Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on. *******************************************************************************
This poor widow- we have heard this story so many times, especially during stewardship campaigns- weare taught that we are like the rich people giving out of our abundance- our leftovers- and we are supposed to be more like the widow- who gave everything she has... we love her- kind of... she reminds us how we could give more, pledge cards went out this week... but frankly she's a tough act to follow... and did Jesus really have to point her out to everyone like that? I'm not sure she is supposed to be the poster child for giving... "The word "widow" in Greek means, "one without" That means our poor widow can be understood as a person who is lacking something- she is one without- a husband, or without children, or without a home- perhaps she is on without food, or health care, or protection – without… The poor widow in our story is every woman, every child, and every man who has ever been taken advantage of, deprived of equal rights, harassed, beaten, killed, and told they were anything less than children of God." (1) But if she had nothing, and the world had reinforced that for her- how did she come to give as one who had everything?
Once upon a time there was a man named Johnny Lingo. Johnny Lingo was a trader in the Samoan islands, and was said to be the shrewdest trader in all the land. He always got the very lowest price for whatever he wanted; and would bring back to his home island, the most beautiful, rare and valuable things in the world.
But Johnny Lingo was lacking one thing: A wife. Now, on this island, if a man wanted to take a particular woman as his wife, he would go to the woman's family on what was known as the 'day of bargaining,' and ask for the woman’s hand in marriage. He and her father would then negotiate to agree on a suitable payment for that hand. The price for a woman was paid in cows. A man could buy a suitable (average) wife for three cows. If he was lucky, he could get a 'four-cow' wife- but they were few and far between. In fact, the highest price ever paid on the island for a wife was five cows, but according to the villagers, that was a "long, long time ago."
As it came time for Johnny Lingo to choose for a wife, there was, on the island a woman named Mahana. Mahana was already 19 years old when Johnny Lingo came to ask for her hand on the 'day of bargaining.' Her father, Mokie, had long given up hope that Mahana would ever find a husband. It was no secret among the villagers that Mahana was not like the other girls- she was scrawny, and had a face like a stone. She lurked in the shadows, she was dirty, she didn’t comb or put flowers in her hair like the other women on the island. Her nickname, even to her father, was "Mahana Ugly."
So when word got around that Johnny Lingo was choosing "Mahana Ugly" as his wife, when he could have had any woman on the island, people came to their own conclusions about what Johnny was up to. "He wants a woman he can get for nothing," they said. That Johnny LIngo is so is shrewed! He will buy "Mahana Ugly" and he will have free labor the rest of his life…"
On the day of bargaining, Johnny Lingo sits opposite Mahana’s father, surrounded by the people of the village. Mahana can not even bring herself to show up; she is too ashamed. But she hides in a nearby cluster of trees, close enough to hear the humiliating ceremony, but far enough not to be seen. The crowd falls silent as Johnny Lingo begins the negotiation for Mahana's hand in marriage.
Mahana's father Mokie, however, is a bit shrewed himself. He knows that Johnny drives a hard bargain- so when Johnny asks how many cows it will take to buy Mahana, Mokie does not answer right away. The villagers begin to whisper… “If Mokie says, "two cows," then Johnny Lingo will offer one… if Mokie says, "one cow," then Johnny Lingo will offer a hoof and a tail…”
Mokie, who had said many times that he would "take one cow that gave sour milk just to be rid of Mahana," feels although he has suffered with her enough, he also wants something for himself… and so finally Mokie spits out… “THREE COWS!”
The villagers erupt with laugher: “He must be crazy, thinking he can get three cows for Mahana!!!”
Johnny Lingo calls for silence… “It is true... THREE cows are many," he says. "But THREE cows are not enough for Mahana. For Mahana… I offer EIGHT cows!”
The villagers gasp! Eight cows??!! Mokie stares at Johnny Lingo, sure that he must have said, "eight cows" by mistake. It was unheard of! No one had ever offered eight cows for a wife! Who would offer to pay more than the price something was worth. But Mokie agrees quickly, before Johnny can come to his senses.
The couple is married, and Johnny Lingo takes Mahana on a honeymoon for many months.
When they return to the island, the villagers all gather to greet the couple. But as they grow near, the villagers are surprised to see that Johnny Lingo has the most beautiful wife they have ever seen! Mahana ugly has been transformed into a stunning beauty- walking confidently yet gracefully, with a radiant smile on her face; a delicate flower placed just right in her silky hair.
The villagers are amazed! But they rush to ask Johnny Lingo the question that has been on their all minds since it happened…”Johnny Lingo, why would you pay that much- 8 cows!!, when you could have gotten Mahana for nothing?"
And Johnny looks at his beautiful bride, smiles, and says, “I wanted an EIGHT cow wife.”
I can stop right here and be done for today- and everyone can go home thinking about and reflecting on the legend of Johnny Lingo- it’s a great story, isn’t it? Because it talks about value; about seeing things in a different way! Through different eyes!
Johnny Lingo could have chosen to see Mahana according to how the world saw her- dirty, less-than, worthless… But he chose to see Mahana, not as the world saw her, but through different eyes… Johnny chose to see what and who she was inside… he recognized the value of her soul. And he knew that once she saw it too, and realized the price that had been paid for her because of who she was, and not what she looked like, or what she could do, or how hard she could work, then Mahana would begin to see herself as valuable too…. And then she would begin to live that out.
We, as believers in Christ, have a choice put out before us every day… to see things as the world tells us we should, and to buy in to that… or to see things as God tells us they are… and to live that out. It is our perception that makes the difference.
Looking at things the way God tells us they are...through Godly eyes… means that we see a person or situation, not for what's on the outside, but for what is inside. Looking through Godly eyes we see things with understanding… we see each other with compassion… we look beyond the outward appearance, or act, or behavior... past the "without" into the other person’s soul… and we find value. Looking through Godly eyes we allow ourselves to see the Spirit of God in the other person, or the Spirit of God moving through a situation.
So I have a question for you...
Do you have a Mahana in your life? Do you have something or someone in your life that you see as valuable, despite the fact that the world might tell you it's ridiculous? Or, let's go one step farther, and ask, 'what or who does God say should be a Mahana in your life?' Who needs you to see them through the eyes of the Spirit… who or what in your life has God said is worth 'eight cows?'
We can think about our own relationships. For instance, how many cows did you pay for your spouse or significant other? And... How many cows would you pay now, so many years later? Did you get a bargain, or did you get cheated? How many cows would you pay each day to keep them?
Do they know that?
I suspect that whether you would be willing to pay eight cows, or whether you would pay someone else a cow just to get rid of them, the person already knows that. How different would your relationship be if the other person felt truly valued by you… that they knew that you cherished them as valuable…that they were worth an unheard of price?
But now let's flip it around- who would pay eight cows for you? If you have to think about this one.. then what I have to say to you next, is something you don’t want to miss. Because we don’t often look over relationships in our lives and say… "Yes… I know that (so and so) cherishes me above all else, and would pay anything for me… and in their eyes, I am worth eight cows… I am worth an unheard of price. If we are fortunate enough to have any of those relationships, they are most likely few and far between.
But there is someone who did pay an unheard of price for the value of your soul… and that person is Jesus Christ. And I hear what you are thinking, "Yes, Pastor, you tell us this a lot… I know that Jesus loves me, and God values me- and Jesus has paid it all…" We profess to believe this... but lets put ourselves into that day of bargaining for a minute. How many of us, if it were Jesus sitting opposite our accuser, would want to be there for the conversation? Who wants to face God when we know all of the things that we have done or said or thought? SO we hide in the tree, dirty, full of shame, and full of dread, thinking we are of so little value, that if we manage be bought by Christ and end up with Christ, it will surely be by the skin of our teeth… and for the least possible price… We can’t stand the thought of any bargaining going on, because the truth is we don’t really think we are worth anything.
But God doesn’t see us that way, Mahana… -and what's more, God has paid for us with the life of Jesus… how many cows is that? God bought us with a price... not so we would have to continue to show that we were worth it, as if we have to prove to God that we were a bargain- that God got a deal, or that God got free labor...
We were bought with an unheard of price so that we, knowing how valuable we are, can live out everything God has intended us to be… that we begin treating ourselves as valuable creations of God… and to be able to recognize and treat others as valuable creations of God… that we can treat each other as Christ treated us… How many cows is that?
The poor widow in our text today, the one "without," had one thing going for her. She knew her value... despite what the world had told her she was worth- despite what she did not have- she recognized what she did have- that she was not "less- than," she was not "one without"- She knew her value rested in being a daughter of the King- and her tiny coins ringing in the coffer that Sabbath morning, spoke that loud and clear! And she was living it out!
But I have one final question for you this morning… "What are the things in your life that you want to be worth, eight cows? Or ten? Or twenty?
In churches, we talk about our offering.... about giving, and sometimes we make giving about just money… but giving is more about ourselves and what we are willing to share with others.... not just money- but time, and most importantly, ourselves... our love... and how we share that love with the world. And when it comes right down to it, no one wants to give more than "acceptable." But make no mistake, how we value ourselves as individuals and as a congregation is most apparent in the way we give… not just financially but with all of our gifts, even the way we give to each other and value each other and treat each other…
Surely, we can choose to do church for the least possible price…. in other words, we can find a way to run this ministry for the least amount of time and money and involvement. We can have a three cow church if we want it, and God will continue to bless us and use us to do ministry. (Thank you God!) But... we could choose to offer things unheard of… giving of ourselves and of our resources beyond what the world tells us is “acceptable” … to see our church through Godly eyes... beyond what we can see in front of us into what God tells us is true of our church…
And do you know what God tells us is true of our church? Sure, that we are valuable beyond measure…. That we are cherished in God’s sight… and we are to reach out to our community and care for one another... all those things are true. But also that we have been given a message of such great value that we are asked to share it with the world! In fact, my friends, we have a God given mission to change the world!! That's no small assignment, and God would not give that charge to a church of little or no value! I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like God sees us as an EIGHT COW CHURCH! And when we start seeing ourselves that way… when we start realizing how much value we have right within our walls… and we see all the potential that God has put within our grasp if we dare to reach out and embrace it… it will affect how we see and do everything… and folks, that can’t help but spill over the walls of this church and out into the streets…
Talk about power! That's not just community change, but it's global impact! This is God’s design for the church! And for each one of us as a part of that ministry! How may cows? How may cows for a church like that? Are you in?