings from the Scriptures (CEB) Mark 12: 38-44
38 As he was teaching, he said, “Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets. 39 They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. 40 They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. They will be judged most harshly.” 41 Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. 42 One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny. 43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. 44 All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”
Just after the first World War, Madame Anna Guérin of France took John McCrae’spoem In Flanders’ Fields and brought it to life, selling fabric poppies to help rebuild regions of France torn apart because of war. Not long after that in 1921, Canada adopted the same symbol of remembrance, and soon this little red symbol of life and death spread the world wide, all because of the actions of one person. One hundred years later, we wear the poppy not as a glorification of war, but of our commitment to peace, and the sacrifices required to keep it. For peacekeeping is never easy. It will forever be life-altering.
For those who fought in the World Wars and the conflicts that followed, if they made it out alive, their families were irreparably changed and scarred, some carrying the horrors of war too close to their hearts to even share. I’ve led funerals for those who served, who weren’t ever able to retell the stories of war, for fear of what their family would think of them. And for the rest – those who paid the ultimate price for peace and lost their lives, they became cautionary tales for what happens when governments and leaders put civilians in the midst of their disputes. We hear the ghostly whispers of those who died, and those who lived to bear their scars:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw the torch;
How do those words fall on our ears knowing that the last of our veterans, Fran Crandell, died this past summer, passing the torch from failing hands to our own? How do we tell the story of his life, his service, and continue dwelling in the peace that he and so many other fought for? How do we honour the sacrifices that so many made with our lives?
Because keeping the peace is never easy. In a culture where everything is politicized (including the provincial election that has already started advertising long before the election in March), when anti-vaxxers are part of our own families, when those in our lives deny the hurt done to indigenous peoples, or lesbians, gays, or “non-whites” just because their ancestry is different from our own, when we’re manipulated by social media to fight and draw lines as we see our neighbours as enemies, keeping the peace is complicated. It always has been. Sacrificial living requires a cost – and many of us feel too tired, too stressed, too affected by this past year to even care. We’d rather go silent when confronted by those we love – confronted when they confess to us the myriad of sins that make our skins crawl – because silence is far easier than confrontation. It’s just easier to pretend we don’t notice.
A woman comes to the temple hoping no one notices her. She sheepishly spots the offering plate like all of you did sitting on the tables coming in, but instead of being drawn forward, her eyes dart from person to person to catch if they’re watching her. Her fists are tight. She looks ready for a fight, prepped to strike, but she’s not readying to throw down – she’s clutching two coins in her hands so tightly that they almost become a piece of her. Long into the night that followed this moment in the temple, the image of the coins burned hot red into her palms. A commotion stirs near the entrance and she finds her moment to act. Thinking all of the eyes were drawn elsewhere, she quickly moves up, places her offering and heads off into the darkness. But Jesus and his friends were watching, observing those coming to place their offering. They’ve seen plenty who were grandstanding with their offering, like Elon Musk to the UN Food programme saying, I’ll hand over 6 billion dollars if you prove to me how it’ll solve world hunger. Talk about just doing it for the attention. Mr. Musk, I’ll tell you how your money will solve world hunger (and I am neither an investor, nor do I work for the UN, and I’ll speak slowly so you and he might understand)…money buys food!
The woman leaving her two coins in the offering even knew that. She literally gave away her next meal, because her faith (in the temple or better said, in her God) was more important to her than where her next meal was coming from. And while we often use this as a stewardship text, it’s better to compare it to all those who gave their lives, and all who served, for the good of the world. For her, her faith, her life, was about giving, and she gave often beyond what was rational. Quite literally in the Greek (the language in which this text was written) it says she didn’t just give two small coins, she gave her whole life. She offered in spite of her own wellbeing. She lived for others and not herself. She gave not considering how it might impact her. She gave not for the recognition, but for the change it might bring.
Now Jesus isn’t commending those who give great sums to the offering plate. He’s not leaning hard into the stewardship of this text saying, you know those churches all have budgets to meet, and bills to pay, so pony up. Jesus is recognizing the immense cost to demonstrate our beliefs to the world. He’s talking to the Elon Musks, the ones who do it for show, rather than the others who sacrifice for what we believe in. It might be the relationships in your life with the people you love, as you risk them hating you because you got the vaccine. It might be the uncomfortable silences that fill the room when you confront others on their bigoted, antiquated beliefs. It’s the sacrifices (of personal standing, of wealth, of even our lives) that make holy this world, in our pursuit of peace. For sacrifice (in Latin) means to make sacred, and this earth has been blessed by those who over countless generations have made sacred this earth.
And so it comes to us: how might we continue to make sacred this earth? How can we “more courageously, [more sacrificially] give our time, talent, and treasure to more fully participate in God’s joyous work of turning the world upside down? [For it’s up to us. The torch has been thrown to us – to continue] this world-turning work, this care for the vulnerable and love…our neighbours…[and this] is “true religion.”
 Guérin spent the rest of her days continuing to promote the important work of the poppy.