Given to the 210th Annual Meeting - October16, 2009 - DCU Center, Worcester, MA
by the Rev. W. Alan Froggatt, Chair
I wonder how many of us here this afternoon belong to churches that are currently in the midst of their annual stewardship program? By a show of hands, it looks like most of us are; I know that at Second Congregational UCC in Beverly, where I serve, we are smack in the middle of our stewardship drive. And I’d like to lift up for our consideration a text that often makes an appearance this time of year, a brief and familiar text from Luke’s gospel, the 21 st chapter starting with the first verse:
“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she, out of her poverty, put in all the living that she had.’”
This is what I would call an “acted parable;” in the gospels are parables that Jesus constructs, and then there are the parables that he witnesses, every day events he draws upon to teach a larger lesson. We recognize this story as the acted parable we commonly call “the widow’s mite;” in the story, she gave everything she had – you might say her act has the long-lasting effect of inspiring generosity as a way of life.
As I look over the past year as chair of the Conference Board of Directors, I am amazed, I am grateful, and I am humbled by how richly God has blessed our Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. We are possessed of a superlative leadership: in our Minister and President, in our Associate Conference Ministers, in our Program Staff and all those who labor on our behalf, in our gifted preachers and teachers, in our engaged laity and in our vital congregations.
And so it is with good reason that whenever one of our clergy or our congregations has a need, or a question, we know we can bring it to the Massachusetts Conference – and remember, the Massachusetts Conference is all of us, together – and we know that this is where we will find the resources, the solutions, the materials and the ideas we need, right here among us all. This is true when we are in the midst of Search and Call, or when we want to make ours a Safe Church, or explore the Open & Affirming Process, or seek resourcing for Youth and Adult Education opportunities, or when we need Stewardship assistance.
In fact, let me ask this question: how many of us in this room have been part of a New Clergy Group, a Seasoned (as we like to delicately refer to folks like myself) Clergy Group, Christian Education or Stewardship Communities of Practice? Or how many of us have attended a Stewardship University, been part of a MacUcc workshop, seminar or webinar, in the past two years? Let me see your hands... it looks like just about everyone here has had one or more of these experiences. So we know that it is with good reason that whenever one of our clergy or our congregations has a need, or a question, we know we can bring it to the Massachusetts Conference – all of us, together – knowing that this is where we will find the resources, the solutions, the materials and the ideas we need.
There is something interesting going on with the woman in Luke 21. Luke, in verse two, calls her a “poor widow,” and this is how we remember her. So what was she doing that day at the temple treasury? The answer to this is discovered when Jesus calls her something slightly different in the next verse, making a distinction that most English translations miss. In verse three, Jesus refers to her as a “poor beggar” – which is to say, she did not originally come to the treasury intending to contribute something; she came that day intending to ask for something.
Now let me ask: how many of us who have been part of a New or Seasoned Clergy Group, a Christian Education or Stewardship Community of Practice, or attended a Stewardship University, been part of a MacUcc workshop, seminar or webinar, in order to learn something or acquire a skill or a best practice, have discovered that we ourselves had something to contribute, something to share? The widow in Jesus’ acted parable came to the treasury in order to ask for assistance, to find something for herself, and wound up making a tremendous contribution for which she is remembered throughout the church’s history: she gave her all.
I recognize that the report of the Conference Board of Directors is typically expected to cover whatever shenanigans and mischief the Conference has been engaged in since last we met. And our work together has been filled, first and foremost, with thoughtfulness, discernment and prayer. The search for three settled ACMs is happily complete, and I invite you to join us as we celebrate this good news at worship tonight. The sale of Warner Farm is complete. We continue to consider how best to articulate the collective voice of our Massachusetts Conference to and within our church in the national setting. And we are both seeking and finding ways to make our volunteer structure even more efficient and effective.
But I keep coming back to the story of the widow who came hoping to receive and wound up giving her all.
What changed her mind? What inspired her generosity? What happened in Luke’s story just prior to her own act of inspired generosity? “Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury.” It has usually been our interpretive habit to maximize the significance of the widow’s gift from out of her scarcity, at the price of minimizing the significance of the gifts of the rich, given from their abundance. But note well that Jesus never made such a value judgment; there is nothing in verse four, “They contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had,” to suggest or imply that there is something wrong with the gift of the wealthy. In fact, it may well have been the gift of their example that inspired a poor widow to contribute everything she had. It may well have been the gift of their example that inspired a poor widow to contribute everything she had.
Friends, God has richly blessed our Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. Like those in the parable who have much, we are uniquely positioned to contribute to the work of the church of Jesus Christ through the Massachusetts Conference by being faithful stewards in all those things Jesus spoke about and more. And like the poor woman who came looking for something, only to discover she had something incredibly valuable to offer, you and I are enriched by the presence and witness of every person in this room, every pastor and every congregation in this Conference.