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At the vestry meeting, the congregation’s wealthiest member decided to share a portion of his faith story.
“I’m a millionaire,” he said, “and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of God in my life. I can still remember the turning point in my faith, like it was yesterday: I had just earned my first dollar and I went to a youth meeting that night. The speaker was a missionary who told about his work. I knew that I only had a dollar bill and had to either give it all to God’s work or nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give everything that I had to God. I believe that God blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today.”
When he finished and sat down, the chair of the stewardship committee leaned over and said: “Wonderful story! I dare you to do it again!”
So, when there is absolutely nothing on the stupid box, you can always tune in to ESPN 8 (or the equivalent) and watch the World Series of Poker. Now, I have confessed in the past that, given the opportunity, I will put a few dollars on a pony and I have played poker before, but that was only for pennies. I think the most I’ve lost recently while gambling was a couple of dollars to Joan while playing “Ships” for nickels; however, these folks on the World Series of Poker are in it for big money, and there is always that moment when someone, with a large stack of chips in front of them says, “All in,” and then proceeds to shove all their chips into the pot. In that little story, the chair of the stewardship committee dared the rich man to do just that, to go “all in.”
When God calls to each of us and says, “Follow me,” he is asking us to do the same. To go “all in” in our relationship with him. There is, however, one significant difference between going all in while playing poker and going all in with God: with God, it is not a gamble. There may be trials and suffering along the way, but in the end, the victory belongs to the Lord. In thinking through Holy Scripture, we see one incident after another where individuals don’t ask God to meet them half way, but where they, through faith, go all in.
When God commanded it, Abraham took his only son Isaac up on the mountain and was prepared to sacrifice him. He was prepared to give God all he had, but as the knife was poised to plunge, the Lord called out to Abraham to stop. In return for his obedience, the Lord made the covenant with Abraham.
Moses went up on the mountain to see the burning bush, took off his shoes and stepped onto the Holy Ground. He hesitated out of fear in doing what God called him to, but he eventually obeyed and brought the Israelites into freedom.
Saul, the King of Israel, doubted David’s ability to conquer the giant Goliath. David, after all, was just a scrawny kid. But David said to Saul, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” David placed all his faith in the Lord and the Lord delivered the Israelites from their enemies when David defeated that giant.
The widow of Zarephath, that we read about today, trusted the words of the prophet Elijah and made for him something to eat, and while the rest of the country starved due to the famine, she had more than enough to eat.
The Lord came to the young girl and made His request, and the young girl said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And Christ Jesus was born into the world.
The Son of God prayed in the garden on the night before he was crucified, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And through his obedience, salvation came to us all.
Jesus “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. 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.’” What did she receive in return? Did she go home and find a pot of gold sitting in the middle of the living room? Did she marry some wealthy man that cared for her until the day she died? Did she die in some rundown alley, uncared for by anyone? Unlike the stories of Abraham, Moses, Mary, the widow of Zarephath, this story is open ended, it does not say, therefore, the story is not only about the widow and her two copper coins, but it can also be about us and our two copper coins.
She placed everything she had in the treasury and in a very real sense, she buried herself in God’s treasury, because in giving God everything, she gave God her life. What she received in return is irrelevant, because her giving wasn’t about winning something for herself or getting something in return. Her giving was about obedience and about faith. Faith in knowing, regardless of the outcome, God’s perfect will would be accomplished.
This is truly a sign of discipleship. Consider Jesus’ words to his disciples: “If any want to become my followers [that is, become my disciples] let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Those who take their two copper coins, all that they have, and place it in God’s treasury, will find their life in God and become his disciple.
For many, they see this as the equivalent to the gamble of going all in on the World Series of Poker, but with God, it is not a gamble and with God, the outcome is irrelevant. With God, it is obedience and faith, it is discipleship and that discipleship is rewarded with the perfect will and love of God.
You all know that I’m not a fan of Martin Luther, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer quoted him in The Cost of Discipleship, so I figure the passage is sound. Luther is writing from the perspective of Christ, much like how Thomas à Kempis writes in The Imitation of Christ:
“Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend—it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend even as I do. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours…. Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Wherefore it is not you, no man, no living creature, but I myself, who instruct you by my Word and Spirit in the way you should go. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean contrary to all you choose or contrive or desire—that is the road you must take. To that I call you and in that you must be my disciple.” (The Cost of Discipleship, 93)
Obedience, faith, discipleship: these things have uncertain outcomes, are difficult to understand, and can be truly scary, but “Plunge into the deep waters beyond your comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend…” Plunge into the deep waters and go all in with God. Plunge into the deep waters and place your two copper coins in the treasury of God’s love and follow him as a disciple.
Let us pray: We offer You, Lord, our thoughts: to be fixed on You; our words: to have You for their theme; our actions: to reflect our love for You; our sufferings: to be endured for Your greater glory. We want to do what You ask of us: in the way You ask, for as long as You ask, because You ask it. Amen.