The puny penny is the smallest monetary unit in our currency. But what good is it? What difference does a penny make? Plenty, and it’s more than money!
It’s time to do the grocery shopping. Perhaps this is a once-a-week ritual for your family of four. The shopping cart is full — cereal, milk, soda, protein bars, coffee, green vegetables, chicken, hamburger and more. Now you’re at the checkout counter and the total is $319.47. The checkout person asks you a question: “Would you like to round up your total to help support the Community Center’s After School program?”
Well, hold on. First, you wonder, “By ‘round up’ does she mean round up to $319.50, to $320, or to $400?” Then you learn that she’s asking if you want to add 53 cents to your total for a worthy cause. Only a complete dirtbag would say no. So you say yes.
One organization that uses this fundraising approach is Goodwill Industries with its “Change for Change” program. In Fort Worth, Texas, shoppers raised more than $295,000 across 25 retail locations in 2020. The program advertises, “You give change, and we will promote change,” like job training for people with barriers to employment.
Goodwill and other businesses understand the power of a penny.
So does Elaina Redmond. In fact, she wrote a book by that title. It’s a primer about the penny that not only provides penny principles, but links it to the U.S. president whose likeness is on the penny, Abraham Lincoln. The audience for her book is children, so the kids get fun lessons on history, culture, and economics.
Why all this talk about pennies?
When taking a spiritual inventory, it’s a good exercise to think about the penny philosophy by which we live. Everyone in our congregations ought to be challenged to review how, specifically, they manage their money and the principles that guide them. In support of this challenge, here are a few “Penny Principles” we might keep in mind:
The power to inspire. When Jesus watched the widow fumbling about in her change purse for the last coins she had, he was curious. He called his students over to watch. And they did — from a distance. Her two coins amounted to a penny. He and the disciples watched her drop them in the collection box. And knowing her situation, they were all amazed. Her bank balance just went from one penny to zero.
Jesus was highly impressed, especially since he had watched the Pharisees, et al., put money into the treasury and lots of it. But these were the people who had oppressed the poor widows in the first place. It was ill-gotten gain.
This woman worshiped God with the coins that she had — all the coins she had. Jesus was inspired, and he said, “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” (vv. 43-44). That widow’s penny had the power to inspire.
The power to change. Inspiration often leads to change. Dr. Dilhani Uswatte is the principal of Rocky Ridge Elementary School in Hoover, Ala. According to a recent Forbes article, she is a “master of leadership.”
Dr. Dil (as she likes to be called) has a motto: “Take the time to inspire and be inspired.” She thought of the lowly penny. “She encouraged everyone at her school to offer a penny to anyone who inspired them. She asked the penny giver to say to the receiver, ‘You have Penny Power. You inspired me. I hope you take this penny and pass it on to somebody else.’ It’s like paying it forward with a focus on inspiration.”
And then the kids started bringing pennies to school!
The Forbes article quotes her as saying, “It was so moving. They were giving them to teachers and telling their teachers how much they appreciated them. They were giving them out to their aides, to our custodians, to their parents. It was like a love fest!”
The lowly penny that first produced inspiration had now generated change. The Penny Project began as a means of sharing respect, acknowledgement, and inspiration in the community, but grew into a movement that changed or improved the culture of civility.
The power of faith. In the case of the widow of today’s reading, however, it was not the penny that inspired Jesus. It was the faith that motivated the giving of her last two coins.
Jesus was always impressed by faith. Nothing moved him more, and a lack of faith was often distressing to him. The widow’s offering was an expression of faith and a test of her discipleship, and Jesus found this utterly impressive and inspirational.
A Penny Project of Your Own
Many retailers have seen the power of a Penny Project. They invite us to donate our change for charity. They understand the power of micro-donations, whether it is pennies, nickels, dimes, or soda cans for the recycle rebate.
Consider a Penny Project for your own congregation. The purpose might be multifold: as an act of faithful discipleship, as a means of encouraging others (as with Dr. Dil’s project), or as a means of initiating tangible change in your community.
What can your congregation do with a penny project? Perhaps an “alms box” for those in need or a “Pennies for Poverty” program. “Teaching Kids to Follow Jesus” (sundayschoolnetwork.com) suggests a program called “Going the Extra Mile.” Children are urged to donate a literal mile of pennies.
The call to action for this gospel reading is to give people an opportunity to express their faith and discipleship. When they do, Jesus will not be the only one who is inspired. The power of a penny might bring life to an entire community!
—Timothy Merrill and Carl Wilton contributed to this material.
Dube, Rob. “What the power of a penny can teach our kids and ourselves about positive inspiration and leadership.” Forbes. Forbes.com, September 14, 2020. Retrieved May 11, 2021.
Redmond, Elaina (Author), Scott Stewart (Illustrator). The Power of the Penny: Abraham Lincoln Inspires a Nation. Spencer Publishing, 2014.
“The Power of the Penny.” Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth, goodwillfortworth.com. February 12, 2021.
Wisnewski, Jesse. “Bible verses about money: 9 biblical principles of money & possessions.” http://get.tithe.ly,
May 29, 2020. Retrieved May 16, 2021.
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Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
What Does the Text Say?
The men in her family dead, Naomi takes charge, foreshadowing her actions in today’s reading. Hearing that the famine in Judah has ended, she prepares to return to her ancestral land. Her two daughters-in-law accompany her initially (1:7), but Naomi realizes that this is a bad idea because the Moabite women’s chances for remarriage and family are much greater in their own country. Her attempts to dissuade her daughters-in-law succeed with Orpah but not with Ruth, who insists on remaining with her mother-in-law. Ruth’s unexpected action introduces the book’s major literary and religious theme, which is loyalty, faithfulness, or loving kindness, all expressed by the Hebrew word chesed. Naomi and Ruth reach Bethlehem at the start of the barley harvest (1:22), which was one of the annual occasions when the poor were able to provide themselves a measure of security through gleaning. By chance — implied divine guidance — Ruth gleans in the field of Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s late husband. When Boaz inquires about the hardworking young woman, he learns that she is Ruth, about whose faithfulness to Naomi he has heard through the village grapevine (2:11). Boaz rewards Ruth’s loving-kindness with loving-kindness in return, allowing her to glean even among unharvested grain (2:15-16). Seeing Boaz’s magnanimity, Naomi seizes the opportunity, which is where we enter the story with today’s reading. Naomi instructs Ruth to pretty herself up (v. 3) and join the men (and women?) who have remained at the threshing floor for the night. Whether for reasons of convenience, efficiency or security, Boaz and his field hands have remained on the raised open-air space that constituted a threshing floor. Naomi further instructs Ruth to discreetly observe Boaz’s place of repose after the evening meal, and when Boaz has settled into postprandial contentment, Ruth is to surreptitiously join him and “uncover his feet” (v. 4). The scene, as both proposed by Naomi and then described by the narrator (3:6-15), is redolent with scandal. Ruth has risked her reputation (and, possibly, her life, cf. Genesis 38:24) and her family’s reputation by preempting a marriage proposal from Boaz (3:9). An unaccompanied young woman discovered at night among male farm workers would have little chance of escaping condemnation, ostracism and, likely, punishment.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Risky Kindness. At least two things stand out in the book of Ruth: First, the pervasive notion of loving-kindness and faithfulness expressed in Hebrew as chesed; second, the risk factor in dispensing this kindness. Ruth expressed her faithfulness to her mother-in-law by refusing to leave her. “Whither thou goest, I will go …” (1:16, KJV). As a Moabite, and a Moabite woman, this was a foolhardy decision, even if Naomi was her patroness. Naomi likewise made a risky choice in taking on the responsibility of protecting her daughter-in-law. In advocating for Ruth’s future security, she was even more daring. She proposed a scheme to hook up Ruth with Boaz that would have spelled disaster had it been discovered. Expressing kindness and mercy is not without risk and perhaps cost. Humanitarian gestures, random acts of kindness, doing good things that do not involve courage, daring and risk are certainly important, and no one would say otherwise. But showing chesed — loving-kindness and faithfulness — sometimes calls for risk-taking. The story of Naomi, Boaz and Ruth — the Gentile great-grandmother of David, Israel’s greatest king — is a prime example of this.
What Does the Text Say?
This psalm falls smack dab in the center of the “Psalms of Ascents” (120-134), and, as such, these middle psalms harken back to an era when the Israelites were settling into the promised land, an experience that was not altogether without its difficulties. This particular psalm, however, has the reign of Solomon as its focus and the reference to the “house” of verse 1 no doubt has the temple in mind, a temple that was rising from the ground thanks to Solomon’s vision and financial support. Solomon’s energy notwithstanding, the psalm underscores the need of the support of the primary investor, Yahweh himself. Verse 3 may suggest that Solomon was expecting too much of the people whom he hired to complete the task, causing them to “eat the bread of anxious toil” (v. 2). The mention of children, and the blessing of having sons and a “quiver full of them” (v. 5), may be a reference to Solomon’s own children, but also a veiled allusion to the line from which he is sprung — the Davidic line. Thus, the pairing of this psalm with the Ruthan narrative.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Work, Work, Work! This psalm is a remarkably practical little psalm. At least it sounds that way. It has two themes: work and family. People today have a lot of trouble balancing the demands of both — not to speak of achieving competency in either one of these important spheres of human social life. The problem with work is that it often grabs us like an octopus and draws us away from the other, perhaps more important, sphere: our family. It sucks our time; it sucks our resources. We discover, sometimes too late, that our priorities have been misplaced. It is worthwhile to look at Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance, by Bob P. Buford. Check out the website: 0. You will find some interesting ideas to help you build this sermon.
What Does the Text Say?
Of all the documents of the NT, Hebrews arguably has the highest and most developed Christology. This passage is no exception as it skillfully paints a picture of Christ as both high priest and sacrificial offering. If verse 24 sets up a comparison between earthly sacrifices and heavenly ones, verse 25 goes to great lengths to detail the differences between Christ’s offering and the sacrificial offerings. While Christ might be envisioned as performing the role of high priest, his duties are decidedly different from those of the high priest in the temple. The point of verse 26 is restated in verse 27 as the author notes the absurdity of positing a dying and re-dying person, since humans only die once. This claim, however, serves a dual purpose. Not only does it underscore the thrust of verse 26 (namely, that it would be absurd to imagine Christ suffering multiple times), but it also emphasizes the humanity of Christ. The outcome of this sacrifice and this second appearance is that “those who are eagerly waiting for him” will be saved. No further identity markers of the individuals are given, and it is equally unclear what the fate of those who have not been “eagerly waiting” will be. Rather, this verse provides a conclusion to what has come before: Christ has served once for all as the high priest and the sacrificial victim who is ultimately able to provide a final salvation that was not definitively available through the repetition of cultic offerings.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Sin? What Sin? This sermon is not for people (and it’s quite possible they’re in the majority) who believe that they can be good without God, or, at the very least, that God has never had a serious quarrel with them. Thus, any conversation about sin, the health of the soul, judgment and salvation is moot. No sin, no judgment. No sin, no salvation from sin. No sin, no soul sickness. But, if some in our congregations are not willing to aver that they’re without sin, then we need to have a moral vocabulary with which to deal with the problem. For the writer of Hebrews, that involves words like sacrifice, sin, salvation, judgment, et al. The good news is that Jesus has taken care of our sin problem (v. 28); Jesus also has entered “a sanctuary not made with human hands … to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (v. 24); and Jesus is coming back to “save” us! (v. 28). This sermon addresses our need for soul health; Jesus is the physician. (The metaphor here is “priest,” but physician works, too.)
One: Doors open. Hearts ready, God beckons.
All: Looking for a center point to life, for a union of all the scattered and torn edges.
One: May your soul find communion here.
All: Searching for honesty, for a truth spoken in love.
One: May your faith be challenged here.
All: Looking for a place to offer your time and talents.
One: May your spirit enrich this community.
All: Searching for joy to blossom and hope to grow.
One: May our songs reach the heavens, touch our hearts and spread love into the world.
May you bear, for God, the fruit of the Spirit.
May "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness
and self-control" grow and ripen in your heart.
May you share your harvest freely and lovingly with loved ones, friends,
fellow humans near and far, to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
You have made us for yourself, O God, and called us to be a covenant people — a people set apart. We are set apart not for privilege but for service; not for special rights but for responsibility. Our loyalty is to you and your kingdom. Our values and priorities, our pursuits and passions are to reflect your heart — a heart of love for the poor, a heart of justice for the maligned, a heart of compassion for the broken. Transform us, merciful Savior, in those places where we are still attracted to the culture's agenda of power, money, beauty and influence. Save us from serving unworthy gods, from chasing after fleeting affections, from investing our days in the temporary rather than the eternal. Thank you for the call to be yours and for the grace to live that call. Amen.
My Faith Looks Up to Thee
Take My Life, and Let it Be
Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart
Worship and PraiseW
Do It Lord (Walker)
Giving It All to You (Gungor)
Blessed Be Your Name (Redman)
WFor licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to ccli.com. The worship and praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.
on Mark 12:38-44
Businesses and educators understand the power of a penny. Many grocery stores ask customers if they’d like to round up their change for charity. An elementary school principal in Alabama used the lowly penny to inspire a culture of civility. These leaders know the power of a penny, and Jesus shows us its connection to faith.
There’s an actual person named Penny Power.
Born in 1964, she is a British author and speaker. Here’s what the Wikipedia entry says: “In 1998, she founded Ecademy with her husband Thomas Power and CEO Glenn Watkins with the aim of helping businesspeople achieve success through online tools, community and friendship. As of May 2011, shortly before its demise, the Ecademy community had 3,011 paying members, although Power claims a membership of 650,000. Penny Power published a book in August 2009, titled Know Me, Like Me, Follow Me: What Online Social Networking Means For You And Your Business. ... Power was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2014 New Year Honors for services to entrepreneurship in social and digital development.”
Some churches have discovered the power of a “noisy offering.”
They set the offering plates or baskets aside and pass something else through the congregation instead: aluminum painters’ buckets. The call to the congregation is to contribute coins, rather than bills, to this special offering, which is typically dedicated to an extra-mile mission project such as hunger relief.
Further, worshipers are encouraged not to gently lay their coins at the bottom of the buckets, but to forcefully throw them in, generating as much noise as possible. Worship leaders encourage them to think of their noisy offering as an act of praise, much like the jingling tambourines and timbrels of the psalms glorify God.
The amounts are small, composed of loose pocket change, so no one could accuse the donors of making a flashy, pharisaical gift. Just about everyone has loose change sitting around, so the noisy offering is very democratic.
It’s all good fun, and it generates a positive, worshipful spirit among God’s people. The joy of this offering encourages greater generosity in response to more substantial offering appeals, because joyful giving is contagious!
$2.7 billion is a lot of money. That’s how much a company called Coinstar processes each year in its network of coin-counting kiosks that are located in supermarkets, department stores and banks.
After deducting a processing fee (12.5% in the USA) that covers the maintenance of the machines, the Coinstar company’s profit and other expenses, what happens to the remaining value of the coins? That’s up to the customer.
Some people choose to take their proceeds in the form of gift cards they spend themselves or give to others. But a significant number donate their share to one of several large charities, such as American Red Cross Disaster Relief, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society or UNICEF.
For more, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coinstar.
Retrieved June 9, 2021.
The penny is currently the smallest unit of U.S. currency, but it hasn’t always been. Until 1857, the U.S. Mint produced a half-cent copper coin featuring a classical profile of a female Liberty.
The half-cent was the smallest-denomination U.S. coin ever produced, but it was not the smallest unit of money. The Continental Congress established a unit called a “mill” or “mille,” which is one-tenth of a penny. No U.S. coin was ever issued in that denomination, but it is sometimes used as an abstract concept in accounting.
According to Wikipedia, “Tokens in this denomination were issued by some states and local governments (and by some private interests) for such uses as payment of sales tax. These were of inexpensive material such as tin, aluminum, plastic or paper. Rising inflation depreciated the value of these tokens in relation to the value of their constituent materials; this depreciation led to their eventual abandonment. Virtually none were made after the 1960s.”
A widow’s mite, indeed!
Retrieved June 9, 2021.
When I was 6 or 7 years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find. It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since. For some reason I always “hid” the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street. I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write I labeled the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe. But I never lurked about. I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped again by the impulse to hide another penny.
It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans. I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But — and this is the point — who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kid paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.
—Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Bantam, 1975), 16.
“How many of you are good jumpers?” Ask the children who raised their hands to stand up and jump. “How many of you are good hoppers?” Again, have the children who responded stand up and hop. “Can you put one hand on your nose and cross your other hand over to your ear?” (Demonstrate.) “Who wants to try?” Then ask the children to tell you what they’re really good at. Perhaps it is jumping, drawing or even making cookies. Perhaps, they’re really good at eating cookies! Point out that we all cannot be good at everything, but we can try to do the very best we can in everything we do. It is especially helpful when we do everything for God. In today’s Scripture lesson, Jesus sees a woman put a penny in the offering plate while other people put in lots more money. Who do you think Jesus said did the best they could? Was it the woman who gave a penny or the people who gave lots of money? It’s wonderful that people who have been blessed with riches are willing to give to the poor. But, in this case, Jesus had a special place in his heart for this person who gave only a penny. Why? Because that penny (hold up a penny) was the last penny, the only penny, she had. She did her best. She gave everything she had. When we give to others, what is important is not the amount of what we give, but the feeling we have in our heart. “Dear God, help us to do the best we can in everything we do. And no matter what we do, help us to remember to do it for you. Amen.”
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