Robert Fulghum, who wrote, “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten”, placed a picture of a woman, who is not his wife, beside the mirror in his bathroom. Every morning as he stood there shaving, he looked at the picture of this woman. I wonder how many wives would stand for that.
The picture is of a small humped-over woman wearing sandals and a blue eastern robe and head dress. She is surrounded by important looking people in tuxedos, evening gowns, and the dress of royalty. It is the picture of Mother Teresa, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
Fulghum said he keeps that picture there to remind him that more than any president of any nation, more than any pope, more than any chief executive officer of a major corporation, that woman had authority because she was a servant of God.
In 1970, Malcom Muggeridge went to Calcutta to do a special documentary on Mother Teresa for BBC television. He met her as she was working on the streets of Calcutta among the sick and poor people in a ghetto like no other that Muggeridge had seen before. Amid the stench, filth, garbage and disease, the poverty was unbelievable. But what struck Muggeridge more than anything else, even in the midst of that awful squalor and decadence, was the deep, warm glow on Mother Teresa’s face, and the deep, warm love in her eyes.
He began his interview with her saying, “Do you do this every day?” “Oh yes”, she replied. “It is my mission. It is how I serve and love my Lord.”
“How long have you been doing this? How many months?”
“Not months, but years”, she replied. “Maybe eighteen years.”
“Eighteen years!”, he exclaimed.
“Yes, she said simply and yet joyfully. “It is my privilege to be here. These are my people. These are the ones my Lord has given me to love.”
“Do you ever get tired? Do you ever feel like quitting and letting someone else take over your ministry. After all, you are beginning to get older.”
“Oh no. This is where the Lord wants me, and this is where I am happy to be. I feel young when I am here. The Lord is so good to me. How privileged I am to serve him.”
Later Malcolm Muggeridge said, “I will never forget that little lady as long as I live. The face, the glow, the eyes, the love, it was all so pure and so beautiful. I will never forget it. It was like being in the presence of an angel. It changed my life. I have not been the same person since. It was more than I can describe.” Mother Teresa continued to serve in that sacrificial way until the end of her life, nearly twenty-seven more years.
I know that I can’t be Mother Teresa, nor can any of you. But we can all live in that spirit. We can all learn to give with that kind of spirit.
Our Gospel story today is about another woman who lived with very little material comforts. It is about a woman who became widowed and she went to the Temple giving all that she had to offer and received the praise of Jesus. Jesus had been watching the Pharisees in their giving practices. They were very open about their giving, because they were giving big bucks and they were proud of it. They made a point of everyone knowing what they gave. In the light of this, Jesus pointed out the widow. There was no paper money, so the coins dropped into a long, horn-shaped object and then fell into a pool of coins, making a tremendous noise. Yet when the widow dropped her two copper coins in, they barely made a noise; a little plink, plink in the pool. Jesus calls his disciples over and says, “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” To the Sadduccees this woman is a waste of time, but to Jesus, she is the very stuff by which the Kingdom is erected. At its heart, this story is not about giving. It is a story about motivation. Why do we do what we do? Why do we give what we give?
The Pharisees and Sadducees gave to receive peer recognition. Jesus said they received their reward. People praised them. The widow, on the other hand, gave out of love for God. According to Jesus, she also received her reward. What is the motivation behind our giving?
In the early church, Apostle Paul said, “first we gave of ourselves, and then we gave of our resources.” We often have gotten that backwards. We say, I give, therefore I am a Christian. But it’s the reverse. It is because we are followers of Christ that we give.
Jesus has said, where you treasure is, there will your heart be also. What does our giving say about where are our hearts? No matter what we say about God, what we give says more about what we really feel. Our money follows our hearts. If our commitment to Christ has not yet reached our wallets, then it has not yet reached our hearts.
It is in giving, not just money, but ourselves, that comes from the priorities in our lives. If the young soldiers during the world wars decided to just give money, where would we be today? They gave themselves. They joined the war effort and many even gave their lives. They were motivated by their love of our country and they wanted to save their way of life and not be ruled by a rascist tyrant. They wanted to preserve our freedom. So they joined the war effort. My dad, who never lied in his life, lied about his age so that he could enlist before he was eighteen. None of these men knew what they were getting into. Many of them gave their lives, out of a sense of patriotism that we don’t often witness here in Canada any more. There are still young men and women in the military, going to war to help other countries to fight for their freedom from tyrannical rulers. If they come home, many of them suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, having witnessed atrocities that we can’t even imagine. So too, did the young soldiers in the first and second world wars, but unlike today, they did not talk about the horrors they witnessed. At least not until they grew much older. They were anxious to get married and move on with their lives, and put all of that ugliness behind them. But in their senior years their memories come back and they remember losing comrades right before their eyes, being blown to bits. Others survived prisoner of war camps and endured fear about what would happen to them. Nobody went to war and came back untouched. We can never fully comprehend what those experiences were like, other than through the stories we hear. So it is important to remember what price our freedom cost so many.
My mother was a young girl during the first world war. Her sister was eleven years older than her and she had to work in a rubber factory making tires to support the family. My mother never forgot how her beautiful sister came home smelling of rubber every day. She remembered food stamps and how it hurt her mother’s pride having to use them to purchase food to keep the family fed. During the second world war, my mother and father got engaged before dad went overseas. He didn’t want to get married in case he was killed and left my mother a widow, but he wanted her to know that he would do everything possible to come back to her. They wrote letters to each other every week for four years. Her letters from him had many sections blacked out. All of dad’s letters had to be edited to omit anything that would give away their location or intentions. My mother kept all of those letters and from them, years later, when dad turned eighty, he wrote his memoirs, using the letters to help jog his memory.
Everybody pulled together in a united cause. How different is that from today, where everyone lives for themselves. That sense of being united for a common cause is unheard of. We fend for ourselves. We don’t dare ask for help from anyone. We try to make it on our own. That’s why the transition to our senior years becomes so difficult. We’re used to relying on ourselves and then it comes to the point where we can’t and we need help. So we feel like a burden. But that’s not what God wants for us. God want us to love and care for each other, all throughout our lives.
We know how to give, because Jesus gave His life for us. The soldiers from the World Wars gave their lives for us. It’s one hundred years today since the First World War ended. My mother-in-law was a five year old girl when the war ended, living on a farm outside of Forest and she used to talk about how she remembered hearing the bells ringing in Forest, signalling the end of the war. What a glorious sound that must have been.
So today, as we remember those who have fought for our freedom, we give thanks. We give thanks to those still living and we remember with gratitude those who are gone. Among those is my grandpa, John Townsend, who served in the army in the first world war, and my dad, Jack Townsend, who served in the airforce in the second world war. We also remember today’s young veterans, who continue to fight for the freedom of others in the Middle East, many who gave their lives and many who lost limbs. These realities bring the horror of war closer to home. May we show our gratitude as we remember and may we never forget.