Living the giving

File:Felicidade A very happy boy.jpgSunday Evening

Mark 12:38-44

42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

The children’s sermon was a simple idea. I used a Harry Potter pillowcase as a trick or treat bag. Unfortunately, none of these kids were into Harry Potter, but the sound of some candy in the bottom of the bag did lead them to guess what it was. So I held out my bag to each of them and said “trick or treat!” The confused looks on their faces were choice.

When it was apparent they had no candy to give, I reached into my bag and gave them each some. Then I looked them each in the eye and said again “Trick or treat!” I confess I was surprised that they each gave their candy back.

Then I asked my simple question: “Which is more like God, the one who gives or the one who takes?”

That answer they knew.

At the end, I gave them each a piece of candy again (some little package of a fruit rollup type thing the youth director had graciously provided), and then came the most delightful moment of the morning: The kids went running back down the aisle rejoicing, “We got candy!!”

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The first question is important for the adults, too: “Which is more like God?” But there is a related question for us: “Which should be more like God’s people?”

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Christian life is not about following a set of rules; it is about embodying the character of God. It is living the values of the kingdom. It is about living the giving.

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The preaching today (both the “children’s” message and the “adult” sermon) was rooted in Jesus’ warning about the scribes and his remark about the widow giving her last two pennies. I’ve posted the text of the sermon here, but here are some highlights.

The story isn’t about the woman; it is about the scribes and the temple. It is about the scribes who, as Jesus says in our text, “devour widow’s houses.” It is about the temple system that is making the rich richer and the poor poorer. The religious system that the scribes are advocating doesn’t embody the justice and mercy of God. It doesn’t share bread with the hungry. It doesn’t clothe the naked. It doesn’t shelter the homeless. It doesn’t free those in debtor’s prison. It doesn’t welcome the outcast and the stranger. It doesn’t heal the sick or free those bound by unclean spirits. It doesn’t forgive as we have been forgiven.

So Jesus has warned his followers about the temple system that bleeds widows dry – and then points across the courtyard to a widow giving her last two cents. The text says to us simply: “Don’t be that.” … Don’t be the church of any age, rich in gold while people hunger. Don’t be the church of the self-satisfied and self-righteous. Don’t be the church aligned with the rich and powerful against the poor and dispossessed.

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The question in the children’s message was simple: “Is God more like the giver or the taker?” Learning to truly inhabit the realm of God’s giving is the challenge.

 

Photo: By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga Commons)(Lmbuga Galipedia) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Devouring widows

Watching for the Morning of November 8, 2015

Year B

The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 27 / Lectionary 32

File:Widowsmite.png

A bronze Widow’s Mite or Prutah, minted by Alexander Jannaeus, King of Judaea, 103 – 76 B.C.

Sunday returns us to “ordinary time” (the numbered Sundays of the year) after the festivals of the last two Sundays. Jesus is now in Jerusalem. Our narrative has jumped over the entry to Jerusalem (which we read on Palm Sunday) and the cleansing of the temple (which we read in Lent from the Gospel of John). We have skipped Mark’s description of the heightening conflict with the Jerusalem elite and Jesus’ stories of God’s pending judgment on the city. What remains before the account of the passion is this Sunday’s text and Jesus’ teaching about the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the age.

The church calendar is shaped by the northern hemisphere. This is the season of harvest, or reaping and winnowing. And the texts and tone of worship at the end of the church year turns towards the notion of the final harvest, even as the Gospel narrative itself reflects the growing crisis between Jesus and the authorities.

So this Sunday Jesus warns his followers about the scribes who love the seats of honor and the show of pious prayer, but “devour widows’ houses.” Although the words are directed to his followers, we should not imagine that this is a private conversation. It is a challenge of the Jerusalem elite for all to hear. And no sooner are these words out of Jesus’ mouth then he is able to point to a widow giving her last pennies into the temple treasury. Here is concrete evidence that instead of doing justice and mercy, the temple system bleeds the poor.

No wonder they want to kill him.

We have been taught to hear Jesus as if he were praising the woman for her dedication, but the context shows that his words are a lament. He wants his disciples to see that this is a murderous system. And the haunting realization for the hearers of Mark’s Gospel is that the murderous system is about to turn on Jesus. Jesus is about to give his last two farthings, his last full measure of devotion. The priests and scholars of the privileged elite in Jerusalem will devour Jesus to maintain the temple – but it is the temple that will be destroyed and Jesus who will be raised. God will cast down the mighty and raise up the poor. Mary will find the tomb empty and Jesus the crucified will meet them in Galilee. God’s kingdom, God’s reign, is dawning and earthly kingdoms are falling.

So Sunday we will hear of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. When drought afflicts the nation that has turned away from the God of justice and mercy to the gods of prosperity, from the LORD of the Exodus and Sinai to the Ba’al of the storm, God provides for the prophet and a poor widow and her child with a never-failing source of life.

Sunday’s psalm will bear witness to this God of justice and mercy, declaring that he “executes justice for the oppressed,” “gives food to the hungry,” and “sets the prisoners free.”

And the author of Hebrews will continues his argument for the uniqueness and superiority of Christ over every human priest, declaring that Christ has not gone into an earthly temple to make the annual atonement for the people with the blood of goats and bulls, but he has ascended into the heavens and stands before the throne of God to intercede on our behalf. The God of justice and mercy. The God who does not devour widows, but gives life.

The Prayer for November 8, 2015

Guardian of the weak, protector of the powerless, Lord of all:
send forth your Holy Spirit
that your people may not seek the places of honor,
but stand with Jesus alongside the broken and poor.
May we be among those whose lives are given wholly to your service;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The texts for November 8, 2015

First Reading: 1 Kings 17:8-16
“The word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying, ‘Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’”
– As the drought grows ever more severe after God has declared no rain will fall on the kingdom of Israel when it has turned to worship the rain god Ba’al, God provides for Elijah through the faithfulness of a widow already at the edge of starvation.

Psalmody: Psalm 146
“Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God…who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.” – The psalmist sings of the character of God (in contrast to human princes).

Second Reading: Hebrews 9:24-28
“Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” – Arguing for the superiority of Christ, our true high priest, over earthly priests, the author declares that Christ Jesus has not entered an earthly temple to intercede for us, but stands before the throne of God in the heavens.

Gospel: Mark 12:38-44
“A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.” – Jesus warns his followers about the way of the scribes who “devour widows’ houses” and then witnesses a widow placing her last two halfpence into the temple offering.

 

Photo: By Randy Benzie (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/Randy_Benzie) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Widowsmite.jpg) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons