A friend of mine is really, really good at what she does. The particulars of her job don’t really matter here, but she has this job because she worked very hard to prepare for it and she excels at it. Her co-workers like and respect her, the people she serves love her, and other people in her field frequently come to her for advice. Several times a year, she even gets approached by people trying to recruit her. They ask her whether she might like to come work for them instead.
In short, she’s a catch. But, here’s a secret…she doesn’t know it.
Instead, some days she goes to her office, one that generations of talented and well-known men have occupied for decades. She’s the first woman to ever have the job, by the way. She sits at the desk, and looks around. And she wonders, “How did I get here?” And every so often she asks herself, “When are they going to find out that I shouldn’t be here…I shouldn’t have this job.”
There’s a term for this. It’s called “imposter syndrome”. People who have it believe that they are some sort of fraud and that it won’t be long until everyone finds out. We often talk about it in terms of women who are breaking glass ceilings but who still doubt that they are good enough. Truth be told, though, anyone can have imposter syndrome. Anyone can worry that they just can’t hack it, and soon everyone will know.
That may sound like a strange way to start a sermon on a poor woman who only had a few coins to her name, but bear with me. The Scripture we read today tells the story of Jesus watching people bring their offerings to the treasury of the Temple. This was an important act. The wealthy would sometimes make a big show of it, trying to get everyone’s attention as they gave their money so that everyone would see how rich and pious they were.
But as Jesus is watching, this woman comes to the Temple. She is a widow, and Jesus can see that she doesn’t have much to her name. And she takes two small copper coins, two coins that were worth so little that you wouldn’t think much of them, and she puts them in the treasury. Today, with inflation, it might be a little like putting in a dollar or so, if that.
You can imagine what the people watching might be thinking. Giving was a big affair, and this was giving to the Temple. This was, in a real way, giving to God. All these wealthy folks were bringing their money, money that could actually do something. And this woman comes with the change that they wouldn’t bother to pick up off of the ground, and she puts it in the treasury. What good would two coins do?
But Jesus…Jesus doesn’t see it that way. He watches her and he tells his disciples, “You see that woman? The one with the two coins? She is the one making the biggest gift this morning.” Jesus explains that the rich people who had come before, the ones who made those big, showy gifts, had given just a little of the lots that they had. She, on the other hand, had given a lot from her little.
Have you ever received a gift like that? I remember as our wedding reception was ending, an older clergy colleague came up to me. She pastored a little church in rural Vermont, the kind that couldn’t pay its pastor all that much. And she pressed $40 into my hand and leaned in and said, “I don’t know anyone who isn’t broke after their wedding…here’s some gas money.”
We’d received a lot of wedding gifts. Well-heeled friends and family had bought out our Crate and Barrel registry and filled our kitchen with stand mixers and baking dishes. But that $40? That’s what I remember, because I knew what it cost her, and I knew what it meant for her to share it with me.
I think about the woman with her two coins who came to the Temple that day. I think about how she probably walked through the crowds, knowing she was being watched, knowing that she would be scoffed at for bringing such a small gift. I wonder if she was embarrassed. And I wonder if she thought about not giving at all. After all, who would really miss her two little coins?
And that’s where it all comes back to imposter syndrome. I think that when it comes to giving of ourselves we all have the experience of thinking we don’t have anything useful to contribute. I’ve heard people say that they don’t want to pledge to the church, for instance, because they feel embarrassed at how small that pledge will be. And I always want to say, “Give anyway! I don’t care if it’s one dollar. The gift is not how much you give, but that you give.”
Other times, though, it has less to do with some kind of financial donation or giving, and more to do with believing that we have other gifts that are worth anything. And so, we hesitate to coach our kid’s baseball team because we can’t hit a home run, but we forget that what they really need is the kind of patience and kindness that we have in spades.
Or, we pass up applying for our dream job because we figure there are a million people out there who are better qualified, not realizing that maybe we are exactly what that company is looking for.
Or, we shy away from getting closer to God, believing that if God really knew who we were, God wouldn’t want anything to do with us…forgetting that God already knows who we are, and God is already crazy about us.
So much of our life is spent walking to the Temple with our two coins in our pocket, worrying about what everyone will think when we take them out. Too often we don’t finish the journey. We turn back, too scared or embarrassed or uncertain to share our gifts with the world.
And that’s a shame, because God didn’t give us those gifts so that we would hide them away. God gave them so that we would share them, and so that in the sharing they would be multiplied and used to bless this world.
Each one of us has gifts inside of us. Each of us has something that we are called to use to serve God and serve our neighbors. And the challenge for each of us is not only to find those gifts inside of us, but to have the courage to bring those gifts out into the world, and use them. And that starts by refusing to believe that you are an imposter with nothing to give. You could never be an imposter because God has given you those gifts, and they don’t deserve to be hidden away in your pocket anymore. It’s time to take them out, combine them with the gifts of all the others who have come forward, and use them to bless the world.
Today we have a group of people who are bringing their gifts front and center. Today they are deciding to become official members of this church. They each come with their own story, their own offering, and their own gifts. And they each come with courage, because it takes an act of courage to join the church, and to call yourself a follower of Christ.
Because of their courage this church will be stronger. And because of this church, they will be stronger too. Together we will bring our gifts, and together, with all we bring to the table, they will be more than enough. Together, we may just find that we have been blessed with abundance.